The discrimination complaint took them by surprise. Now the reputation of the Sonora Grill brand hangs in the balance, but not only for allegedly having violated human rights, but also for poor crisis management by its public relations team.
It all started on July 31 when Terror Restaurantes MX posted on Twitter about “a report” that Sonora Grill Prime Masaryk accommodated customers based on their physical appearance and skin color.
“The restaurant is divided into two sections: They call him Gandhi and Mousset . In Gandhi they seat people who are not Caucasian, even the director of the brand, Juan Manuel Moreira, gets very upset if they seat someone who looks poor or gives the restaurant a bad image, according to him. At Mousset, pure Caucasian people and the treatment is completely different,” the post reads.
Two days later, Sonora Grill issued a press release, but not to apologize or admit that they should strengthen their inclusion efforts, an issue that is also gaining more relevance and sensitivity in Mexican society, as well as on business agendas. Instead, the group denied discriminatory practices and defined itself as a company where respect, inclusion, service and love for their country prevail.
“Behind Sonora Grill Group, there is the commitment of 3,500 collaborators, who day after day have built this group with effort and passion, with whom we have actively participated at various times in our country, always seeking to trigger a positive and responsible impact on our Mexico. We are and we owe it to our clients and collaborators, and we are committed to providing them with the best of experiences today and always,” the statement said.
However, the noise was intensified when the head of the capital’s government, Claudia Sheinbaum , affirmed that the Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City (Copred) is investigating the restaurant chain, and if the racist practices are confirmed, can be penalized administratively.
Also when Sofía Otero, alleged former employee of the group led by Ricardo Añorve, joined the accusations and assured through TikTok that acts of racism are committed in Sonora Grill branches. At the same time, he denounced that the working hours exceed 10 hours a day, without extra payment as established by the Federal Labor Law. The memes against the restaurant did not wait and the conversation became public.
Expansion reached out to Sonora Grill, but the company was unavailable for comment.
The gaps in the strategy
With the boom of social networks, no brand is exempt from crisis. Therefore, says Laura Galván, social media strategy and operations director of the Wunderman Thompson agency, companies must minimize risks through self-knowledge, because if they know well what their weak points are, it is easier for them to be prepared to respond to possible accusations.
“Unfortunately at Sonora Grill they were not prepared for that to come to light. Former employees are talking and it doesn’t look like their PR team is doing a very good job of containing the crisis,” he says. “If they have this type of practice, they should have better prepared themselves in their internal processes to have a protocol with clear positions and more so when it comes to sensitive issues such as discrimination.”
Roberto Báez, specialist in strategic communication and founding partner of the Headline PR&Comms agency, agrees with her. In his opinion, the restaurant chain’s response was late, it did not resolve anything and, above all, it did not contribute to protecting the brand’s reputation.
“There are latent crises all the time, some of them give early signs, they can even be avoided, others are completely unexpected. In both cases, the best option is to be prepared to face any type of crisis, have a manual and a committee of managers who know what to do in each of the areas involved, in addition to making continuous reviews and being aware of potential situations”, says the expert.
When a crisis is already triggered, they refer, the first thing is to think with a cool head. Then act quickly, issue a public apology, accept the fact, show the brand’s position, reinforcing its values and DNA, and clarify the actions to be followed to correct the error, but always putting the consumer at the center of decision-making. The statement issued by the group does not comply with these points.
“Sometimes brands take a long time to react, and when they respond and think, memes start to spread like wildfire, when it could have been a content issue before it entered the public domain,” says Galván.
The specialist adds that, knowing that social networks can bury a brand’s reputation in seconds, it is crucial that companies have trained talent in their ranks to make quick and pertinent decisions.
Better safe than sorry
Every time Andrea Cortés manages the digital communication of a brand, the Director of Digital Influence at LLYC Mexico carefully chooses her team. In the selected profiles there are communicologists, marketers, sociologists, engineers.
It seems illogical, but it is not. Cortés assures that having a pool of diverse talent allows them to protect their clients to a certain extent. Before starting to work with them, they make a diagnosis to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are. With artificial intelligence, they analyze the conversations that are being generated on social networks and the trends in which the sector of each client is moving.
“If we have constant data analysis, we know who is talking about the brand or the company and what they are saying, it is also elevating the conversation. Anticipating this helps the crisis management team a lot to know when to leave, what words to use, how to react and on what channel,” he says.
In his opinion, there are still many brands that act as a monologue. They put themselves at the center, they broadcast the message from their focus, they create the dialogue and the content, but along the way they forget that the message must be targeted and segmented. “They are attacking you on Facebook and you launch a press release, when your crisis and the people who are mentioning you are not reading a press release,” he explains.
However, not everything that shines is a crisis, says Amílcar Olivares, senior director of Corporate Communications at LLYC Mexico. “One or two negative notes are not, but when the topic starts to grow and reach people who have influence and that can change the sentiment of the conversation and that the comments hit the reputation of the brand and the business That’s when a crisis can really explode.”
Not that there are formulas to avoid them. But there are several ways to better manage risks. Collaborators, for example, are those influencers and ambassadors that brands don’t always see. And having a manual of what to do in different possible scenarios is vital.
“We must always try to ensure that all communication actions and social networks that we manage are backed by a social listening and crisis management strategy. And even more so when it comes to a client, whose service it offers may have more risks”, warns Galván.
The impact for Sonora Grill
Baéz is convinced that the restaurant chain is unlikely to have a significant economic impact in the short term. Some potential customers may think twice about going to the restaurant, but this is not a general behavior that leads to a significant drop in guests.
Despite this, he points out, the case can have an economic impact in the medium and long term if the correct actions are not taken to prevent the issue from reviving and new incidents from arising, because something that the businessman Añorve should not forget is that The case that triggered the crisis touched on a sensitive social issue that must be followed up internally, in order to prevent a similar case from happening again.
Beyond its iconic beans, “today Sonora Grill needs the basis of internal and external communication that helps rebuild the brand’s reputation because, without a doubt, the impact here was greater, the crisis lasted several days even after the response of the company, and still continues. Crises are regularly events that involve many players, the union of talents is fundamental”, he concludes.