For most small businesses, generating buzz via word of mouth across social media platforms is a dream come true.  Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can help companies reach new audiences while keeping existing customers engaged in their brand.  Companies large and small invest time and money trying to unlock the secret to going “viral” on the internet.

But what happens when Facebook or Twitter becomes a platform for people to speak out against your business?  One Chicago-area restaurant recently learned the hard way that the negative experience of one customer coupled with the power of social media was enough to draw national news coverage and threats of a protest.

Big Fish Grille, a family-owned restaurant located in south suburbs of Chicago, recently came under fire after a hostess reportedly asked a nursing mother to cover up or move to a more private area after other patrons complained.  Kristal Snow Tomko then took to Facebook late Sunday night to express her feelings on the incident.

“We were seated and ordered and sure enough, my 6-month-old threw a tantrum and was ready to eat,” wrote Tomko.  “Naturally, I began feeding my baby as I always do, everywhere. I breast feed. Really not ever been an issue. Until today.”

Tomko’s post indicates that she was never asked to leave, but was asked to move to a private area – an empty dining room or a restroom.

By the next day, screenshots of the post were being shared wildly across pro-breastfeeding and mothers’ pages, as well as on Twitter. Her original post has been shared over 950 times, and it didn’t end there.  Screenshots of the restaurant’s response began circulating as well.  For many, the response, which was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, was seen as passive-aggressive and worse than the incident itself.

Hours later, Big Fish’s facebook page was inundated with posts from around the world with pictures of nursing mothers, and their Google review score had dropped from a 4.3 to a 2.2. Yelp was similarly overrun with negatives reviews, but were later removed by Yelp since the reviews were being written by people who had never been to the restaurant.

By mid-week, a “nurse-in” had been scheduled for the following weekend and multiple news channels were covering the incident across the Chicagoland area.

Restaurant owner John Mathias eventually apologized both on Facebook and in an on-camera interview.  “It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it.”

Mathias’ apology may have come too late.  According to a June 2013 article in AdAge (, consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found negative online buzz reduced sales for an unnamed client by 8%.  These numbers show that when it comes to the power of social media, bad press is not always better than no press at all.

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Ashley Massier