In a perfect world, the worst experience anyone would have at a fast-food restaurant is receiving the wrong menu item in their order. But in the actual world we live in, the controversies involving our favorite chains are much more unhinged. Whether it’s Krispy Kreme’s jaw-dropping use of alliteration or a racist tip line at Dunkin’ Donuts, here’s some of the craziest drama fast-food joints have served up over the years…
Krispy Kreme Klub
Alliteration can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing, but there are some combinations of letters that should be avoided at all costs. A U.K.-based Krispy Kreme learned this the hard way when it launched a promotion intended for customers to come in and decorate donuts — only the special day was referred to as “KKK Wednesday,” which has a much different meaning for most people.
Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Class-Action Lawsuit
After getting a skimpy amount of beef filling in his Crunchwrap, a New York man filed a class-action lawsuit against Taco Bell, accusing the chain of “unlawful deceptive acts and practices” and “misleadingly, inaccurately and deceptively” presenting some of its offerings in photos and advertisements.
Burger King Foot Lettuce
Back in 2012, an anonymous Burger King employee took to 4chan to post a picture of himself standing in two containers of lettuce with the caption, “This is the lettuce you eat at Burger King.” Unfortunately for him, internet sleuths were able to track down his location to an Ohio-based franchise, where the outrage over the photo caused him and two other employees to lose their jobs. “Burger King Foot Lettuce” went so viral that it ended up being turned into a meme, complete with copypastas, dramatic readings and song parodies.
McDonald’s Pink Chicken McNugget Goop
McDonald’s continues to be haunted by rumors about what’s inside its McNuggets. The conversation resurfaced recently when an image that looked like pink slime was again purported to be the contents of the famed menu item. The insinuation has become so damaging that McDonald’s has a permanent page on its website denouncing the goop, along with several posts and videos detailing just how McNuggets are made from start to finish.
Taco Bell’s 35-Percent Beef
The aforementioned Crunchwrap lawsuit wasn’t the first time Taco Bell has gotten itself in hot water over its beef (or lack thereof). Back in 2011, an Alabama firm filed suit against the chain questioning the legitimacy of its beef. Not to be confused with the urban legend that suggests Taco Bell uses cat and dog in its meat, the firm alleged that the restaurant was only using 35 percent actual beef, with the rest of the mixture being oats, seasonings and other such fillings.
Sid and Marty Krofft vs. McDonald’s
Back in the 1970s, two sibling puppeteers took McDonald’s to court for infringing upon their intellectual property. McDonaldland, the fictional land inhabited by Ronald and his friends, once had a character named Mayor McCheese. The Kroffts alleged that both the character in question and the ads McCheese was featured in ripped off their television show H.R. Pufnstuf. They would win the case, resulting in the sudden disappearance of McDonaldland’s burger-headed mayor.
Burger King Says ‘Women Belong in the Kitchen’
In an ill-advised attempt at promoting a scholarship program on International Women’s Day in 2021, Burger King U.K. tried to flip one of the most dated tropes in the book. The social media team tweeted, “Women belong in the kitchen,” which they followed up with statistics about the gender disparity in culinary careers. But instead of celebrating their new scholarship geared toward helping female BK employees pursue culinary careers, they spent the day getting flame-broiled and apologizing for their haphazard use of sexism.
Papa No More
While you’ve likely been treating yourself to much better pizza elsewhere, you’re still probably aware that Papa John hasn’t been at the helm of Papa John’s since 2018. Founder John Schnatter was ousted from the pizza chain after a litany of questionable choices, including blaming declining sales on the NFL National Anthem protests and his proclivity for using racial slurs in company-wide meetings. Mamma mia!
Dunkin’s Racist Tip Line
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that a chain founded just outside of Boston has brewed up its fair share of racism. What is surprising is that the most egregious example happened at a Baltimore location. There, the general manager of a Dunkin’ franchise posted a sign that read, “If you hear any of our staff SHOUTING in a language other than ENGLISH please call 443-415-7775 immediately with the name of the employee to receive a coupon for FREE coffee and a pastry.”
Naturally, no one called for free coffee or a pastry, but they did phone in to complain about the incredibly racist sign.
McDonald’s Hot Coffee
One of the hottest fast-food controversies in history came from the Golden Arches. Back in 1992, Stella Liebeck suffered third-degree burns after a 190-degree cup of McDonald’s coffee spilled on her. McDonald’s dubbed it a “frivolous lawsuit,” but the courts ruled in favor of Liebeck, resulting in a big payout, national coverage and fast-food chains everywhere lowering the temperature of their hottest beverages.
Subway’s Jared Fogle Problem
When Fogle lost 245 pounds in a year and cited Subway as part of his diet plan, the brand quickly adopted him as one of their own. Its newfound spokesperson was featured in commercials and plastered on billboards across the country, encouraging people to get fit with Subway. Fifteen years later, an FBI investigation into Fogle led to him being convicted of child sex tourism and possessing child pornography. Despite cutting ties and all signs of Fogle from its franchises, the horrific story remains a very dark cloud over the sandwich chain.