There’s a whole new spin on what “engagement” looks like when it comes to social activism in the age of social media. From the safety and relative anonymity of our favorite platforms, we share fake and real news, memes mocking public figures, and crowdsource everything from money to mindshare in rallying support for the cause du jour.

It’s one thing to trade barbs on Twitter. But it’s quite another when it all bleeds over into the “real” world. It’s something the hospitality industry, particularly the restaurant business, needs to look out for.

We’ve heard all the stories:

  • No surprise that Washington, D.C. restaurants have to step carefully given today’s polarized political climate. One restaurant there admits to tucking certain cabinet heads and administration officials away in a corner, near multiple exits (a Secret Service request) as an attempt to avoid confrontations by other diners and passers-by.
  • Sometimes confrontations can’t be avoided. Remember when protestors chased former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of a Mexican restaurant because of the controversial family separation immigration practice?
  • And sometimes the restaurant finds itself, not its guests, the target of activists. Such was the case in Chicago when activists posing as dinner guests at a popular River North restaurant stood up to shout out demands related to its management’s failure to address a sexual harassment complaint.

So, what is a restaurateur to do?

Every situation is different, of course. If your venue is the site of a private event highlighted by a controversial speaker, fine. But check out the organizing group and the speaker so you know what to expect, and make sure they do, too. You both have every right to escort protestors out if they crash a private event. In anticipating worst case scenarios, you’ll want to ensure local police are aware and on stand-by, too. Or, if you’re an owner and polarizing individuals come in with a private party, you’re also within your rights to ask them to leave if you find their stance personally distasteful.

Should social activists disrupt your restaurant to the extent that it suffers physical damage or must close temporarily just to regroup, losses are likely to be covered through business interruption insurance or standard liability coverage.

In any event, your crisis management plan needs to cover these types of situations. It should include:

  • Staff training and protocols. You want on-brand behavior by the management and wait-staff for any situation. Do’s and don’ts should be spelled out. No photos to be Instagrammed or Tweeted out. Paparazzi aren’t allowed. Have a policy on voicing personal political opinions on the job. Have backup protocols on how to handle unexpected situations – like protestors – without disrupting other guests.
  • Security/vulnerability assessment. A security expert can help facilitate this. The evaluation should start with access points, like front or back doors. Also important is in-house security. Are there live monitors or dummy cameras? Are they monitored in house or through a service? Is there on-staff security, and if so, how are these people trained? Are they armed?
  • Crisis communications. Your plan also should have a protocol for keeping the internal team informed of the status and outcome, and messaging should be approved for the spokesperson to share with external audiences.

HUB International’s team of brokers is available to work with you in understanding and managing social activism risk and insurance issues at your organization.