Thursday, February 14, 2008

Business and Blogging Examines Steak 'n Shake Incident

On Wednesday, January 28, 2008, I experienced discrimination at a local Steak 'n Shake restaurant when a manager slammed the window in my face and refused to fill an order for two milkshakes.

After briefly debating whether to sit in the drive thru in protest and allow the manager to fulfill his threat to call the cops, I decided to blog about it instead. Thanks to the power of the internet, customers no longer have to walk away grumbling about poor businesses practices or in my case, outright discrimination. Companies today are seeing the power of Web 2.0 and the lasting effects that search engines can have on their reputations.

Liz Fuller at Business and Blogging tackled the Steak 'n Shake incident and examined how Steak 'n Shake is handling this public relations crisis that resulted. As she explained how the incident unfolded, she noted an interesting fact that should have Steak 'n Shake executives concerned:

The next day, she itemized over 80 blogs that had picked up her story. The story was also picked up that night by ABC News and Fox News. Today, approximately three weeks after it happened there are almost 1000 hits on Google when typing in the search words, “Steak and Shake” and “Deaf Mom”.

More than that, this story appears in positions #3 through #9 on the front page of Google when searching on the terms “Steak and Shake”. Currently, the Steak and Shake site itself holds positions #1 and #2, but if this continues - how long will that last?

Liz notes that companies today need to implement a crisis management policy to handle any negative publicity that can occur. News via the internet travels faster than the speed of light nowadays. As Liz states:

This incident underscores what we have been saying - the traditional rules of “managing the message” don’t apply any more. Consumers have much more opportunity to take the message into their own hands with minimal cost and maximum effect.

To read the full post on Business and Blogging: Crisis Case Study: Steak 'n Shake Denies Service to Deaf Mom

and a follow up interview:

Business and Blogging: Interview with Karen Putz

Several people have asked me for an update on the Steak 'n Shake situation. Howard Rosenblum, a deaf attorney from Equip for Equality, is working with me on this. Steak 'n Shake has hired an attorney with a disability rights background to assist them. We are currently waiting to hear from them.


Anna said...

This is amazing.

Obviously from now on, before someone treats a customer wrong, they will need to stop and ask themselves, "Does she have a blog?" Better not to risk it.

mishkazena said...

Yes, the Internet has increased the leverage of the consumers considerably. According to one leading protester, Gallaudet Protest wouldn't have been so successful if it wasn't for their fellow supporters on the Internet.

Cruise Trip for the Deaf - Oct 2007 said...

Good job! Let us know the result!

Anonymous said...

Karen, I understand that you had a legitimate issue with the way Steak n Shake manager dealt with you and that you got an apology from the top SnS people. I commended your efforts for all of this but why are you still going ahead with a pending lawsuit against them? Are there other unresolved issues that we don't know about? Steak n Shake was in the wrong and should accept responsibility for the actions of their employees with all customers, hearing or deaf. Seem like a can of worms is about to open, eh?

Jim said...

Thanks for the links and updates. I read them all. I like this kind of discussing to see what today's businesses are doing in responding to the quick computer negative messages.

Jeanne Dininni said...


This whole situation is absolutely incredible! (I've been out of the loop for a while due to family illness, so I'm a bit behind on this issue--as well as on the rest of my feed-reading.) It's so hard to believe that an employee could behave that badly and actually feel justified.

What a shame that "company policy" can make some people behave in ways that are so rigid, inflexible, and uncaring and prevent them from judging each situation on its own merits.

Or maybe it's simply that these people lack wisdom and/or compassion when they implement company policy--which would make it a personal flaw. But, either way--whether the fault is entirely the employee's or partly the company's, the treatment you received was atrocious--and inexcusable!

If this is what they call "customer service" at that establishment, I would certainly never give them any more of my business in the future--and I'd recommend that others didn't either. (Of course, if the company were to apologize and reprimand/implement other disciplinary measures against the employee, that would be different.)

Wishing you the best resolution of this issue! (Also, glad it's receiving so much publicity!)


Abbie said...

The power of the internet is a great thing. You reached far and beyond lady :) I am still following any updates!

Lantana said...

Thank you for keeping us up to date. Perhaps some day we can call you the "Rosa Parks" of the drive-in window!

For myself, I still park and walk in and give them my order "to go". We do not have many drivein places in my area, so I have not bothered to push it. And I try hard not to practice compulsive eating.

I am concentrating on hospitals myself. I have received terrible, insulting service in hospitals and since I am retired and pay a fortune for Medical Insurance, they better change some things OR ELSE!

I do understand your situation and this all happened in front of your deaf child. I am sure your child will never forget the incident!

Cordially, Lantana

Bryen said...

Hi Karen,

Just stopped by because I had the television on and saw a Steak 'N Shake commercial. Something about a "Coconut joke." And it wasn't captioned.

Made me wonder where Steak 'N Shake is at. Surely they don't need the threat of a lawsuit to tell them they need to caption their new commercials. Doesn't look like much of a best-foot-forward action on their part yet. (At least from where I can see.)

MyChronicLife said...

I'm very pleased with our ability to be advocated for ourselves and for others through our blogs. Please keep us updated on your progress. I look forward to reading about it.

If you don't mind please take a look at something that you may have been aware of already. I've been sick and couldn't blog about it until just now:

Can you help spread the news about this? Thank you.

Josh said...

Karen -

I didn't realize that you were famous when I met you tonight while you and your family were skiing!

I hope this incident brings further disability awareness to the public and more importantly to businesses with ignorant management/employees such as this.

I enjoyed meeting you and your family.

Josh the ASL student. (I promise I'm not stalking you... but behold the power of google! :) )

VAL said...

very interesting, isn't it great to see all that support

Val said...

ISN'T IT amazing to see all that support!!

Donna said...

Hi. I discovered your blog last week and have read the whole thing since then. (I'm a SAHM and my daughter naps on my arms most days, so I have lots of surfing time). Thanks for sharing your life with the internet community. I'm fascinated by it. I worked w/Deaf students at RIT for a year and I really, really enjoyed it. Now I'm teaching my 5 month old sign language.

Blog [with]tv said...

Karen, this is a most interesting post. Thank you. Remember the days when we were amazed by the "word of mouth" factor with e-mail alone?

We look forward to future updates from you!

Terri said...

I have been following your story and I am fascinated by the power of the web in disability advocacy efforts!

I do not understand what about disability that allows people to justify behavior they would never display toward anyone else. I am excited about the power of the web to leverage some accountability for these usually invisible behaviors.

Best of luck.