It doesn’t matter how big or small a restaurant
is, one thing is of the utmost importance: reputation. Unfortunately, even the biggest chains can
ruin their reputations with a few missteps, and these chains did exactly that when they
brought attention to themselves on a national scale for some of the worst reasons ever. They say all publicity is good publicity,
but sometimes, that’s just not true. Wendy’s chili finger hoax In March 2005, a customer named Anna Aayala
allegedly found a human finger in the bowl of chili she ordered from a San Jose Wendy’s
restaurant. When employees were ruled out as the source
of the disgusting digit, Wendy’s offered $50,000 for information. Police, however, had their suspicions. It turned out Aayala’s husband bought the
finger from a coworker, who had been involved in an industrial accident. The co-worker came forward, and the couple
were found guilty of conspiracy to file a false insurance claim and attempted grand
theft with damages exceeding $2.5 million. She was sentenced to nine years, but was released
after four years for good behavior on the stipulation she never enter a Wendy’s again. Wendy’s claimed the incident led to millions
in lost sales, and the pair were ordered to pay $21.8 million in damages. Wendy’s agreed not to collect as long as the
couple didn’t try to profit from the story in the future. Talk about taking the high road. Hepatitis at Chi-Chi’s In October 2003, health officials in Pennsylvania
were alerted to an unusually widespread hepatitis A outbreak, and tracked the source to a local
Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant. The restaurant voluntarily closed its doors,
and even though over 9,000 inoculations were given out, more than 650 people were confirmed
to have been infected, including 13 Chi-Chi’s employees. The outbreak led to four deaths, and the nation
was shocked. Hepatitis A infections usually occur as the
result of contact with fecal matter or contaminated food, with an incubation period of 15 to 50
days. The ultimate source of the infection was believed
to be green onions, usually served raw at the restaurant. That wasn’t the only bad press: the restaurant
had also been implicated in outbreaks in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. Although Chi-Chi’s had filed for bankruptcy
just before the outbreak, the court still allowed victims to settle their claims against
the company. Settlements were made, including $6.25 million
for a man who suffered liver failure and needed a transplant, and a class-action lawsuit worth
$800,000. The outbreak sealed the chain’s fate, and
Chi-Chi’s folded. Most of its properties were bought out by
Outback Steakhouse, and the last Chi-Chi’s meal in the United States was served in September
2004. Racism at Denny’s In 1994, a class-action lawsuit was brought
against national restaurant chain Denny’s for violation of federal public-accommodation
laws against racial discrimination. More than 4,300 complaints were filed against
the chain, and the accusations were horrible. Customers reported they were being forced
to sit in segregated seating, that they were arbitrarily refused service, subjected to
racial slurs and taunts as they ate, or were forced to pre-pay for their food. While the company denied any specific policy
of racial discrimination, it agreed to pay a settlement of $54 million and promised to
take immediate steps to fix the problem. Denny’s came to an agreement with the NAACP
to invest $1 billion in jobs and contracts for minorities over the following seven years
and ultimately made major progress in increasing its number of minority employees. Whitbread pork scandal After being caught up in the notorious horsemeat
scandal of 2013, British restaurant group Whitbread promised to institute a new system
to track meat from “field to fork.” This all proved to be hogwash, as it was later
discovered the company’s brands were failing to mention the beef lasagna advertised on
menus was actually made from beef and pork. Up to 250,000 of the dishes were served, with
pork making up a third of the entire meat content of the lasagna. Whitbread claimed there had been no deliberate
intent to deceive customers, saying, “We mistakenly, and with no ill intent, missed
updating the website/online menus for our Table Table and Whitbread Inns brands, but
as soon as we were alerted to this we corrected them. This was a genuine mistake on our part and
we sincerely apologise […]” Representatives from the Institute for Global
Food Security called the mistake “unacceptable”, saying , “It should be obvious to all in the food industry
that there are enormous sensitivities around this in terms of religious beliefs. […] Correctly labelled food is not only
a matter of legislation but also having high moral and ethical standards.” The incredibly obvious racism of Sambo’s “Sambo” is a racial slur coined in 1889, and
while it’s unacceptable today, there was once a restaurant called Sambo’s that deliberately
played up the connection with the imagery inside the restaurant. The name was given as an poorly-thought-out
combination of the names of founders Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, but still, that’s
no excuse. There were more than 1,100 locations in 47
states, and the trouble really started as the restaurant continued to spread in the
US during the American civil rights movement. Suddenly, people weren’t particularly pleased
with a pancake place that shared a name with a racial slur. By the 1970s, the company was being hit with
lawsuits, and the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission determined “the use of the name ‘Sambo’s’ had the effect
of notifying black persons that they were unwelcome at Sambo’s restaurants because of
their race.” Eventually some locations renamed themselves,
but by 1982, most of the restaurants were closed and the company filed for bankruptcy. Currently the only Sambo’s still in operation
is the original location in Santa Barbara, run by Chad Stevens, grandson of Sam Battistone
Sr.