Most businesses have always believed in the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. The trick has always been to generate enough publicity—regardless of whether it’s bad or good. And in many cases, it works. Recent research has shown that negative stories attract 172% more news coverage and 178% more social shares than positive stories.
But the same doesn’t hold true in the foodservice industry. There’s no way of spinning a headline about someone getting food poisoning in your restaurant! Businesses’ reputations can be irreversibly damaged when it’s the brand’s integrity that is the source of negative publicity.
The Impact of Fatbergs and Fines
And with so-called fatbergs becoming a more widely recognised problem, and customers generally being more environmentally aware, it’s not just your food that you should be worried about getting negative reviews. Earlier this year a Nottingham restaurant hit the news after being fined £8,419 for blocking the local sewers with fat, oil and grease (FOG).
Another restaurant in Shrewsbury was ordered to pay over £9,000 after it put FOG down the drain, causing the sewers to overflow and pollute a nearby watercourse.
A representative from the water company described both situations as “totally avoidable, and in this case, simply installing a suitable grease trap and making sure it’s maintained could have prevented the situation”.
When FOGs (natural by-products produced during cooking) are suspended in the water they congeal and harden as they cool. By disposing of FOG down the sink or drain, businesses not only face the risk of a fine but also potentially irreversible reputational damage.
There are approximately 200,000 sewer blockages in the UK every year, of which 75% are caused by FOG. Restaurants, particularly fast-food restaurants, are bearing most of the blame. Research by Thames Water found that if you live with 50 metres of a fast-food place, your chances of being flooded with raw sewage are eight times higher.
Restaurants who have been fined for blocking the sewers, or even those that are just in the general area of a recently discovered fatberg, are perceived as wasteful, lazy and environmentally abusive.
What Matters to Potential Customers?
Recent research has shown that two-thirds of restaurant customers are less likely to choose to eat at restaurants with a poor environmental record. It has also been shown that customers form their opinions on a restaurant’s environmental record predominantly from news sources and social media.
So, even if a business has improved its environmental record since that last fine, customer perception of that business will already have been formed from the negative things they’ve seen online. They’re unlikely to recognise improved green practices simply because it’s less likely to garner media attention. In other words, the damage will already have been done.
Despite this, it’s estimated that only 20% of the 400,000 commercial kitchens in the UK have any sort of FOG management system in place. Largely this is due to a lack of awareness and because current building regulations don’t mandate the use of a FOG mitigation system. It’s still a commonly held misconception that water companies will pay to repair the blocked sewers themselves!
But with increased media awareness about how fatbergs form, we are seeing water companies coming down much harder on sites that don’t have effective grease management systems in place. And while there is no law stating explicitly that foodservice establishments need to fit a grease management system, there is legislation in place making them responsible if a sewer is blocked due to discharge from their establishment.
Businesses responsible for discharging FOG into the sewer system can easily be tracked down, and as well as fines and negative media coverage, they could also face substantial charges for cleaning and repairing the environmental damage. In the water companies’ opinion, there’s simply no excuse for discharging FOG anymore.
It’s the type of thing which could linger over your businesses forever. You spend years and years trying to reverse the reputational damage or hire a specialist PR firm, but the easiest and most cost-effective solution is to not let it become a problem in the first place.
Automatic grease traps are the ideal solution for filtering FOG from your business’ wastewater before it can enter the sewer system—ensuring your reputation remains spotless.