Published on: May 29, 2013by Kate McMahon
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A shocking racist rant by a Papa John’s deliveryman, and the company CEO’s immediate response, illustrate once again the lightning quick speed and power of social media.
Papa John’s founder and chairman John Schnatter took to Facebook and Twitter Monday after firing the two employees involved and personally apologizing to the maligned customer in Sanford, Fla.
The Papa John’s delivery person “butt dialed” the customer after the delivery and inadvertently left a voicemail message laced with reprehensible racist slurs and complaints about his $5 tip on a $15.26 check. Another Papa John’s employee is heard laughing during the four-minute tirade, which includes a hackneyed song substituting the “N-word” for Figaro from the famed aria from the opera “The Barber of Seville.”
The customer posted the offensive voicemail on YouTube, including video confirmation of the telephone number and his receipt. “This is highly offensive, derogatory, and ignorant,” he said. “As an African-American in this community and also someone who has always tipped their Delivery Drivers 21%+, I am disgusted entirely by this conversation. Instead of focusing on ‘better ingredients’ and ‘better pizza,’ they should prioritize ‘better integrity’ and ‘better people’ on the top of their ‘to-do list.’ “
The video ended with a shot of the Papa John's pizza box with CEO Schnatter's face on it. It went viral with more than 500,000 views by last night. It also comes at a time of heightened racial tension in Sanford, where neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman awaits trial on charges he fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin last year.
Schnatter, who founded Papa John’s in 1984, responded immediately. "Friends, I am extremely concerned to learn about the reprehensible language used by two former employees in one of our restaurants," the Facebook post stated. "Their thinking and actions defy both my personal and the company's values, and everything for which this company stands.”
The overwhelming majority of the comments on Facebook were supportive of Schnatter’s apology. But, this is not the first public relations black eye for Papa John’s, the third largest pizza delivery chain in the nation. Earlier this month, a Papa John’s deliveryman was accused of selling more than $45,000 in cocaine, hidden among pizza boxes, to undercover agents in New York. And back in January 2012, a customer was described on a paper receipt as "Lady Chink Eyes" by a Papa John's employee in New York City, which was then sent out on Twitter.
Schnatter also found himself on the defensive last year over his comments about the price tag of the Affordable Care Act, which were referenced in many Facebook posts.
What remains to be seen is how long this incident will play out on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, whether Schnatter’s apology is sufficient and if it will have an impact on sales or a franchise’s standing in a community.
In the end, the buck stops with founder/CEO Schnatter. He literally is the face of the company with his picture on the pizza box. Every black eye the brand gets is one that he wears as well.
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