When the manager of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia decided to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave before her party had a meal, Stephanie Wilkinson knew there would be consequences… But were those consequences worth the momentary feelings of justification that prompted the ouster?
That’s a question that will continue to be answered in the coming weeks and months as customers decide to cast their votes with their wallets. Already, though, lines have been drawn and decisions have been made as a result of the “you’re not welcome” that turned into national news.
By all accounts, the ladies, Wilkinson and Sanders, were polite during the brief interaction. No one tried to cause a scene or create a photo op. Sanders and her group quietly left, and Wilkinson returned her attention to her other guests. But that was far from the end of it. By the next morning, the incident was national news, and consumers across the country, as well as in Lexington, were taking sides.
Whatever happens next, the operative question is, “Will it be worth it?” Wilkinson has already chosen to resign her position as executive director of Lexington’s Main Street business alliance. The position is pivotal to the success of multiple downtown businesses, and protesters were threatening consequences for Main Street if the organization continued to support Wilkinson.
And that is only the beginning. Like it or not, Wilkinson has become a talking point and a figure to hold up, either to laud or berate. Wilkinson, for her part, is sticking by her reasons, telling the Washington Post she made the call because, she believes, Sanders works for an “inhumane and unethical” administration.
Those qualifiers are certainly not going to endear her to Trump voters, who are likely to have already scratched Red Hen off their dinner possibilities list. This choice was supported by the President who, in his characteristic way, unleashed on Wilkinson via Twitter, calling the exterior of the restaurant “filthy,” and declaring, “if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia began circulating a boycott petition. And those were just the obvious potential consequences of Wilkinson’s decision. There are cascading unintended consequences as well. Red Hen restaurants across the country are taking hits on social media and on Yelp reviews. At least 10 different Red Hen restaurants not affiliated, at all, with Wilkinson’s restaurant, have come out and asked people to stop trolling them, calling them, or leaving harsh Google or Yelp reviews.
For these business owners, they are now forced to respond to the PR crisis version of guilt by association… even though they are not actually associated. And that’s one of the biggest consequences to consider if you plan to spark consumer rage about a social issue. Understand that rage has to be directed somewhere… and that mobs, in public or online, are difficult to predict.