Top 20 Worst Apologies From Fast Food Companies
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Worst Apologies From Fast Food Companies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at times where these grab-and-go food chains sorely missed the mark when trying to atone for blunders of their own doing.
Have you ever boycotted a fast food restaurant? Let us know in the comments.
#20: Police Issues
At a Starbucks in Tempe Arizona, one customer complained that they felt “unsafe” with the police in the store. A barista then asked them to either move out of the customer’s line of sight or leave; they went through with the latter. The incident triggered massive backlash against the coffee company including the trending hashtag #DumpStarbucks. The company subsequently apologized for the incident and for the most part, attempted to downplay the whole matter.
#19: Chili Mishap
One of the most infamous restaurant scandals of all time involved a customer claiming she found a severed finger in her Wendy’s chili. In the days that followed, the company offered up a reward for information about the incident, but didn’t do much in the way of apologizing, or even taking responsibility, or announcing precautions to prevent it from possibly happening again. However, it was later discovered that the entire incident was a hoax in an attempt to extort money through a bogus lawsuit.
#18: Skip the Chopsticks
Originating from China, Chopsticks have become a predominant eating utensil all throughout Asia. So when a New Zealand franchise of Burger King tried to use them in an advertisement for a new menu item, it was seen as culturally insensitive. Originally posted on Instagram, the moment corporate BK got wind of the nature of the advertisement, they issued a formal apology and indicated the video would be pulled immediately. What makes this situation even more unfortunate is that it took a call from headquarters for those who planned it to see the insensitivity in such an ad.
#17: English Only
When you live in a country with mixed races and ethnicities, you’re bound to encounter conversations in a language other than English. But apparently, for some management staff of Tim Horton’s, English is the only language that matters. At a shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a sign posted for employees indicated English was the only language to be spoken in the workplace. When a customer took a photo of the sign and posted it to social media, the coffee company immediately responded with an apology and indicated the sign had been removed. That would have been fine except for the fact that it’s been reported that this is commonplace in other Tim Hortons shops. Corporate apologies seem pretty hollow when employees continue to make the same mistakes.
#16: Bad 'n Breakfast
As far as bad apologies go, this one is both head-shaking and hilarious. After having turned their breakfast offerings into a selection of terrible puns and confusing combinations, Taco Bell realized people wanted to keep their mornings simple. Instead of just swapping the morning menu out with a new version, they instead employed comedian Pete Davidson to literally apologize for the franchise’s exuberance on breakfast. Albeit comedic, it’s perhaps a little overkill for something as simple as a menu change, but credit to Taco Bell for trying. The confusing menu items have since been discontinued.
#15: No 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.
#14: 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.
#13: Not 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”.
#12: Horse Meat
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.
#11: No Pepsi
Walk into any fast food restaurant and you’ll likely be able to either order Coke or Pepsi. Most brands partner with one or the other, agreeing to exclusively sell their variety of beverages. For Arby’s, their relationship with Pepsi extended to including the beverage in at least two advertisements per year. When they failed to keep their end of the bargain, Pepsi made sure to call them out. In response, the roast beef chain went out of their way to film an entire commercial exclusively dedicated to the beverage. Although it seems cute on the surface, the voiceover in the ad is dripping with sarcasm, making us wonder what the true intention of it was…
#10: Racially Insensitive Nugget Tweets
[b-roll: “He chose poorly”] Back in September of 2022, a Twitter user commented about the return of a spicy chicken sandwich. When Chick-fil-A replied, it used the word “community” in a means by which some took to be racially insensitive. The company responded by clarifying their intent, but by then, the outrage had already spread. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t the first time they’ve had to apologize for inappropriate behavior. A North Carolina woman also claimed to have been the victim of racism when her name was written as a slur on her receipt. If we’ve ever needed a reminder of the importance of using the right choice of words, this is it.
#9: Wrong Cups
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.
#8: Wrong 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.
#7: Cleaning Fluid
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.
#6: Massive E-coli Outbreak
Jack in the Box
In the early 90s, Burger chain Jack in the Box experienced one of the worst outbreaks of the bacteria in the food industry. When the news broke, instead of apologizing, they chose to deflect, claiming in no way could they have been responsible. That all fell apart when it was discovered that it was in fact their meat that was the source of the outbreak, and that the parent company Foodmaker, Inc, ignored concerns about the way the restaurant’s burgers were being prepared. Although the company has since prioritized food safety and put in place procedures to ensure their meat is properly cooked, they never formally apologized or took responsibility for their part in the outbreak.
#5: Wrong Letters
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.
#4: Jared Fogle's Arrest
During its heyday, the Subway ad campaign around Jared Fogle’s weight loss seemed like a perfect story to sell the sandwiches. It was an inspirational tale that helped propel him into the spotlight, while easily upping the sales of Subway sandwiches. However, Fogle’s relationship with the sub chain ended in 2015 when he was arrested for possession of questionable adult materials. Although Subway terminated their relationship, they admitted that they had received a serious complaint a few years prior but thought nothing of it. Given the severity of Fogle’s crimes, it’s disheartening to know the food chain had suspicions previously but didn’t take them as seriously as they should have.
#3: Belong 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.
#2: Commemorating Kristallnacht
On November 9th, 1938, a series of violent attacks began against many Jewish businesses and homes. Windows were smashed and materials were stolen by Nazis. Known as the “Night of Broken Glass”, or Kristallnacht, the day is often seen as the beginning of the Holocaust during the Second World War. So when KFC’s mobile app sent out a push notification to Germans encouraging them to buy KFC products to celebrate Kristallnacht, massive outrage followed. KFC blamed the mishap on an automated system that sends messages based on a calendar that contained notable dates for Germany. Although they apologized for the incident, it was of little comfort to those who were affected by the historical tragedy.
#1: Unexplainable Justification
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.” Shaqille O’Neal joined the board of directors and replaced Schnatter as spokesperson for the company.