Season 2

Ep 10: What’s Done Is Done: How to Bounce Back From Embarrassment

With Tori Lazar & Will Beckett

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In the moment, it’s awful. And often for many moments afterwards, still awful. But inevitably we are going to embarrass ourselves, let’s figure out how to flip the script.

In this episode, we’ll hear the story of how restaurateur Will Beckett’s humour and kindness turned a very expensive mistake into great press and a boost in sales. Then, branding expert and leadership coach Tori Lazar speaks to the benefits of seeing the levity in humiliating experiences, and facing it all head on.

Join host Lottie Bazley as she walks us through some good old-fashioned embarrassing stories, cringe-worthy moments, and, of course, lasting lessons.


Lottie Bazley: Imagine, you're having a quiet night in and decide to head off to bed early. Your whole nighttime routine is done, you turn off your light ready to drift off into sleep. When all of a sudden you remember that time you accidentally said, “I love you,” to your boss. We've all been there, remembering those cringe-worthy things that we've done that we just want to erase from our memories all together.

Embarrassing moments often stick with us whether we like it or not. And because we don't plan for embarrassing things to happen, it often feels like they occur at the last time and place we'd hoped for. And sometimes, that time and place is at work. So what can we do when these inevitable slipups happen? How can we embrace embarrassment, and maybe even use it to our advantage?

You are listening to Infernal Communication brought to you by Staffbase, and I'm your host, Lottie Bazley. In today's episode, we are taking you through stories that, at the time felt like they were the end of the world.

Tori Lazar: And I was in a room with about, I want to say five people. And in that moment, as a woman, you realize it's happening.

Lottie Bazley: That's our guest, Tori Lazar. You'll be hearing more from her later. But first...

Will Beckett: My name's Will. I'm one of the co-founders and the CEO of Hawksmoor.

Lottie Bazley: For those of you who are unfamiliar, Hawksmoor is a delicious steak restaurant chain in the UK and US.

Will Beckett: Last year we were ranked the number one steak restaurant in the world.

Lottie Bazley: I personally am a big fan. It's one of my favorite places to go to grab a nice juicy T-bone. Just to give you a sense of the vibe, here's Will Beckett painting a picture.

Will Beckett: Normally you might walk through a high-end restaurant and see people in suits, and ties, and jackets with sommelier pins, all looking very serious. At Hawksmoor, you'd see a bunch of people with their own shirts, and T-shirts, and jeans and trainers, probably with tattoos. And the average age would be a lot younger, and it'd be a much more diverse kind of crowd.

Lottie Bazley: So, Will is a seasoned restaurateur, but his success hasn't been without a few bumps in the road. In 2019, Hawksmoor restaurant experienced a little, well, a very expensive fuck-up. It happened a couple of years ago, but will remembers it quite clearly.

Will Beckett: I'm one of those idiots that wakes up and immediately picks up their phone and starts looking at things on it. And I got an email from the general manager of Hawksmoor Manchester, and he said, “I just want to make sure that I tell you before anyone else that, yesterday we had a bit of a fuck-up in the restaurant.”

Last night, someone ordered quite a spendy bottle of wine, probably about 200 pounds, and she went, she served them the wine. They seemed extremely happy. About an hour later they asked if they could have another one, and she went back and she couldn't find another one of these bottles. And at that point realized, actually, the bottle that they had served was a different bottle to the one that they had ordered. They'd ordered a poirac bordeaux wine, and they'd been served a bottle of Chateau Lapeyre, 2001. She then realized, looking at the list, was on for 4,500 pounds, if I remember rightly. It was a really expensive bottle of wine.

Lottie Bazley: 4,500 pounds. That's over 5,600 US dollars. But these patrons were blissfully drinking it without a clue. So what did our manager-in-training do when she realized?

Will Beckett: She decided, okay, well we just won't say anything. We won't say anything. There's no more of that wine, I'm really sorry. Can I get you something else? They let the evening carry on. Charged them for the original wine, and that was it. So from the general manager, “Will, I just want to let you know that, in fact, we've given away a four and a half thousand bottle of wine by mistake.” And, I at whatever it was, seven in the morning, thought, shit.

Lottie Bazley: Shit is right. So at that point, the mistake was made. There was nothing anyone could do. Or was there?

Will Beckett: I don't do it all the time, but I had access to the Twitter accounts. And I just tweeted something like, “To the people who got mistakenly served a bottle of Chateau Lapeyre 2001, we hope you had a really, really good time. And to the person who accidentally served it, one-off, mistakes happen and we love you anyway.” It was something like that. And I turned my phone off, and went and started looking after my kids and making breakfast. And by the time I then went to work, I kind of realized, now looking at Twitter again, that it was starting to blow up. But maybe by this point, an hour and a half later or something, it had had a few hundred likes. And from there it just blew up to the point where, without any fear of exaggeration, it was a global news story for about 24 hours. It was incredible.

Lottie Bazley: Will's original post got nearly 60,000 likes, and the story was featured on outlets like the BBC, NBC News, and the Washington Post. So what started out as a bit of a blunder turned into a great way to earn some fun press. Well, fun press and some money.

Will Beckett: But actually, the restaurant got busier for two or three weeks. I think it probably did an extra 40,000 pounds of sales on the back of that story.

Lottie Bazley: So the restaurant more than made its losses back, but that's in the long haul. What about the immediate aftermath, that poor manager in training. What was going on in her mind?

Will Beckett: I mean, she was obviously mortified. And all of her friends I think, back in Scotland, took the piss out of her remorselessly. Kind of giving her a bottle of Buckfast with a label of Chateau Lapeyre 2001 stuck over it, just written in Sharpie. So yeah, I think she was giving herself enough of a hard time without us adding.

Lottie Bazley: And of course, all that media, who do you think they were asking to talk to?

Will Beckett: She was like, “Oh my God, no, this is already the absolute low.” By this point, by the way, I thought this was great, this was fantastic. I was really enjoying myself. But she thought it was kind of like the Nadir of her career. So she was like, “Of course I don't want to talk to them. I don't want my name in the paper, don't want to do any of that kind of stuff.” In the Telegraph the next day, the cartoon was a bloke turning up at a burger van saying,“ Excuse me, mate. I ordered a tea with four sugars, but you've given me a 2001 Chateau Lapeyre Pomerol.” And we bought a copy of that, and framed it, and gave her that.

Lottie Bazley: Imagine messing up to that extent, and then having people from all around the world talking about it. Thankfully, she had supportive coworkers and friends to help her laugh through the embarrassment. Unfortunately, not all cringey events can be as easily spun into a creative branding opportunity, you know, those personal ones that are just plain embarrassing.

Once, I was on my way to a meeting with my team, they told me, “Hey, we're in room three.”

As I like to make a bit of an entrance, I barged through the door and shouted, “Bonjour!” At the top of my lungs. Turns out I had misread the invite, and the people actually in this meeting room were a bunch of very senior leaders. I apologized profusely, and slipped away full of shame and fear for my job. Nice one, Lottie. Really climbing the corporate ladder there. It's hard to believe there's any kind of silver lining in a situation like that. So what's the best thing to do in those scenarios, those moments that make you just want to curl up into a ball and be blasted out of a cannon?

Tori Lazar: We're all having that internal dialogue when we're going through something that's quote, unquote, “embarrassing.”

Lottie Bazley: That's Tori Lazar. Her professional trajectory has been an impressive journey of twists and turns. She's a former fashion stylist, turned content editor, turned marketing expert, turned tech executive.

Tori Lazar: For a year, and then I got laid off. And after my experience being a woman in the tech industry, I realized that I wanted to pivot that people skill to actually helping and supporting other women in similar situations to me, and to help them grow, and change, and navigate their careers with grace and grit.

Lottie Bazley: So, Tori started her own leadership coaching business called How to Fuck Up Well. Needless to say, bouncing back from embarrassing circumstances is kind of her shtick. And she's got a particularly good story of her own.

Tori Lazar: So there was this one time in a meeting where I had a really ferocious period cycle happening, and I bled through my pants. And actually, so badly so onto the chair in the meeting room. And I was in a room with, I want to say five people. And so in the moment, I just remember sitting there for a minute and being like, I can do one of two things. I can either try to hide this, and it be very awkward for me and probably for everyone who's going to see it. Or I can just invite people into the experience, and maybe try to find some humor in the moment.

And so I just look to the person next to me and I was like, “I'm so sorry to interrupt this meeting, but I have a really bad period right now. I've bled through my pants. It is absolutely on the chairs. I'd really appreciate if you could just grab one of those napkins. When I get up, give it to me. I'll throw it over, and then I need to leave this meeting and I need to take care of it.”And this was actually a man who was sitting next to me. And it was funny, because you could see in that moment he was like, respect. He was like, “Okay, this is uncomfortable, but I'm here to help you.” And we had a laugh about it. And I was like, “I'm so sorry. I'll be back in a moment.”

Lottie Bazley: Bold move, Tori. There is a reason, “What's your most embarrassing moment?” Is such a common icebreaker. It sparks conversations that make you feel closer to someone. And as Tori found, people tend to respond well to that kind of openness.

Tori Lazar: What happened was, I went about my business, I took care of things. I had the period stain on my pants. There's no way around it. Luckily, I was in jeans so it's a little less visible. And I came back, and it started a conversation amongst the team. And other women were much more open to sharing their similar experiences, and to talking about it. And we invited the men in the room to also have that conversation, and we had a laugh and we moved on from it. I remember being in that moment and just wishing that that was always the experience when something like that happened. And that, as a woman, I didn't feel so shameful to have a period or to talk about a period, but people respected me for it. And that's what I found, is that just being honest in that moment and vulnerable in that moment, even though it's weird for everyone and you don't want to put people in those uncomfortable situations, but sometimes it can be really good. It can be cathartic for people.

Lottie Bazley: The way Tori navigated through this incident so head-on makes it sound easy. But I know for me, when I'm in that kind of situation, head-on is not so easy. Tori's reaction, however, makes a strong case for taking control of your own narrative. And it also prompts us to think about what the situation could have looked like if she hadn't.

Tori Lazar: I was uncomfortable. And so then, that sets a precedent for everyone else to be uncomfortable. What I did in that moment, I was able to just take ownership of it. This is happening right here, right now. This is my body, this is natural. And I know it might be uncomfortable for me to share it with you, but I need help right now, and you're the person sitting next to me, and I need you to meet me where I'm at. And I believe that people, to their core, if you are a good person, if you're an honest person, they'll meet you there.

Lottie Bazley: The value Tori places on honesty and transparency here also translates back into the branding sphere. Tori took an embarrassing scenario and made the best out of it by connecting with her peers. In a similar way, some companies who sell quote, unquote, “embarrassing” products like period supplies, have benefited from using the same approach.

Tori Lazar: I really admire this one founder and entrepreneur, Nadya Okamoto, who's the founder of August, a period care brand. And she goes to music festivals, to major Hollywood events as well, like movie premieres, and carries her tampons in a clear little bag. She also shows her pad. It's incredible to see.

Another brand that comes to mind is Star Face, the pimple patches. Which, now you see young people walking around with the star patches on their face, showing off their acne loud and proud. And I think that's incredible. And I think it's because these are things that most human beings are going through. And all it takes is one person, one brand to say that they're going through it for it to inspire a dialogue. Externally, right? Because we're all having that internal dialogue when we're going through something that's quote, unquote, “embarrassing.” We're all feeling alone, and like we're in a silo. And society, oftentimes with things like your period, things like acne, we think that they're not acceptable. And that's why we feel shameful about it, or we feel embarrassed by it. But the more people that have the courage to share those things. And to use them as part of how they navigate their career, how they build their brand, that's inspiring. And it also facilitates such a deep connection. And social media is very impersonal in a lot of ways. But when someone puts themselves out there like that, that's when it becomes more personal. Because people can latch onto that story, they can see themselves in that story. And the more people that are having these conversations online, I mean, that's how brands grow. But that's also how larger change happens.

Lottie Bazley: So people respond well to others who embrace those troublesome moments that make us human. And we respond to brands that do the same. Brands that admit to the things that we might feel afraid to. That's why the wine incident at Hawksmoor became such a big story. It's the kind of thing that could happen to anyone. People could relate to how the manager in training must have been feeling. And another important factor here is that none of this was planned. It was an authentic human mess up.

Will Beckett: Funnily enough, I looked it up online again. And one of the first hits is, was this a marketing scam? And I just think it's the stupidest possible marketing scam. How would you come up with that, and why would you suspect that that would go viral?

Lottie Bazley: Here's Will's theory as to why the story drew so much attention.

Will Beckett: One was, everybody, I think, quite likes the idea of being occasionally just given something for nothing. Be nice if that happened to you, wouldn't it? And I think because they thought it was quite a human way of dealing with the person and the problem. It wasn't, “You're fucking toast, that's it.” It was, “That's a daft mistake, but just don't worry about it. It happens. Everybody makes them. I've made plenty, many of them significantly more expensive than that one.” And I think everybody liked the idea, that would be how you would deal with things that are genuine mistakes.

Lottie Bazley: Will saying that he's made more expensive mistakes than that is not an understatement. Whilst he may be a very successful entrepreneur, not all of his restaurants have worked out. Out of the 16 he and his partner had opened, eight succeeded and eight failed.

Will Beckett: Three of them were very early in our career, by the way. So I mean, we were chaotic earlier in our career, and had no idea what we were doing, success or failure. But the ones that we closed later on in our career, we did take that thought. We were like okay, this is happening. This is a failure. We are going to close it down. How do we do that in the way that has the most integrity? And where we can look back on it and think, okay, we're kind of proud of how we dealt with it.

Lottie Bazley: Closing a restaurant is, indeed, a much bigger financial setback than serving the wrong bottle of wine. So after your next flop, it's important to ask yourself if it's really that big of a deal. What's really at stake here? And if the answer is only your pride, you aren't so bad off. But whether the mistake is big or small, Will has some words to live by.

Will Beckett: Own it. Right? This wasn't doing something wrong, this was a mistake. But if something has significantly gone wrong, I think owning it is a good principle.

Lottie Bazley: This aligns with what Tori said earlier, about controlling your own narrative. By taking the lead on the situation, it invites others to follow suit. And like Will mentioned, most embarrassing things are just plain funny. So don't be afraid to get over yourself and laugh it off.

Tori Lazar: Humor is humility, right? It's being vulnerable and it's being humble. It's being grounded. It's being accepting of who you are. And I think that's why it's so important. You need to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes. Not everything is so serious. And when you're able to accept yourself, you're able to accept others. You're able to be open-minded, to learn, to grow.

Lottie Bazley: Things are going to go wrong sometimes. The overall outcome is determined by how you deal with it.

Tori Lazar: There is a way to fuck up well. There's a way to come back from failure, there's a way to come back from embarrassment, and actually use it to create a new connection, to create a new opportunity.

Lottie Bazley: So the next time you accidentally hit reply all instead of just writing it to that one person, or you trip onto the stage just before delivering that big speech, or nature calls at the most inopportune time, know that it's just a moment and it will pass. No one ever cares as much as we think they do, but do take the time to feel your emotions as they come. Then, take the situation by the reigns and own your narrative. Come clean. Don't feel shame that you live in a human body. And most importantly, keep your sense of humor.

I want to thank today's guests, Will Beckett co-founder and CEO of Hawksmoor, as well as Tori Lazar, Creative Leadership coach and business consultant. I'm your host, Lottie Bazley, and this is Infernal Communication, brought to you by Staffbase, with production support from Jar Audio. Join us next time where we talk about language, your audience, and Star Trek.

Sara Rivera: If I say to you, shocked pikachu meme, you understand me. You know what meme I'm talking about. But my mom doesn't.

Lottie Bazley: If you enjoy the show, tell the person who just walked in on you in the bathroom, or tell the person on the bus you accidentally spilled your coffee on, or tell the waitress who said, “Enjoy your meal,” and you responded, “You too.” You can also follow us on your favorite podcast app. And leave a review, we would love to hear from you. Catch you on the flip side.

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