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The Worst Restaurant Social Media Disasters

07/21/2014 10:29 am ET | Updated Sep 20, 2014
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For big companies, social media is one of the trickiest domains to manage. It's truly a minefield: you're putting a message on Facebook or Twitter in real-time, with the goal of sparking a conversation, and anyone can reply, uncensored. In the restaurant industry (especially fast-food), where a new social media strategy is tested seemingly every day, even the most well-intentioned post can cause serious backlash. We've rounded up the 10 worst restaurant social media disasters in history.

Social media disasters can take many forms. A campaign intended to crowd-source can backfire, videos of employees behaving badly can hit YouTube, restaurant owners or social media managers can post something crazy or unknowingly offensive, accounts can be hacked, a scorned employee can take to the Internet. When a disaster hits, these companies need to do some damage control, and some handle it better than others.

The worst social media disasters are the ones that seem to snowball; what starts off as either an honest mistake or a small incident becomes bigger and bigger as more of the public gets wind of it and/or the company handles it poorly. For example, in 2008, an expensive guitar was damaged in cargo by United Airlines. They could have simply settled the issue with the guitar's owner, but instead denied any wrongdoing, and a song the band uploaded to YouTube about the incident has been viewed more than 14 million times. United finally offered to replace the guitar, but the damage to their reputation had already been done.

When it comes to restaurants, a crazy chef or owner can also be a major liability. In the past, one outburst might have resulted in a customer simply not returning; today, a poor experience can lead to a bad Yelp review, which in return can spark a tirade that the entire world can see; in January, for example, a chef in Massachusetts responded to a one-star Yelp review by taking to Instagram and calling the customer "a mentally ill raging alcoholic," leading to some seriously negative press for the restaurant. But in some cases, when handled properly, the restaurant can come out on top in the end (this was possibly the reason behind Chipotle's bizarre faked "hacking" last year).

A social media disaster for a restaurant might result in some bad press and a potential firing; but for national chains it could be a major headache. Read on to learn about 10 chain social media disasters, plus one legendary independent restaurant disaster, ranked according to level of infamy.

  • 5 #5) Taco Bell
    A word of advice: if you work at a fast food chain, don’t defile the food in any way. If you do, don’t take a photo of it. And if you do take a photo of it, don’t post it to social media. In 2013, a Taco Bell employee did just that, posting a photo of him licking a stack of taco shells to his Facebook account. The photo, of course, went viral, but when Taco Bell finally released a statement it was too little, too late, and the chain’s reputation for cleanliness took a major hit. Photo Credit: Facebook Click Here to see More of the Worst Restaurant Social Media Disasters
  • 4 #4) McDonald’s
    In January 2012, McDonald’s decided to get in on this whole hashtag game by asking people (and ideally farmers) to post uplifting things about the chain using the hashtag #McDStories. It quickly became a textbook exercise in the dangers of crowdsourcing, as Twitter users took advantage of the opportunity to tell not-so-uplifting stories, like the one who posted “Once when I was little, I was playing in the McDonald’s playhouse and a rusty nail stabbed me in my foot. #McDStories.” The chain pulled the hashtag after two hours. Oops! Photo Credit: Getty Images News/ Thinkstock
  • 3 #3) Subway
    In January 2013, an Australian teenager posted a photo of a “footlong” sub from Subway, with a tape measure clearly reading 11 inches. He posted the photo to Subway Australia’s Facebook page, and it quickly racked up more than 100,000 likes. Subway responded in about the worst way possible, saying that “Footlong” is just a trademark, and “not intended to be a measurement of length.” Soon, folks all over the world were measuring their sandwiches, and it turned out that few were actually 12 inches. Claims of false advertising ensued, and the company told the Chicago Tribune soon after that they’ve “redoubled their efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich.” Several actually filed a lawsuit against the chain, which has since been settled. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Dirk Barchmann Click Here to see More of the Worst Restaurant Social Media Disasters
  • 2 #2) Chick-Fil-A
    The anti-gay views of Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy ruffled plenty of feathers when they were exposed in 2012, and many took to the company’s Facebook page to complain. The company’s social media response was nothing short of inept, with a post saying that “…our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.… Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” In short: “We’d like to sweep all of this under the rug and hope that you’ll forget about it too.” By refusing to address the issue, they angered even more people, and the company’s reputation has taken a permanent hit. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Elvert Barnes
  • 1 #1) Amy’s Baking Company
    This Scottsdale, Ariz. restaurant isn’t a chain, but its owners’ epic meltdown became arguably more infamous than just about any other social media disaster in history. After Gordon Ramsay famously walked out of the eatery during an episode of Kitchen Nightmares that aired in May 2013, a surge of negative remarks were posted to the restaurant’s Facebook page. Owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo freaked out (to put it gently), replying in all-caps rants with plenty of insults and foul language. It eventually spilled over to Reddit and Yelp, with more than 1,000 comments in total. The Bouzaglos claimed that the accounts were hacked, but that doesn’t seem very plausible. Photo Credit: Yelp/ Georgie M Click Here to see More of the Worst Restaurant Social Media Disasters

-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal

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