Restaurant Reputation Management 101: Subway

As a franchise owner, the thought in the back of your mind should always exist, constantly asking “What if something bad happens to the brand?” When a crisis occurs, the franchise needs to be quick to respond and go above and beyond the public’s expectations in order to manage that “something bad.” Subway’s last 6 months have been less than ordinary for the sandwich chain, but despite their iconic front man’s fall from grace, the brand seems to have emerged unscathed. To understand how Subway handled the Jared Fogle crisis, we first need to understand how everything unfolded.

Federal agents raided the home of Jared Fogle, the long-time spokesman for Subway, in early July, where they seized electronics and computers from the home on suspicious of possession of child pornography. Initial reports indicated that the agents were simply conducting a follow up due to a former Fogle foundation employee who had been arrested a few months prior for production and possession of child pornography. As soon as the news hit the air, Subway acted quickly and announced that it had reached a mutual agreement with Jared to suspend the relationship between Fogle and the brand.

Within 24 hours of charges being filed, all advertising and material on the Subway website that involved Jared Fogle were removed. In the following month, the brand made no comments regarding the investigation, until August 1st, from the company Twitter account, they said “The latest allegation about Jared Fogle if true, is appalling. As previously stated, we have suspended our relationship with Jared.” As more evidence and charges came from the investigation, Subway again turned to their Twitter account a few weeks later, stating “We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment” , and “Jared Fogle’s actions are inexcusable and do not represent our brand’s values. We have already ended our relationship with Jared.”

The fast food market has become an incredibly competitive space, with brands like Chipotle, Panera, and Blaze Pizza continuing to steal away market share from the established brands of McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway. The shift towards healthier options has allowed Subway to remain afloat due to the public’s perception that the sandwiches are healthy. Subway failed to gain any ground on competitors following the Fogle crisis because of the “don’t touch it” approach they took. A smart and strong crisis management plan involves being open with the public, reinforcing organizational values, and making amends if possible, and Subway missed on all 3. Here are a few ways that Subway could have handled the Fogle crisis that would have left their brand in a better position.

  • Subway created Jared Fogle, therefore, they should take some position of responsibility on the situation and actions that occurred while he was in partnership with the brand. Following a crisis, whether external or internal, organizations often will arrange a charity or event to offset any reputational damage. Subway has not done any of this.
  • As one of the world’s major franchises, Subway has a responsibility to speak with their customers. Over the course of the investigation, Subway related 3 tweets with a total of 5 sentences of information. Much of the public was left perplexed as to why Subway would not make an official statement or say anything more than “no comment.”
  • It wasn’t until charges were filed that Subway removed Fogle from the company’s branding. This time lapse where Subway could have launched a new branding initiative that would have been seen by thousands of curious website visitors ended up being a missed opportunity. It’s important for a franchise to act quickly when it comes to branding surrounding a timely crisis or press-coverage type event.

Subway’s size and role in the fast food industry will keep it on its feet, and it eventually will recover from any additional backlash that may come from the Jared Fogle case. For franchise owners, both large and small, it’s worth asking your franchise representative how the brand will approach and react to a crisis that receives media attention. In the case of individual restaurants, the initial consequences may be more severe, causing a disruption in business. It’s important to not only have a crisis management plan developed for your restaurant, but also to ensure that your restaurant has the proper insurance to protect the business. Learn more about how your restaurant should be covered by speaking with an RPA representative today. Call us at 844-358-2296 today!