PR Fumble of The Week: Taco Bell

The situation

When grabbing a quick bite to eat, the last thing you expect is to be involved in a confrontation about your race.  But, that’s exactly what happened to Philadelphia medical student In Young Lee during a recent trip to Taco Bell

Upon receiving the receipt for his order, Lee noticed that the cashier had listed the name that he gave alongside the word “ch*nk”. The cashier would later tell him that this was done to differentiate him from the other customers who shared his pseudonym. Lee hit back at the fast food chain by posting his receipt publicly on Facebook, which predictably triggered a swift backlash across Taco Bell’s social media channels.  

The response 

The Mexican restaurant responded with a private apology to Lee and a statement that they had fired the offending employee and were working with staff to prevent similar situations in the future. Unfortunately, a response like this, while perhaps acceptable in the past, feels hollow and cheap in the present social climate.

In the time of Black Lives Matter and alt right pro-Nazi marches, race has become a sensitive subject that must be handled delicately but effectively at all times. Organizations can no longer get away with going through the motions of issuing a quiet apology and moving on.

Our analysis 

If Taco Bell had been bolder with their actions, by publicly taking responsibility for the incident and possibly granting Lee free Taco Bell for a year, it likely would have commanded a great deal of good faith in the mind of the public. With the bar for accountability set so much higher nowadays, organizations must make it a priority to prove that they are willing to stay current in their views and appeal to the values of their customers, clients, and stakeholders. 

While we give props to Taco Bell for tackling the problem head on and not shying away from what happened, there was also an opportunity here to do something more. Ideally, this will be a learning experience for other organizations that face similar problems, to turn a scandal into an opportunity to humanize themselves as a company and do something bigger in order to regain the trust of the public and their customers.

About the Author

Victoria has a bachelor’s degree Simon Fraser University, where she majored in Communications. She is currently the Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Gastrointestinal Society, a charity committed to promoting GI and liver health among Canadians. In her free time, she enjoys baking delicious treats, thrift shopping, and hiking.