Bitter rivalries, drama-infused scheming and colossal meltdowns are mainstays of reality TV. Shows like “Survivor,” “The Real World” and “The Bachelor” thrive on high emotion and competition; but what happens when business owners participate in a reality TV show? For Samy and Amy Buzaglo, owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Ariz., their appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” definitely lived up to the show’s title.

The show probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference for the couple if they’d admitted their mistakes and, most importantly, stayed away from social media. That’s not what happened, though. Instead, the couple quickly took to their company’s Facebook page to denounce everyone who said anything negative about them or their restaurant, fueling the flames of Internet hatred and mockery.

Though they’ve made many mistakes while running their restaurant, Mr. and Mrs. Buzaglo would never have had to deal with the national scrutiny and scorn they’re enduring if they’d followed a few basic rules.

Let go of the past

In the first three minutes of the episode, it’s clear that neither owner believes there’s anything wrong with their restaurant; the only reason they chose to appear on television is to receive the admiration and recognition they believe they deserve from Gordon Ramsay. In their minds, Gordon will come in, find nothing wrong and declare their restaurant the Shangri-La of Arizona cuisine.

After meeting Gordon, one of the first things Amy talks to him about — before he even makes it into the kitchen — is the abuse she feels they’ve suffered from people on the Internet, beginning with a one-star Yelp review in 2010. That’s their first mistake. They now see everyone who criticizes them as a malicious Yelper, intent on destroying their brand’s reputation. The truth is, they’re doing it themselves by clinging to an old argument. If they’d just let go and focus on improving their business, they could earn the respect they desire.

Do right by the people you’ve wronged

The couple has fired more than 100 staff members in the past year — Amy even manages to fire a member of the wait staff during filming. After receiving negative comments on their Facebook page, they threw a tandem temper tantrum. Both events show that when confronted with their failings the couple doubles down and attempts to bully their way through the situation.

Instead of insisting that everyone around them is incompetent, ignorant and out to get them, they need to make amends. The best thing to do now is to acknowledge their faults — a step they both seem unlikely to ever take — and ask forgiveness. They don’t need to write apology letters to every employee they’ve fired or respond to every person they’ve railed against online, but they do need to publicly own up to their wrongdoing. The simple act of admitting to mistakes lays the foundation for recovering from a major public relations catastrophe.

Take a step back before you respond

The most public portions of the Amy’s Baking Company train wreck only received attention because the couple responded at the height of their anger. The American Psychological Association recommends that people suppress anger, then convert or redirect it to more constructive behaviors. That advice holds true for decisions relating to brands, too.

If the Buzaglos had just turned off the computer and focused on improving their food or providing additional training to their staff, they wouldn’t have set off the chain reaction that led to the national outrage pouring down on them. It’s okay to respond to negative criticism, but they need to pick their battles. If a man on Yelp says he doesn’t like your food, that doesn’t mean he’s trying to undermine your business and destroy your livelihood; it means he doesn’t like your food.

The Buzaglos have deluded themselves into believing that their problems are the result of a network of bullies attempting to ruin their business, when all along they’ve been undermining their own reputation and alienating people who don’t rave about their restaurant. They’ve taken all the wrong turns but expect to arrive at their destination anyway. It’s unlikely that Samy and Amy will change their ways and do the work necessary to build up their reputation, but good can still come of the situation.

Let this be a cautionary tale, something you laugh about and then learn from. All you really need to do is abide by Wheaton’s Law.

Image credit: John Aho