Case 5 – Crisis Communication: Casey Jones’ Caboose Restaurant
Notes for Participants
You will take the role of a crisis communication team, hired by Casey Jones’ Caboose Restaurant to help them navigate an evolving crisis. Depending on the size of the class, you will be in groups of four-to-eight participants. You may decide on various roles for group members, e.g., communication liaison (i.e., the person receiving incoming messages for the team), advisers, notetakers and writers. Alternatively, you may all be receiving incoming messages, and may act collaboratively on these responsibilities.
Once you have reviewed the foundational scenario, you will receive additional messages over the course of the role play. You are not expected to respond to these messages in real time; however, the information provided should be discussed with your group as you start to understand the situation, and develop your ideas towards possible outgoing crisis messages.
Ask participants to introduce themselves to each other, and come up with a name for their crisis communication company in role. If assuming different roles, discuss what roles you will assume, e.g., communication liaison, advisers, notetakers or writers. This is also an opportunity for the group to have a preliminary discussion about the practical application of crisis communication, and any previous experience they might have in this area.
The founder and CEO of Casey Jones’ Caboose has called your crisis communication company due to concerns about a developing situation. Casey Jones’ Caboose is an upscale Canadian chain restaurant, similar to Milestones or Jack Astor’s. Founded in 1996, the chain now has 46 restaurants, spread across all provinces. Casey Jones’ Caboose is centrally managed, so all restaurants receive the same ingredients from the same suppliers. It is a publicly traded company with shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Casey Jones’ Caboose has no previous experience with crisis communication, and hasn’t developed a crisis communication manual.
The CEO has requested your advice on how to proceed, and is receiving regular updates that they will provide to you in real-time throughout the simulation.
All prompts should also include the name of the source sending the message. These can be copied and pasted into an email or chat function. The first five prompts, which help establish the foundational scenario, are delivered to every group in the same order, one at a time, in the first five minutes of the role play. Although only one scenario is provided, customization is created by randomizing the order of delivery of the middle prompts. It is not necessary for all of the middle prompts to be delivered, meaning that each group will have a unique experience, receiving messages from a variety of stakeholders in randomized order. The final prompt, which confirms the source of the problem and solves the mystery, should be delivered to every group, at a similar time, and marks the end of the role play. Although it may not be realistic that this information would be clarified so quickly, it is provided to allow students to draft their assignments.
Deliver in this order to all groups in the first five minutes
- CJC Restaurant Manager Fredericton location: Just got a call from some guy saying his girlfriend got sick a couple days after eating here. I’ve checked the kitchen and asked staff, but as far as I can tell, everything’s okay. It might be from something she ate somewhere else, or maybe she picked up the flu. Just thought you should know.
- CJC Restaurant Manager Toronto location: Message from someone who ate here on the weekend saying they’re sick. Really angry.
- CJC Marketing Manager: A few bad reviews on BlogTO and Yelp since the weekend. Not the usual moaning. I count six giving lowest ratings and complaining of illness. Something to follow up?
- Fredericton ER Doctor: I’ve got 8 people in my ER who all say they ate at Casey Jones’ Caboose in Fredericton on the weekend. It’s the only thing they have in common, so I suspect some kind of contagion or food-borne illness from this location. Still too early to know exactly what the problem is, but we’re running tests.
- CJC Restaurant Manager Alberta: What the hell is going on? I just had someone tear a strip off me claiming they got sick after eating here. I just had a look on social media, and it’s blowing up! Please advise!
Deliver in any order to progress the scenario; not all prompts need to be delivered
- CJC Marketing Manager: Not sure what’s going on, but now I’ve got bad reviews and complaints about illness in almost all provinces. Ratings are way down. What do you want me to do?
- Toronto ER Doctor: We’ve had several people come into Emerg saying they ate salads at Casey Jones’ Caboose downtown on the weekend. We’ve alerted Toronto Public Health.
- CJC Restaurant Manager Toronto location: We’ve got an inspector here from Toronto Public Health. Cooperating, but not sure what he expects to find.
- CBC News: We’d appreciate the opportunity of an interview. We’re noticing a lot of activity on social media regarding concerns about illness derived from your restaurants right across the country. We’d like to provide balanced reporting, so please get in touch.
- CJC Marketing Manager: Social media is blowing up! We’ve got hundreds of bad reviews now. Some indicate they had salad, but it’s not consistent.
- Vancouver Coastal Health Authority: We are currently investigating your Vancouver restaurant location.
- Global Media: We’d like to invite you to come on air tomorrow morning to discuss the illness outbreak at your restaurant chain.
- Toronto Star: We were wondering if we could line up an interview about the food poisoning incidents connected to your restaurants. A few people have already come forward to talk to us, and we’d like to hear your side of the story.
- Bank Manager: I’m hearing bad things in the media about Casey Jones’ Caboose. Just a reminder that we extended you a loan of $500,000 to support opening the most recent restaurants. We may need to review our loan terms if you don’t get this cleaned up.
- La Ville de Montreal, Inspection des aliments, Plaintes: “Lors de sa visite à l’établissement l’inspecteur doit vérifier un ensemble de points critiques dont la maîtrise offre une garantie quant à l’innocuité de l’aliment. Ces points portent sur l’aliment, les méthodes de travail, les manipulateurs, le matériel utilisé et le milieu dans lequel les opérations sont effectuées.”
- Landlord West Edmonton Mall: We’ve just been informed that the franchise of your restaurant in our location has made a number of customers sick. At the West Edmonton Mall, we’re proud of our reputation, and don’t appreciate it being challenged by tenants. If this issue isn’t resolved quickly, we will be obliged to close and perhaps evict your restaurant from our premises.
- Meat supplier: We understand that there have been issues with some of the food served at Casey Jones’ Caboose. We have carefully reviewed our product and procedures, and don’t believe we are the source; however, please keep us informed if you hear otherwise.
- Toronto Public Health: After numerous complaints, we’re inspecting your downtown Toronto location. Until we complete our investigation, this location will be temporarily closed.
- New supplier: We understand that you’re experiencing some issues with contaminated food throughout your restaurant chain. We’d like to offer you a 10% discount on new food orders to replace contaminated food.
- CJC Restaurant Manager Edmonton location: Don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but we’ve got a food inspector on the premises. He’s suggesting that staff has been negligent in their cleaning duties. That isn’t the case. We use checklists to make sure everything gets properly cleaned every shift. I wanted you to hear that from me.
- Transportation company manager: I understand you’ve had issues with some of your food supplies. I just want to confirm that all our refrigerator trucks are in perfect working order. I personally guarantee that all our trucks, throughout the chain and across the country, are working properly.
- Board member: I’m hearing bad things about Casey Jones’ Caboose today. I’ve been checking the TSX, and people are dropping stock fast. Share price is down over 30% in the last hour. Fix this!
- Your lawyer: Just got a call from a lawyer representing someone who claims to have gotten food poisoning at your St. John’s location. Claims that a whole lot of people are sick right across the country. What’s going on? Do we need to prepare for a lawsuit?
Required Final Prompt
Delivered to end the role play; coordinated between facilitators
FINAL PROMPT: Canadian Food Inspection Agency: We can confirm that there has been an e-coli outbreak due to contaminated romaine lettuce across the Casey Jones’ Caboose restaurant chain coast-to-coast. The source of the contaminated romaine has been isolated and the supplier has been informed. The company does not sell romaine to grocery stores, and Casey Jones’ Caboose is one of their few commercial clients. We are informing media.