Metro restaurants report huge drop in turnover following Facebook campaign
A backlash against popular family eatery Spur after the ban of a patron in Johannesburg is being felt heavily in the Eastern Cape as franchises see diner numbers plummet by up to a third.
This has also resulted in jobs being placed in jeopardy.
A right-wing social media campaign to boycott the national chain is believed to have cost millions of rand in turnover.
Those hit hardest by the boycott are franchises in predominantly white, Afrikaans areas.
Uitenhage Wild Rapids Spur owner Pieter Kruger said his franchise was hit immediately after the boycott started.
“We have invested a lot of money into this community and suddenly people treat us as if it’s our fault,” he said.
Kruger said he had, at first, dismissed the boycott’s connection to his sudden customer shortfall but soon linked the two.
“We have to accept what is going on and find a turnaround strategy,” he said.
Kruger said since the boycott started his customer turnover had dropped by 30%.
The boycott was started on a Facebook page called Boycott/ Boikot SPUR Steak Ranches.
It came about after video footage of an altercation at the Texamo Spur in Johannesburg went viral in March and the food chain was sharply criticised for the way it was handled.
In the incident, Lebohang Mabuya was threatened by a father during an argument at the restaurant.
The video shows the man threatening to give Mabuya a “klap” and, at one point, he violently shakes her table.
A Port Elizabeth franchise owner, who did not want to be named, said: “This boycott campaign was orchestrated by racists.
“It has had a negative impact on the business. My turnover is down by 35%. I have to cut staff as a result.”
Several other franchise owners in Port Elizabeth confirmed the boycott had affected their businesses, but refused to comment further and referred questions to the group’s head office.
Spur Group chief operating officer Mark Farrelly said the boycott was affecting a minority of Spur branches, mainly those in “strongholds of the old Conservative Party”.
“Spur is greatly concerned about the effect of the boycott on individual franchisees, who are the hardest hit by this action, and the effect on the people employed by them,” he said.
Farrelly said the Spur Group was a solid company with a diverse portfolio and its growth and performance in the past had shown resilience. The Boycott/Boikot SPUR Steak Ranches Facebook page administrator, who only identified himself as a “white winger”, said he was pleased with the results.
Asked when the boycott would end, he said: “When the hysterical black mother also gets banned from all Spurs and pays for their lunch like the white family did that day – so I guess never.”
Told about the impact on Spurs in the Eastern Cape, he said: “They should absolutely take on [Spur chief executive Pierre] van Tonder for damages. He is the only one to blame.”
A waitress at the Red Rock Spur at the Boardwalk said she was surprised at how quickly the boycott had affected the restaurant.
“Some white customers still ask about that incident,” she said.
Shifts and the hours allowed to work in a day have been reduced at the Thunder Spur in Walker Drive, according to two waitresses.
One said she and her colleagues had felt the impact of the boycott, with shifts reduced from five a week to three, and sometimes they were only allowed to work two hours per shift.
When The Herald visited the restaurant yesterday only three tables had patrons.
“Just look how quiet it is here,” she said, gesturing to all the empty tables.
She said it had become more difficult to make ends meet and the boycott had serious financial consequences for her and her colleagues who only earn R16.91 an hour.
“We have been to the CCMA but there’s nothing they can do because the business is not making money,” she said.
Her colleague said they were also considering joining a union to help them.
“Sometimes we come in for the morning shifts [at 9am] and then get sent home at 11am because there is no one coming in,” she said.
Social media expert and NMMU lecturer Janelle Vermaak said: “Social media has the potential to cause damage to a brand’s reputation because it’s not fully monitored or regulated.” Vermaak lectures at the department of journalism, media and philosophy and has supervised a number of master’s students in their postgraduate studies into social media.
“Social media activists use the online environment as a facade to relay their own feelings and views without necessarily considering the consequences or the impact it would have,” she said.
“The online environment can create false impressions, which is dangerous because the end user doesn’t have any reference point to the person or group responsible for posting information, only what they see on the screen and not who is posting it.”
Reputation Matters managing director Regine le Roux said when a crisis occurred it was important to respond swiftly and empathetically and to clearly outline what the organisation was going to do to ensure the incident was not repeated.
Johannesburg-based Reputation Matters is a strategic corporate reputation company.
“Spur demonstrated with their response and in subsequent statements issued that they have done and are doing introspection,” she said.
“They issued an apology, empathising with the situation and identified that policies and procedures are important,” Le Roux said.
“Now they are training staff to help them manage these types of situations better in the future.”