Top 10 Worst Apologies From Fast Food Companies
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Matt Klem
The PR departments for these restaurants had to work overtime to clean up these messes. For this list, we'll be looking at times when our favorite fast food chains made awful or silly mistakes, forcing them to issue an apology. Our countdown includes Subway, KFC, McDonald's, and more!
Top 10 Worst Fast Food Apologies
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Worst Fast Food Apologies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at times when our favorite fast food chains made awful or silly mistakes, forcing them to issue an apology.
Did we forget to include a particularly bad “We’re sorry” story? Let us know in the comments.
#10: Running Out of Chicken
As one of the world’s most popular fast food chicken restaurants, you’d assume that KFC always has plenty to go around. But when KFC ran into delivery problems in Ireland and the UK in 2018, over 900 restaurants were closed temporarily. Apparently they switched from one courier company to another, and it resulted in massive delays across the region. The company then took out a full page ad in the newspaper switching up their signature acronym for a new one. KFC became FCK as this chicken giant went full meta in their apology. May this be a lesson to any fast food chain to always have extra stock.
#9: Food Poisoning
Some might call it a healthier option to your typical grab and go food. But in 2015, Chipotle was struck with a series of health related scandals. A combination of Norovirus infections, salmonella poisoning and e-coli outbreaks struck over 500 people across multiple U.S. states. This, of course, severely hurt the company’s reputation. In an effort to control the damage, the company issued a full page apology letter in newspapers like the New York Times. Co-CEO Steve Ells insisted they would take steps to improve food safety. Given that the chain was sued again in 2020 for similar reasons, their new measures may not have been enough.
#8: A Footlong Isn’t a Foot Long
We don’t know about you, but when we hear “footlong”, we think twelve inches long. Apparently so did Matt Corby of Australia when his viral photo of a footlong sub showed it to be less than twelve inches long. News of the discrepancy swept across the web and soon enough Subway was scrambling to respond. The company issued an apology indicating the footlong was meant as a name of the sub, and not to be taken as its length. A class-action lawsuit was filed, but the settlement was eventually thrown out by the courts for being “utterly worthless”.
#7: Patriots vs Eagles
Honestly, this one is just plain funny. When it comes to football, there’s a pretty passionate rivalry between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2018, the Eagles won the SuperBowl, and Dunkin’ Donuts put out a series of championship cups featuring the team’s logo. However, due to a minor snafu, these cups were being served to customers in the New England area by accident. This of course infuriated Patriots fans who were already upset by their team’s loss. The company apologized for the mixup, but given how passionate football fans can be, it definitely took some time for it to blow over.
#6: General Custard
Odds are pretty good that someone at Sonic Drive-In slept through their American History class. In 2017, the burger chain ran an advertisement that showed General George Custer, or rather “Custard”, eating Sonic’s dessert treat. The play on words was meant to be funny, but it came across as incredibly insensitive to Native Americans. While Custer was seen as heroic for his role in the American Frontier Wars in the 19th century, history remembers him differently. Immediately after airing the ad, Sonic received an onslaught of negative feedback and complaints. They pulled it shortly thereafter and issued a formal apology.
#5: A Coffee Cleaning
The Golden arches has made its fair share of mistakes that they’ve had to apologize for over the years. But in this 2018 case, a minor mix up could have had far more serious consequences. When pregnant Alberta woman Sarah Douglas ordered a latte from the drive-thru, her morning drink had an extra special ingredient: cleaning fluid. Apparently the cleanser had been connected to the machine while being cleaned, but someone had failed to reconnect the milk line before serving her drink. McDonald’s quickly apologized and insured new safety measures would be taken. Thankfully Sarah, and her unborn baby, were unharmed.
#4: The King’s Cavalry
Did you know that in some parts of Europe and Asia, horse meat is a relatively common and popular meat? Be that as it may, it remains a divisive choice of protein in many countries. And back in 2013, Burger King got caught in a controversy around horse meat being used as filler in some of their all-beef patties in Europe. This was traced back to the meat processing facility used by the burger chain. They quickly issued a public response denying the allegations and switched suppliers just to be safe. However, it didn’t help when they came back and admitted that trace amounts of horse DNA had been found in the burgers with their previous supplier.
#3: Awful Acronym
Krispy Kreme Donuts
Sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what people were thinking. Such was the case with this 2017 marketing initiative from one Krispy Kreme Donut store in the UK. In an attempt to drive customers to their location, they promoted a new event where patrons could come in and decorate their donuts. They referred to it as the “Krispy Kreme Klub”. Spelling ‘club’ with a K, they combined the three words into an acronym. After being posted to Facebook, the three K’s together instantly brought the wrong kind of attention to the store. The company immediately apologized and insisted it was not a companywide promotion. Still, it struck all the wrong chords with fans of the donut chain.
#2: In the Kitchen
They might be able to say that on South Park, but certainly not in the real world. It’s a lesson Burger King learned in 2021 when they tried, and failed miserably, to promote International Women’s Day. In a tweet from the UK arm of Burger King, they wrote “Women belong in the kitchen”. The longer thread of tweets showed how only 20% of chefs were women, and that Burger King UK was trying to promote equality. This of course backfired in the worst possible way causing BK to apologize and try to explain their original intent. However, no amount of apologizing was ever going to make up for such a tone deaf attempt.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Kicked Out, Outback Steakhouse
A Family Was Asked to Leave Due to Noises From Their Son, Who Has a Disability
No Pepsi, Arby’s
They Forgot to Include Pepsi in Their Commercials
Jared Gets Arrested & Pleads Guilty in Court, Subway
There’s Really No Amount of PR That Can Make Up For this Long-Running Spokesman
#1: A Not So Proud Papa
Papa John’s Pizza
For a long time, John Schnatter was the face of the Papa John’s Pizza company. He did, after all, form the pizza chain and help launch it to become the success it’s known as today. None of that helped him, however, when he had to step down as CEO in 2018. After blaming the NFL’s national anthem protests for a dip in sales, he then showed questionable remorse when apologizing for his use of the n-word. Instead of truly owning up, he tried to justify it, and blamed the board for “[using] the black community and race as a way to steal the company.” Shaquille O’Neal joined the board of directors and replaced Schnatter as spokesperson for the company.