Applebee’s responds to criticisms in AllergyEats Blog post… weakly!
Eight days ago, the AllergyEats Blog posted an entry entitled “Guest Post – Applebee’s Disappoints!” (For those who haven’t read it or seen all the comments, I strongly suggest doing so before reading on.)
At the time, I had no idea that this would be by far our most popular and controversial blog post. Between responses directly on the blog and comments on Facebook, over 30 readers felt the need to share their opinions about Applebee’s as well. These opinions were overwhelmingly negative (justifying the poor allergy-friendliness rating of 2.3 for Applebee’s on the main AllergyEats site).
Having never seen such an outpouring of negative opinion regarding a restaurant on this blog, I stated I would contact Applebee’s directly, point them to the blog entry, and offer them an opportunity to share their point of view. While Guest Services never called me back as promised (twice), they surprised me by posting the following in the Comments section of that blog entry late Monday:
Dear AllergyEats Subscribers,
We recognize the importance of making sure our food-allergic guests have safe options they can enjoy at their neighborhood Applebee’s. Food allergies are a serious concern, and we are working to improve how we accommodate the needs of our FA-guests.
Depending on the food allergy, we do offer different menu items that are appropriate options, or that can be prepared without the allergic food. We recommend that you talk with your server or restaurant manager about the allergy, and how your meal is prepared, to help ensure your dining experience is safe. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention — we value the safety and enjoyment of all our guests.
How do I hide my incredible disappointment at this brush off? How much effort was expended in sending this generic response? Was any thought involved? Did anyone truly read and consider the post and comments?
The answer to that last question is obviously “No.” Had they read the posts, they would have known that talking to servers, managers, and others did NOT prevent these very negative diner experiences. In fact, most of the problems were actually CAUSED BY such conversations. Ironically, it seems the biggest issue Applebee’s has in attracting food allergic guests is the LACK of strong personnel training.
Further, given their weak response, I have to strongly doubt the sincerity of the statements “we recognize the importance of making sure our food-allergic guests have safe options,” “food allergies are a serious concern [to us],” and “thank you for bringing this issue to our attention – we value the safety and enjoyment of all our guests.”
So what to do now? I see two choices.
On the one hand, I can end the conversation here, leaving us all to walk away with our own feelings about the efforts of Applebee’s. On the other hand, given the size and clout of Applebee’s in the restaurant community, I can pursue the issue further.
I am leaning toward the latter. One of AllergyEats’ primary goals is to influence restaurants to become more allergy-friendly. By all appearances, Applebee’s needs more guidance.
In addition, I’d like to know more about their comment that “we are working to improve how we accommodate the needs of our FA-guests.” What steps are they taking? What is their goal? Where do they see themselves in 1-2 years with respect to this movement?
I’d like to give them the opportunity to share their answers to these questions (and others) with the whole food allergy community. I am prepared to print any comments they have on the subject here. I am also willing to conduct a one-on-one interview with any member of management about this and/or conduct an “open dialog” whereby AllergyEats Blog viewers and social media fans can ask questions and interact with a rep in real time. I think this would be a great opportunity for both Applebee’s and our community.
In other words, I’m willing to do what it takes to allow Applebee’s to get their message across AND help them learn from us. Will they accept?
Before I re-initiate contact, I’d like your feedback and help with two ACTION ITEMS:
1) If you too are interested in seeing this further pursued, please indicate so by adding a Comment or Reply here (or on the Facebook page), simply stating “I am interested in more info from Applebee’s” or something of the sort. The reason I ask this is to help demonstrate the magnitude of our community’s concern to management. (Of course, I am interested in any other, longer comments you would like to share as well.)
2) In addition, please help our cause by circulating this post widely. The wider this post (and the prior one on Applebee’s from last Tuesday) is circulated, the more likely management at Applebee’s will be to respond. Please pass along to any food allergy websites or bloggers, post on your social network pages, etc.
While it would be easy to simply write-off Applebee’s, I remain committed to trying to make this an opportunity for our community to share its voice and help positively influence this huge restaurant chain (who would in turn benefit from increased profits – click here to see how). Other chains have led the way with respect to food allergies. Why wouldn’t Applebee’s want to match their competition? And if Applebee’s were to increase their commitment, who wouldn’t follow?