johnny rockets aretha franklin denied

True story: A 70-year-old woman approaches a brand-named restaurant to order takeout. As she waits for her order to be completed, she sits at an available booth. At that point, this woman is ready to enjoy her favorite burger at one of her most adored restaurant chains. Then suddenly, a young restaurant server screams at the patron with four words that change everything: “You can’t sit here!” These words are louder than usual because the brand is Johnny Rockets and the customer is Aretha Franklin.

When I got wind of this story, it made me cringe. It’s one of the purest examples of why brands are at the mercy of their employees. According to the Buffalo News, the Johnny Rockets server said, “You can’t sit here because you ordered for takeout. You can only stand in the perimeter.”

“The woman was very rude, unprofessional and nasty – certainly not the appropriate face for Johnny Rockets,” Franklin said in the statement. “No one should be addressed this way, whether a celebrity or not. I told her she can eat and pay for my meal, and left.”

It’s all very true. But if you scan the various news stories about this event, you rarely see any mention of the waitress’s name. Why? It’s because brands are always a reflection of their employees. And whether it’s a waiter, cashier, customer support attendant or corporate executive, each and every individual has the power to lift up or diminish a brand. In the end, though, it’s the brand that people remember and talk about.

Brands – especially those that live and die on customer service – need to engage their employees in policies and values that are critical to brand success. The fact is, 72 percent of all US workers are not engaged with their work and their employers. And in many cases, the 28 percent who are engaged are senior level executives who have a greater stake in the company. The result is a bigger problem facing the nation’s brands: up to $540 billion is lost as a direct result of employee disengagement every single year.

The no seating policy at Johnny Rockets for takeout orders is a real one. But when employees are not truly engaged with the company’s brand, they can’t make the decision about what’s in the brand’s best interest – they’re just doing what a manager told them to do. It makes sense because an owner told the manager to communicate that policy to her workers. After all, the owner was informed of this policy by a Johnny Rockets franchise executive.

Engaging employees the right way not only fuels a more productive workforce, but it empowers them to do what’s best for the brand. A restaurant crew member who doesn’t smile in front of customers is not engaged. An employee who badmouths the company is not engaged. A manager who doesn’t motivate her employees is not engaged. And somewhere along the way, there’s a failure to connect the brand with the company culture.

The lesson: Don’t let employees run amuck with your brand. Show them a way to balance policies with brand objectives – because sometimes the two can bump heads. But before you do this, make sure that these internal customers are truly engaged by creating opportunities, offering recognition, communicating successes, and building collaborative work processes. Do this and employees wiill automatically be wired to show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.