The folks who run America’s biggest fast-food chains really like it when their days are boring. When there aren’t any fires to put out, when no reports of food poisoning or Twitter hacks come down the pipeline, when the PR team doesn’t have to go into crisis mode. But unfortunately for them, those moments of tranquility don’t come nearly often enough. Thankfully, truly notorious moments in fast-food history are still relatively rare, but there have been plenty of moments in the past 30 or so years that have gone down in history as infamous.
The word notorious is defined as “famous or well-known, typically for some bad quality or deed,” and it’s quite possibly the worst adjective you can pin on a restaurant. No company, especially one that’s in the business of selling burgers to your kids, wants to be described in the same terms as Al Capone. Although chains are careful to protect their image and follow tried-and-true best practices, just about every major fast-food chain has had some notorious moment or moments in its past.
Be it a foodborne illness outbreak, a bizarre or shocking ad campaign, an offensive new product, a documentary that causes a huge decline in sales, a major social media blunder, or some other event that could only have been conjured beforehand in the fever dreams of a crisis management PR executive, these are all notorious moments in fast-food history.