Giannis’s Taco Debacle: 3 PR Takeaways for Your Brand

Boelter Lincoln, Blog, PR, Giannis

Milwaukee residents are typical Midwesterners, known for their calm, easy-going demeanor – at least until you mess with their sports heroes. That’s precisely what happened last night when the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo – who’d just scored the game-winning basket against the Boston Celtics – got the cold shoulder from a local taco joint. Thanks to social media, it quickly became a PR disaster.

In case you missed the events unfolding on Twitter Sunday night (and in national media the past two days), here’s a quick recap:

  • After a playoff victory on Sunday, Giannis and his family went to Bel-Air Cantina on Water St. for tacos, but left after waiting 10 minutes.
  • A star-struck (and shocked) local fan tweeted this selfie shortly thereafter, sparking an online firestorm:

  • Bel-Air Cantina responded to the controversy:
    • “We are very sorry we weren’t able to seat Giannis Antetokounmpo in as timely of a manner as we would have hoped…We were honored he came in for a celebratory meal, and wish we could have accommodated him right away. We welcome him back Thursday after another Bucks win and will hold open a table…we are pledging that if the Bucks win the series Thursday night in Milwaukee, we will provide all Bucks fans with a free taco with any purchase all day Friday at all our locations! #GoBucks #BucksIn6

With that quick primer done, let’s unpack this from a PR perspective. Here’s 3 takeaways from the taco debacle.

  1. Be transparent and own your mistakes

Regardless if the brand believed Giannis should have had preferential seating based on his status, Bel-Air Cantina’s customer base was upset. The restaurant was smart to own the mistake and issue an apology, slightly heading off the swarms of angry tweets in support of the hometown hero. Lucky for Bel-Air, Giannis is an easygoing customer, and accepted the apology publically. However, many customers (celebrity status or not) won’t be that flexible, making a sincere, authentic apology and solution even more necessary.

  1. Be ready for any opportunity

PR and social opportunities are not limited to business hours. In order to take advantage of the most valuable conversations, brands must always monitor public opinion on a variety of platforms to respond in the moment. DiModa Pizza, the winner of Giannis’s dinner on Sunday, pulled a PR-savvy move by not only welcoming the Milwaukee-favorite, but sharing the experience via social.


This simple strategy found legs in the community and on the national scene. The DiModa Pizza brand and Instagram account were both plastered across Bleacher Report, ESPN, GQ and other national media as a part of the story recap.

Similarly, local street-style taco competitor Mazorca Tacos executed a perfect PR stunt on Monday afternoon.

This simple execution was picked up by the ESPN business reporter, gaining national buzz and free brand exposure all for the cost of the brand’s time.

  1. Have a PR crisis plan in place

A customer’s selfie was the undoing for Bel-Air Cantina. In our connected world, brands can find themselves in the doghouse for much less. It’s essential to have a PR crisis plan in place to address any possible situation. This would include setting brand voice standards, selecting preferred communication platforms, and recapping successful solution tactics.

Every brand should take this scenario as a warning and consider a PR crisis plan. You never know when the Greek Freak will find his way to your business.