Joe’s Crab Shack Earns a PR Darwin Award

Joes Crab Shack

Every year folks get together and give out “Darwin” awards, mainly celebrating legendary and spectacular stupidity. Each award is bestowed on a person who Should Have Known Better but did whatever they did anyway. In some regards, public relations can be a similar pursuit. People come to you knowing they screwed up, and sometimes they knew it before they did whatever put them in the crisis they now face.

But you know what, we’re all human. We all have decisions we wish we could take back, so let’s not be too quick to cast stones.

For example. Everyone loves Joe’s Crab Shack. Good seafood, fun atmosphere. Not a bad spot to get a meal. At least, that’s what people used to say. Now, a recent news story has some people wondering if at least one location hasn’t up and lost their minds.

The incident occurred at a Minnesota Joe’s Crab Shack location, and, by all accounts, it was entirely avoidable.

Joe Shack Stupid PR Racist Photo

The photo of the placemat depicts a mass of white people gathering around in what appears to be a town in Texas called Groesbeck (“Hanging at Groesbeck, Texas on April 12th 1895.”) A speech bubble is shown coming from the black man in the crowd that says, “All I said was ‘I don’t like the gumbo!” – which implies that he will be hanged soon.

The restaurant likes to find “creative” ways to entertain customers while they wait for their food. One of these is the eclectic and tongue-in-cheek messages and pictures that decorate the place. But sometimes people don’t put enough thought into the line between “edgy and fun” and “what were you thinking.”

Case in point, a photo depicting a “Wild West” hanging with the caption: “All I said was, ‘I don’t like the gumbo!’”

Ha ha, right? No, not so much. See, the hanging was real, and the caption also noted it was at Groesbeck, Texas on April 12, 1895. Poor taste? Maybe, but it gets worse. Joe’s customer Tyrone Williams noticed something specific about the photo: the men doing the hanging were white. Those being hanged were black. So, legitimate execution or lynching? That question was left open to interpretation.

Williams snapped a photo of the image and posted it on Facebook, letting his friends decide what they thought. Initially, their response was with his – “what was the restaurant thinking.”

After he posted the photo, Williams called the picture to the attention of the manager some servers, who had never noticed it before. They were “appalled” and offered him a free meal. Williams said he wasn’t looking for a handout and paid for his food.

Meanwhile, Facebook was boiling over. The next day Williams said his message box was overflowing with racist diatribes. People kept sharing the image, and the issue exploded. Suddenly, Joe’s Crab Shack was being seen as a player in the ongoing debate over the racial divide in America.

The company did its best to distance its brand from the conversation, but they’re fighting an uphill battle. With every share and every comment, “Joe’s” and “racism” is linked. One simple lapse in judgment by – well, honestly who knows who put that picture on that table – and the entire company is facing a barrage of negative PR.

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