McDonald’s is one of the most beloved fast food chain in the world. However, it’s also one of the most controversial. With such widespread influence, and so many locations worldwide, the franchise is bound to slip up from time to time. Some of the mistakes they’ve made are amusing, while others are downright appalling. McDonald’s has a lot of baggage, and we decided to sort through all the skeletons in their closet to bring you a list of ten shocking mistakes that the restaurant chain will always regret.
10. Hot Coffee Scandal
Have you ever noticed the disclaimer printed on disposable coffee cups or sleeves warning you that the beverage you are about to consume is very hot? You may have thought to yourself that the warning is a bit unnecessary; you’re the one who ordered a hot coffee, after all. You knew what you were getting yourself into. Well, there’s a reason that disclaimers like this one need to exist. In 1992, a hot cup of coffee got McDonald’s into a whole lot of trouble. Stella Liebeck suffered serious burns after spilling her scalding McCafé on herself. She ultimately sued the fast food chain and received a tidy sum of money as a result. This lawsuit is often viewed as frivolous, but it’s far more serious than the media would have you believe. Turns out, McDonald’s coffee was being served at a temperature approximately thirty-five degrees higher than coffee from most other establishments. Not only that, but, during the court proceedings, hundreds of anecdotes of people being burned by the fast food giant’s coffee were unearthed. Liebeck herself had third degree burns over sixteen percent of her body and had to undergo hospitalization and surgery. While this court case was turned into a bit of a joke, when you have all the facts it’s easy to see why Liebeck decided to sue. Despite the fact that McDonald’s would probably rather everyone forgot about the whole incident, the hot coffee scandal isn’t one that’s easily forgotten. Next time you order a McCafé, remember to proceed with caution.
9. The “Mc” Ownership
Marketing is absolutely important for any fast food chain, and McDonald’s is no exception. Their golden arches are iconic and recognizable worldwide. Wanting to protect your brand is one thing, but McDonald’s started to take things a bit too far. The chain has grown extremely possessive of the “Mc” prefix and has made considerable efforts to make it their own. They’ve gone to great lengths to have other businesses with names utilizing the prefix drop it entirely – even when it’s part of their family name. One particularly embarrassing incidence of this involved McDonald’s Family Restaurant in Fairbury, Illinois. This restaurant was opened by a man named Ronald McDonald (a surprisingly common name) in 1956. In the nineties, McDonald’s (the fast food restaurant) decided to open a location in Fairbury, and actually made McDonald’s Family Restaurant remove the possessive “s” from their restaurant name. Luckily, things for the McDonald’s Family Restaurant went back to normal after the McDonald’s shut down. However, McDonald’s almost petty possessiveness over their name doesn’t have a history of going over well with the businesses whose names the fast food giant attempts to forcibly change, especially not if those businesses were opened before McDonald’s rocketed to fame. The residents of Fairbury certainly weren’t putting up with it; they maintained a fierce loyalty to McDonald’s Family Restaurant. McDonald’s might want to lighten up a bit on this one – the chain is famous enough that no one’s going to confuse it with a family-owned business.
8. Labor Law Infractions
Public service is never glamourous, and one might expect that working conditions at McDonald’s are slightly less than ideal, but you may be surprised to hear just how bad they can be. Several reports of poor working conditions at this particular restaurant chain can be found both overseas and in the United States. Pregnant employees being mistreated, wage theft, the scheduling of excessively long shifts scheduled – some up to twenty-five hours in length – without over time, the list goes on and on. It can be expected for there to be isolated incidents of this kind of worker maltreatment, but to have them popping up with such frequency doesn’t look good for McDonald’s. In the States, McDonald’s employees banded together, demanding the right to unionize, as well as an increase in pay from $7.25 to $15 per hour. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, workers went on strike in order to fight for guaranteed hours and increased wages. The revelation that McDonald’s had been dodging labor laws left and right was one that disgusted a lot of people. While this scandal isn’t as dramatic as some of the others included on this list, it’s incredibly important as it affects thousands of people. This was a pretty major embarrassment for the fast food chain, so hopefully this is a mistake they’ve learned from.
7. Vegetarian French Fry Controversy
Fast food restaurants have never been the most welcoming places for vegetarians. This is especially the case with McDonald’s, for, while many other fast food chains offer veggie burgers, McDonald’s have never consistently done so. At most fast food establishments, even if there were no plant-based meal options, vegans and vegetarians could at least enjoy a serving of French fries. However, this wasn’t the case with McDonald’s fries, which, for the longest time, were cooked in animal-based oils. Naturally, many people were thrilled to hear the announcement that McDonald’s would be switching over to plant-based oils. Vegetarians everywhere could finally enjoy these world-famous fries. Unfortunately, they were victims of misinformation. While McDonald’s stated that their fries were now being “cooked in 100 per cent vegetable oil,” they failed to mention that they were still using beef seasoning. You won’t be surprised to hear that, once the truth came out, it didn’t go over well at all. It hit both McDonald’s reputation and wallet quite hard. In the resulting lawsuit, McDonald’s was made to pay vegetarians ten million dollars. Not being completely transparent about the ingredients used in preparing food is dangerous and disrespectful, as many people have dietary restrictions due to health reasons or religious beliefs. However, even if that weren’t the case, people still have a right to know what they’re eating. In Canada, McDonald’s stopped using animal products to make their fries in 2007, and they’re now a vegan product. This is true of several countries worldwide, but, unfortunately, the United States still haven’t changed their ways. At least they’re being more open about it these days.
6. Korea’s Bulgogi Burger
While much of the McDonald’s menu is kept consistent at locations around the world, sometimes different countries like to add their own cultural twist. An example of this is the Bulgogi Burger, which was available at McDonald’s in South Korea. It celebrated one of their favorite local dishes by fusing it with a classic McDonald’s burger, and general consensus was that the result was delicious. Bulgogi is an amazing Korean dish, made of grilled beef slices marinated in soy sauce and seasoned delectably. At first, everyone was singing this burgers praises. But then, in 2017, a group of school children stopped at McDonald’s on a field trip. The teacher, along with several of the children, ordered this particular item, and ultimately fell ill with enteritis, a horribly uncomfortable intestinal issue. Not long after, a five-year-old girl suffered permanent kidney-failure after eating a Bulgogi Burger. In the latter case, the burger had reportedly been undercooked. All of this together was too much of a hit to the burger’s reputation. In an attempt to play it safe, McDonald’s pulled the item from their menus completely. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that, after hearing these stories, no one was planning on ordering this burger anyways. It’s a shame, since the concept of the Bulgogi Burger was a great one. However, with Korean food being as amazing as it is, there are plenty of other traditional dishes to choose from when it comes to drawing inspiration for new fast food items. So hopefully this incident didn’t deter Korean McDonald’s from getting creative and sprinkling some of their culture into the menu.
5. Monopoly Scandal
Monopoly and McDonald’s kind of go hand-in-hand. It’s all about advertising, but it’s still a pretty iconic duo. Their partnership was a great marketing move on McDonald’s part, however, there was one small kink in the system that brought them more bad press than good. It all started with a good natured competition. The contest was simple enough. All you had to do was order a meal and collect the Monopoly pieces that came with it. Collect the right ones, and you’re a winner. There were several possible prizes, but the big one was a whopping one million dollars. People will do a lot of things for money, and ex-cop Jerry Jacobson was willing to go to pretty extreme lengths. Jacobson worked at the company that manufactured the Monopoly pieces, and therefore had easy access to them. For twelve years, he arranged shady deals with people, offering to give them the pieces necessary to win a cash prize. What did he want in exchange? A cut of their prize winnings, of course. All he needed was a monster costume and this would have been a regular Scooby-Doo episode. Luckily, those meddling kids, in the form of the FBI, but an end to it all. This scam went on for so long that, by the time the truth came out, McDonald’s had lost twenty-four million dollars. Thanks to an FBI tip, Jacobson was caught, and McDonald’s escaped any blame. However, things still didn’t look too great for the fast food corporation. McDonald’s made an attempt to put things right by giving ten million dollars to fifty-five random customers, but that still wasn’t enough. A lawsuit was filed against them, and so they agreed to give away another fifteen million – this time to only fifteen randomly selected customers. Thanks to this scandal, McDonald’s lost a whole lot of money and a whole lot of respect. All in all, a pretty unfortunate situation for them. And they won’t be forgetting about it anytime soon, as there are talks of a movie in the works starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
4. Pink Slime
No one has ever expected McDonald’s to be a health food restaurant. No one’s asking for kale smoothies, protein bars or anything of the sort. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t expect their meals to be prepared with ingredients that at least resemble food. All anyone is asking for are edible ingredients. And pink slime? That ain’t it. When pictures of the pink slime began circulating online, people were shocked that the gooey Pepto-Bismol colored substance was the precursor to their beloved Big Macs. What exactly is this pink slime? Well, in the industry, it’s referred to as lean, finely textured beef. Centrifuges are used to separate the fatty meat from the lean meat, the latter of which is squeezed through tubes and treated with ammonia gas. And that, everyone, is how pink slime is born. Nothing has ever sounded more appetizing. The FDA and the American Meat Institute have both proclaimed it safe for consumption, but many people in the general population didn’t like the look of it at all. Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was repulsed. He was very vocal on the issue, and his input brought even more negative attention towards this McDonald’s scandal. This event had many people swearing off McDonald’s, and put the restaurant in a precarious situation. After the pink slime news broke on ABC in 2012, many fast food corporations, McDonald’s included, announced that they would no longer be using it in their products. But the damage was done, and the pink slime legacy lives on.
3. Racism Lawsuit in Virginia
Shortly after purchasing three McDonald’s locations in Virginia, Michael Simon had fifteen employees fired in an attempt to reduce the number of African-Americans employed at his restaurants. This decision was reportedly made after a supervisor complained about there being “too many black people” in the restaurant. The black employees who lost their jobs were replaced by white individuals. Additionally, while still working at McDonald’s, one of the black individuals who was eventually fired reported having been harassed on multiple occasions by supervisors, who made inappropriate and racist remarks towards them. In 2015, ten of these former employees filed a civil rights lawsuit against McDonald’s on the basis of discrimination. While McDonald’s isn’t directly responsible for this situation, the company is still receiving its fair share of criticism. Many are frustrated with the franchise for not doing more to protect its employees. There was remarkable outcry in response to this incident; an online petition demanding reparations for the former employees garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Incidents such as this one can be incredibly detrimental to a business’ reputation, and rightly so. Hopefully McDonald’s has learned from this and will take the necessary actions to ensure that their employees are protected and safe from discrimination in the future.
2. Muslim Family McChicken
This is, unfortunately, another incident that boils down to intolerance of minority groups. A Muslim family visiting Alabama from New York stopped at a McDonald’s in Decatur, where they ordered fourteen McChicken sandwiches. This sandwich is their go-to McDonald’s order, but this time something was different. While eating their sandwiches, they noticed an unfamiliar and unexpected flavor, which they described as “smoky”. They proceeded to open up the sandwiches, only to find small pieces of bacon, arranged in such a way that they were hidden from view when the sandwich was closed. In keeping with their religion, Muslims are not supposed to eat pork, so needless to say this discovery was rather upsetting. A representative from the Decatur McDonald’s stated that this was unintentional and that the employees were not at fault, but failed to provide any evidence to support their claim. Bacon is not typically included in the McChicken, and the way it was stealthily hidden inside the sandwich makes it hard to believe that it was a simple mistake. And to make that same mistake fourteen times? Nobody’s buying it. A member of the family spoke out about the incident, calling it an “act of religious and ethnic bigotry.” It’s awful to say, but such acts are not uncommon. In fact, over the past few years, they’ve actually been occurring with more and more frequency. There’s no doubt that this story is one that will haunt McDonald’s for many years to come.
1. Drive-Thru Intercom Hacks
Let’s end things off on a more positive note, shall we? We’ve seen racism, poor working conditions, and third-degree burns, so here’s a bit of a comedic pick-me-up. This event took place in 2016, in New Bern, North Carolina. On December 4, an intricate prank was executed by a very talented hacker, who tapped into the drive-thru intercom’s wireless frequency. Instead of communicating with McDonald’s employees, customers in the drive-trhu found themselves subjected to the customized messages of a hacker with a twisted sense of humor. In a video uploaded to YouTube, the hacker can be heard saying things like “You know I’m actually on the toilet right now, and I’m just going to serve you your food. I’m not even going to wash my hands.” And it just gets more inappropriate and disturbing from there. Now, if you don’t know that it’s all an elaborate prank, and actually think you’re talking to a McDonald’s employee, this would be pretty alarming. Not to mention the fact that it would totally ruin most people’s appetites. To make matters worse, after they got bored, or ran out of creative content, the hacker proceeded to play porn audio. Way to keep it classy. This shocking event definitely didn’t reflect well on McDonald’s, and the fast food chain went to great lengths to ensure that nothing of the like would ever happen again. The last thing they needed was for this isolated incident to become a widespread epidemic. Luckily, this was the first and last time the drive-thru intercoms at any McDonald’s location have been hacked, so, whatever they did, it seems to be working.