Jim and Cary Fairchild were among more than 30 people who contracted norovirus after eating at Andina on March 1 or 2. After a few nights filled with flopsweat and heavyweight bathroom bouts, all recovered. But for Andina, the shadow cast by the outbreak could last far longer.
Michael Russell of OregonLive writes that if any Portland restaurant is positioned to survive a public relations disaster, it’s Andina. The Oregonian’s 2005 Restaurant of the Year is one of the busiest — if not the busiest — in Oregon, with the same weekend crowds as nationally known hotspots such as Pok Pok or Toro Bravo, but triple the capacity. Over the two days when the outbreak occurred, the restaurant’s 173 employees served more than 1,300 people.
Gary Conkling, a professor at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management and president of CFM Strategic Communications Inc., said all businesses should have response plans for just such a worst-case scenario. For restaurants, that means knowing who to contact in the wake of a breach in food safety.
“You need to be forthcoming,” Conkling says. “You can’t pretend like it didn’t happen, or that maybe you didn’t know about it. Being proactive in communications is about confidence-building. And if the actions match, that’s what people remember.”
But last week’s outbreak wasn’t Andina’s first. Last April, six people fell ill after eating at the restaurant. The cause was confirmed to be norovirus, according to the Multnomah County Health Department.
The restaurant had said they were unaware of the earlier outbreak. On Friday, general manager Jels McCaulay said investigators had visited the restaurant in April, but said they were searching for salmonella.
After the outbreak, staff cleaned the restaurant with bleach and discarded potentially contaminated food items. Management imposed a mandatory three-day waiting period for staff showing signs of illness and re-enforced the importance of frequent handwashing.
“We aren’t putting in place a new set of rules, since we’ve always followed the rules,” John Platt said. “But what we do have now is a much higher appreciation of why those rules are there.”
So far, the restaurant hasn’t seen a drop in business.
Long-term, the restaurant’s prospects hinge on whether people believe that it has customers’ best interests at heart, Willamette University’s Conkling said.
“In my classes, I tell people that you can turn a crisis into an opportunity if you’re up front, you’re credible, and you put your customer — in this case the patrons at your restaurant — first,” Conkling said.
“There’s plenty of evidence that people will forgive a misstep. They’re less forgiving when people don’t own it or deal with it straight.”