This past spring wasn’t an overly joyous time for Domino’s Pizza. In April, an employee at a franchised store in Conover, North Carolina, used a video camera to document her co-worker in the act of violating numerous food safety measures. The pizza maker — actually, he was constructing sandwiches at the time — made hundreds of thousands of stomachs turn in the video that quickly went viral on YouTube.
It was a nightmare for the delivery giant, which already was struggling with lackluster sales in its U.S. stores. Thanks to the action of two wayward individuals, a brand that has built a reputation over half a century was quickly and severely damaged. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the power sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube wield.
Though it’s now June, I am writing this column in April. Domino’s is getting mixed reviews for its response to the crisis, and rightfully so. While I sympathize with the position in which Domino’s found itself after the video got traction, I can’t understand why it took the company so long to go into crisis-response mode. We now live in an age where information hits the masses instantaneously — but Domino’s didn’t have any meaningful response to the video until two days after it was first posted on YouTube. In the meantime, the problem only worsened as more people viewed the video and blogged about it online.
Perhaps the Domino’s braintrust hoped the video would go unnoticed if they didn’t draw attention to it. Perhaps, being a giant, the company simply moves slowly by virtue of the amount of red tape it has to cut to get anything accomplished. I don’t know. But I do know this: for consumers, the video was the ultimate scarecrow.
“How often does that happen in other Domino’s stores?” Americans logically wondered. But the video didn’t just taint the Michigan-based franchise — it tainted all restaurants, in my opinion. If this can happen in a Domino’s store in North Carolina, is it out of the question that it can also happen in an independent pizzeria in Des Moines or a seafood restaurant in Portland?
It’s no secret that things like this occur from time to time in professional kitchens. Though the foodservice industry does its best to hide such cases, I’ve worked in enough restaurants and have watched enough hidden-camera television shows to know that the public can’t always trust those who handle its food.
Thankfully, acts of this nature are few and far between. The overwhelming majority of foodservice workers are honest, safety-conscious people who realize their actions can affect the health of others.
But the hoards that viewed the embarrassing Domino’s video can’t be faulted for wondering how prevalent these acts are within the foodservice industry. Right or wrong, all restaurants are facing a public indictment over this — yours included. You can’t be in your restaurant at all times, but you are responsible for what happens in it, even while you’re away. If you’ve not already taken steps to ensure something like this doesn’t happen to you, do so now, before it’s too late.
Jeremy White, editor-in-chief