Vampires. Ghosts. Monsters. Zombies. Cadbury Screme Eggs. These things don’t scare me. (Actually, Cadbury Screme eggs do kind of scare me.)
But do you know what truly terrifies me? What sends shivers down my spine?
Stories of fast-food workers behaving badly. Like these two chuckleheads at Dominos. Or this guy standing in the lettuce at Burger King. Or this guy licking taco shells at Taco Bell.
That is scary.
These days, with teens carrying smartphones and faithfully documenting their bad decisions on social media, we’ve witnessed the evolution of a new and terrifying horror sub-genre that haunts anyone who eats out:
The restaurant employee whose food safety violations go, um, viral.
Any restaurateurs reading this probably share my revulsion—for a mix of reasons. First and foremost, there’s the health and safety issue. Then there’s the business issue: in the digital era, a teen’s immature stunt can cause a PR nightmare and have serious and long-term financial implications.
“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre told the New York Times in the wake of an unfortunate episode in one of their North Carolina locations. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”
Fair or not, times have changed. On Twitter, there’s no distinction between a foul-mouthed employee and a faraway executive. Increasingly, the latter has to answer for the deeds of the former.
That’s why we saw Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter issue a public apology for the racist language of one of his employees. In the pre-social-media era, these kinds of episodes rarely if ever gained a wide audience. And the CEO certainly did not apologize for the boneheaded behavior of a single worker among thousands.
To be fair, there are ample examples of wrongdoing on the management side as well. This video, shot by a whistle-blower from the Golden Corral, should be a warning to owners and managers that getting away with food safety violations is a lot harder in the YouTube era.
While immature folks will continue to do monstrous things in the kitchen, perhaps we can hope that, because these episodes generate so much publicity, they will become less frequent.