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A beef with Earls
Full disclosure - I have my own beef with Earls
Two months ago, I took my family there for dinner and my five-year-old spilled his Shirley Temple.
I asked for a refill, which the server brought, but they charged me for it at the end of the meal, breaking the sacred restaurant rule - if a kid spills a drink, his next one should be on the house.
That was an incredibly minor misstep for a franchise that made an incredibly major one just a few weeks later.
When Earls dropped Alberta beef from its menus in favour of so-called "Certified Humane" meat sourced from the United States it, by its own admission, never anticipated the blowback.
The irony is that Earls actually actively promoted this decision, sending a press release full of proclamations that it was a "proud day” and that they'd "fully realized the positive impact (they) could make"
Impact was right.
Positive…not so much
Within hours, Earls’ patrons across Alberta vowed to find their steaks somewhere else.
And by most accounts, they did.
The manager of the Earls in Lethbridge, the heart of cattle country, told my CTV colleague Terry Vogt that business plummeted by 30 percent after the announcement and they eventually had to lay off staff.
You can't blame Alberta ranchers for being frustrated - by most accounts, their standards of care when it comes to cattle are higher than anywhere else in the world.
Yes, animals are often given antibiotics or medicine, but only for the same reason humans are - to treat illness or manage pain.
But as one marketing expert told me, Earls decision to ban local beef had little to do with logic and more to do with jumping on a trend.
It's not the first time a corporation has attempted to capitalize on a perceived social movement, and not the first time it backfired.
I've never seen a store manager as shell-shocked as the guy who used to run "Bed Bath & Beyond" in Brentwood Mall.
We interviewed him four years ago after the U.S.-based company announced its trucks would no longer use fuel "derived from Alberta's tarsands.”
It was an absurd statement, backed with no evidence or acknowledgement that it was virtually impossible to trace where contracted drivers were filling up their tanks, never mind the fact that gas stations don't exactly practice point-of-origin labelling for their tanks.
The move was meant to woo the so-called "green" consumer.
All the befuddled local manager could do was apologize, point out he had nothing to do with the decision, and apologize some more.
Within 36 hours, the company backed off, saying it had been "misunderstood.”
In all fairness to Earls, they've owned their decision, and acknowledged it was the wrong one.
"It was a mistake and I apologize," Mo Jess, the restaurant's CEO said Wednesday.
But the backlash goes beyond Earls.
There is growing push back against corporations too quick to jump on a trend, trying to co-opt Facebook-friendly images of social justice with a sexy hashtag, while abandoning the clientele that put them on top in the first place.
Trendy doesn't always mean better.
When capitulating this week, Earls CEO said he’d been on a "roller coaster,” that he'd "disappointed Albertans" and was now "listening to (its) consumers."
And while you’re listening to your customers Earls, maybe rethink your Shirley Temple refill policy too.