The challenge to running any kind of business is you always have to listen to what your customers are saying. In very rare cases where you can ignore what the customers are saying because you know the end result will be exactly what they want is difficult to know for sure. Only Steve Jobs and maybe a handful more were able to do that and get away with it. In those cases you are tempting the fate of your own company on the hopes that what you think they will like in the end will work. That doesn’t always turn out to be true unless you absolutely know.
In other cases where you are just trying to do good for the general public it can come back to bite you in the butt as this one restaurant learned the hard way. A restaurant in North Caroline called, “Mary’s Gourmet Diner,” offered a 15% discount for anyone who prayed before their meal. The whole event turned into a viral sensation when a christian radio station, Z88.3 from Orlando, Florida posted a photo of someone’s receipt offering a discount on their facebook page congratulating the restaurant for doing that. That is when everything started happening. The photo was liked thousands of times and plenty of comments soon followed, both good and bad.
The policies you create between your business and your customers create the type of impression you want to give off. Many times the policies that companies create are for the protection of the company not to lose money. Many first time business owners can not afford the services of high-end image/brand consultants to help with crafting their policies because most first time entrepreneurs do not consider brand consultants important. Anytime anything in your company comes in contact with a potential customer it creates an impression of that brand in that consumer’s head. The experience is what the customer takes away and may possibly tell others about in the form of a bad review or positive review.
When creating any kind of policy that will have far reaching consequences always consider the following
1. Does the policy limit any kind of behavior on those it doesn’t affect?
2. Before the policy is put into place are there any people that might be negatively affected?
3. Can the policy be expanded/limited once it is implemented?
4. What type of experience will the policy reflect on the company?
5. Does the policy improve or make harder the intended experience for the customer?
6. How often will the policy affect people on any given day?
7. What is the intended result on such a policy?
8. Will the outcome be better, worse, or the same after the policy is put out? If worse, can the policy be changed or improved?
9. Are there any legal consequences that such policy might bring about?
10. Does the policy infringe on any rights that potential customers feel they are entitled to?
Branding a Company Image
The policies you set create the brand people will come to know you for. If you want to be known for excellent customer service then you want a service department that makes it very easy for customers to find and get what they need done, including a simple return policy. There are many companies that are created everyday by people who forget the importance of branding because they are focused on creating an amazing product that will get people to overlook the need for anything else. That is a huge mistake.
Apple created the image in consumer minds’ that any product you buy is of high quality and they back that up by creating sleek styled products that not only look nice but also feel nice when you touch them. This creates two types of impressions, one that is subjective (which can have more far reaching possibilities) and, another that is physical so you know that your impressions matched what you received. The reason why Microsoft Windows has a bad reputation is because they are creating a system that has a high chance of failure. Consumers are not interested in knowing how difficult it is to create an operating system, instead they just want to know, “will it work when I turn it on?” If their impression of the commercials does not meet with their own personal experience then Microsoft now has to go into brand image protection to keep the bad reviews from taking over. This can be difficult if the intended result did not match with what people experienced. The same is said for when Mary’s tried to create a safe place for people with religious convictions.
The other side to this issue is that Mary is the owner of this restaurant and she should be allowed to run it the way she wants to. That is very true and any business owner is allowed to structure and create all the policies they want for their business. No one will argue with that but the second your customers, the very source in which you are able to stay in business, disagrees with how you run your business stops coming then you have a choice to either change or close shop. That is the hard part about being an entrepreneur and business owner, after awhile the business no longer belongs to you, except in legal name only, but it belongs to the community and it is the image they have created in their own head that makes your business something to be shared by everyone, even those that feel they have a right to frequent it with out any problems.
Not all Policies are Created Equal
It is hard to believe that people would attack someone who was just trying to do something nice. The diner thought that by rewarding those who prayed before they ate with a discount it would encourage more of those that did pray at home, but were too afraid to do it in public, the opportunity to not be afraid to display their beliefs. In a country where freedom of religion is thought to be a constitutional right there are still those that believe their religion is still more important than others.
The right to believe in any religion in this country is what divides many areas. Chances are when you look for a home you do not look for a home based on how nice it looks or the value of the land or other economic means, you base it off of who else lives in that neighborhood. Birds of a feather flock together and that is non more so true when it comes to anything like religion, age, work, race, education, and even wealth. A person who follows one belief will probably not want to live in a neighborhood where many other’s believe in something different, probably out of fear that their children might learn something true and new about this world that they don’t want them learning in the first place. So much for freedom of thinking in this country.
In an effort to help promote the right to religious freedom, which, if the restaurant was a corporation could defend it’s right to religious freedom thanks to the Hobby Lobby ruling but considering that the diner is not, the owner had no choice but to take the policy away. Why? Because the lawsuit brought on by the Freedom from Religion Foundation felt that it intruded on their own right to their freedom of religious expression, which in their part they represent agnostics, atheists, and skeptics. It just takes one person, or group, to feel that their right to freedom of religious expression is being trampled on and they sue.
If you take that same way of thinking that so many of these non-profits, and the law firms that represent them, have you begin to see that so many of the laws that are our constitutional rights are being leveled right before out eyes, not out of pure justice, but just because the other side has more money to spend on such a lawsuit. The benefit of religion, in general, is to learn to enjoy and tolerate one another and to help our fellow neighbor, and in just writing that harmless sentence, there are a number of people out there who felt that what I just said intruded on their rights as citizens to believe and act as they feel; not by what some book said a long time ago.
Every year around the country countless religious groups go onto college campuses and preach the word from their book. They start reading passages and what always amazes me is the number of people who get sucked in to arguing with these people. If you stop and look at the make up of these volatile crowds you begin to see the small groups that form around the speaker; the ones that don’t follow the same religion; the one that don’t believe in religion; the ones that follow the same religion and are listening and defending. The issue is a very charged one and enough though that they are trying to inform others (and recruit at the same time), their methods need work. The next day there is usually an article in the school paper that explains the different view points from students who agree with the message and from students who felt they were being discriminated against just by allowing them on campus in the first place. Those groups tend to side on the issue of not feeling safe, which most groups will use as a defending factor.
For Mary’s Diner she hit a nerve when she thought offering a discount would do some good for the community. The challenge to that is it only does good if you believe in the same religion and for those that don’t it makes them feel not welcomed.
The challenge with restaurants trying to offer special discounts is that you will always hit a nerve with any population. The problem is that you might get hit with a lawsuit because it didn’t favor one small minority group or you did make every one feel welcomed. In a world that is a melting pot of ideas, feelings, backgrounds, religions, it is nearly impossible to please anyone and that is what makes running a business so challenging. If you hit a nerve with one person then that negative review will get looked at 20 times more than the review that was positive. Why? People like reading the ugly stuff more than the nice stuff. Go figure.
If you look at what Mary did and compare it to other restaurants that have done similar things you will see there is no difference.
One restaurant offered a discount if you make sure your children behaved themselves
Another restaurant offers discounts if you make reservations for dinner at 5:30
This restaurant has a policy of “No noisy kids,” adults love it
These are just a few policies that are similar to what Mary tried to do. In each case there were a group of people who thought the policy was unfair and discriminated against others. The same was the case with Mary’s diner. A family who doesn’t practice any religion might feel they are being discriminated against when they see another family praying before their meal. In many cases, the parents of non-believers don’t want their children exposed to such behavior, therefore their response to such policies is that it makes them have to do more as parents in public than they should have to.
The lawsuit that was brought against Mary’s eventually led the restaurant to take it’s prayer discount away because they could not afford such a trivial event. This is a lose to an action that this country was built on in the very beginning but as this country moves forward and as more and more religions are allowed their own space, well, it will be difficult for all those religions to not to overlap at some point and infringe on someone’s rights and when that happens, we all lose a little bit more of our freedoms in the end. It just takes one person or group to hinder it for the rest of us in this country.
So the next time you try and create a policy that you think will have a positive impact, make sure to consider just who might feel they are being discriminated against. It will save you a lot of heartache in the end, on a higher note she probably got a lot more business from those that supported her.
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