The best of intentions can be subverted into a certified catastrophe for restaurants, as one operator learned this week while trying to help patrons enjoy the solar eclipse. But that turn of events could soon be overshadowed by the backfire for both McDonald’s and a clever customer who wanted to test the limits of customization. Or the ongoing nightmare that Starbucks can’t seem to escape because a bunch of kooks won’t listen to reason.
Here’s what we mean.
A big solar ouch
Most people knew it as a rare celestial event: an eclipse of the sun, visible from just about everywhere in the United States. But as the Dutch Bros. Coffee chain learned, it was also an unprecedented opportunity for louts looking to make a fast buck.
Like a number of other businesses, the Northwestern chain tried to bump up business before the eclipse by offering customers a free pair of the special glasses that were needed to safely witness the historic alignment of the sun and moon. It was a potent offer; solar mania led to a run on the glasses. The flimsy devices, which normally sell for about a buck, were going for many times that amount. If, that is, you could even find some available.
Opportunists saw an opportunity to start counterfeiting the glasses. At first, their efforts were near ridiculous. But by the start of the eclipse, their knockoffs were indistinguishable from the real thing, right down to the optician’s code that signaled authenticity.
Those counterfeits were unfortunately the version that ended up in Dutch Bros.’ offer. Fortunately, the 260-unit chain detected the ruse and was able to alert customers beforehand and ask that the glasses be taken out of circulation.
"Further investigation has led us to question this certification. Your safety is of the utmost importance to us, so we are issuing this voluntary recall," it alerted patrons before Monday.
The damage could have been tragic. Viewing the eclipse without the proper shields could result in severe eye damage and even blindness.
McDonald’s new nothing burger
A benefit of McDonald’s new self-ordering kiosks is better customization. Customers can see exactly how an order is being altered. Ditto for the kitchen staff.
But it’s doubtful the capability was meant to be taken quite as far as the order one patron placed, documenting it all the while on Twitter: a cheeseburger with no patty, no bun, no cheese and no condiments.
In short: nothing.
The patron attested to the social media universe that he was completely accommodated. He was handed an empty bag—with a receipt for a 99-cent charge.
The extreme customization appears to be going viral as you read this.
Starbucks’ fake news
Not all Americans are happy about Starbucks’ plunge into political controversy, and at least one party decided to creatively wreak havoc for the chain in protest. It spread a rumor—via social media, of course—that the chain’s promotional calendar included a new event called Dreamer Day, a reference to so-called dreamers, the children of immigrants who are in the country illegally.
According to the reports, anyone lacking documentation of being in the country legally would get a 40% discount if they presented a Dreamer Day coupon.
As far-fetched as it sounds, the assertion drew attention and believers. Starbucks took to the Twitterverse to assure patrons the whole thing was an urban tale.
Tilman Fertitta’s billion yelps
Being a billionaire has its drawbacks, as Landry’s founder and leader Tilman Fertitta was reminded this week when one of its 500 or so restaurants tacked a fee on patrons’ tabs to cover rising labor costs.
The restaurant, a Washington, D.C., unit of Fertitta’s Oceanaire polished-casual chain, was upfront about the 3% surcharge. A notice printed on guest tabs read, “Due to the rising costs of doing business in this location, including costs associated with higher minimum wage rates, a 3% surcharge has been added to your total bill.”
Amazingly, some customers realized that Oceanaire is owned by Fertitta, who stars in the TV reality show “Billion Dollar Buyer” when he’s not scarfing up more restaurant chains for his portfolio (the most recent addition appears to be Joe’s Crab Shack, which he’s owned once already).
Why, they reasoned, would a billionaire need help in weathering a spike in costs?
Unfortunately for Fertitta, who’s not known for his diplomatic skills, the question resounded through the internet.
His company yanked the surcharge, but did snipe in an explanatory statement that now it’d be forced to raise menu prices.