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Popping a PR corker

20 May 2019 | Lloyd Hughes
Imagine being a waiter or waitress working in a restaurant and, with the customer requesting a certain vintage bottle, you duly head off to the wine cellar to fish it out.

Faced with a seriously diverse selection, but pushed for time, you pick up what appears to be the right bottle – a Bordeaux, 2001 vintage, Chateau…something, something. Can’t quite remember the rest. Hmm, but looks about right. I’m sure this is it.

Only it turns out, it isn’t it.

It’s not the £260 bottle requested (still a pricey vino, admittedly), it’s actually a £4,500 bottle, and – before you realise the mistake – the cork has been taken out and the customer, unsurprisingly, likes the taste.

Goodbye, £4,500.

If you’re working in a restaurant with that kind of wine list, then you should at least have a rudimentary appreciation of the most expensive on offer. Under normal circumstances you can imagine the consequences of this kind of error being a pretty serious one. A sacking? Docked wages? Pariah status and binned off to pot washing?

However, in today’s social media age, there’s another option available – turning the loss into a social media win.

Hawksmoor Manchester did just that, tweeting the below to its several thousand strong following, and letting them do the rest:

“To the customer who accidentally got given a bottle of Chateau Le Pin Pomerol 2001, which is £4,500 on our menu, last night – hope you enjoyed your evening! To the member of staff who accidentally gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway <winky face emoji>”

While the passive-aggressive winky emoji suggests the person responsible is likely being dipped into a vat of boiling oil rather than loved, the somewhat poorly worded tweet suggests at something other than a PR stunt.

Despite being cynical most of the time, I think this is a genuine one. And it’s one that’s reaped benefits and exposure that far outweighs the cost of the bottle, so perhaps the staff member in question was merely held over the vat rather than actively dipped before being taken down once it had taken off – so to speak.

Accumulating 10,000 retweets and over 60,000 likes it’s gone viral by any definition, with celebrities latching on to it and multiple news outlets reporting it. Quite frankly if they’d paid £4,500 for an orchestrated PR stunt…they’d be unlikely to get the same level of return.

The best PR is generally off the cuff and not stunt driven, and this one smacks of that. Of course, I could be being naïve and this is all a carefully orchestrated campaign.

Some people have noted that the customer hasn’t come forward, which is something that, if in Hawksmoor’s shoes, I’d have actively encouraged to add a human element to the story (I can appreciate why the staff member in question wasn’t thrust into the spotlight!).

However, I don’t think the customer remaining anonymous suggests it’s a sly stunt. After all, they’re ordering a £260 bottle of wine anyway…so I doubt they’re at the financially troubled end of the spectrum. I imagine they’d prefer to stay off the radar. In their shoes, I certainly would.

Others have suggested the customer must have been aware of the mistake and was simply taking advantage of an ingenuous waiter. That may sound likely, as when eating out in an upmarket restaurant, I live in terror of accidentally ordering one of the pricier wines – so I’d be sure to check the label. Having said that, if they’re already ordering a £260 bottle, then they’re clearly not as cautious as me in the wine stakes…which means it might genuinely have been consumed in good faith.

Either way, Hawksmoor has taken the story and ran with it, and it’s subsequently done a fantastic job of putting them in the limelight. One of the negatives (according to Hawksmoor’s Twitter), has been people pointing out Manchester’s homeless problem and the juxtaposition with them dishing out £4,500 wines.

To counter this, Hawksmoor highlighted that as a brand, it's raised more than £1m for multiple charities, including Action Against Hunger.

Although that’s a fine retort from Hawksmoor, on a personal level that kind of ‘whataboutery’ always annoys me. Bentley in Manchester sells £200,000+ cars…but you don’t see anyone camping outside the showroom complaining about homelessness (or indeed aggressively tweeting them), even though I’d argue that’s a far more potent example of the wealth divide.

Anyway, I digress. Tip of the cap to Hawksmoor for taking what could have been a costly error and turning it into a positive. And tip of the cap to the customer for enjoying what must have been a delightful red…you lucky so and so.