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This week’s 4 head-spinning moments: Ruler smacks to restaurants’ knuckles

The public is always screaming at restaurants for not being more responsible citizens of their communities. Yet when several chains tried this week to assume a leadership role on important social issues, the yelling easily violated local noise ordinances. Heads were turned because ears were all but set afire by moments like these.

Yum! Brands wants to encourage food donations. As a significant economic power in Kentucky, the franchisor of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut called on its home state to help the needy by creating an incentive for restaurants to donate food they couldn’t sell and would otherwise toss in a Dumpster. It shepherded a bill into consideration within the legislature to give foodservice operations a sweetened tax break for gifting the meals. They could cut their tax bill by the equivalent of one-fifth the market value of the food they donate.

Legislative allies argued that a slight credit would help restaurants offset the labor and delivery costs they have to eat to make a sizeable donation. But opponents heard a plot by a greedy corporation to swell its profits at the expense of taxpayers, who’d have to offset whatever was shaved off state revenues.

It’s not the first time that Yum has championed the tax credit, which would reduce restaurants’ tax payments by more than they save from the deduction currently permitted for donated food. It was shelved last time because of concern about the effect on tax revenues.

McDonald’s de-Frankensteins its food. It’s an article of faith among the public that the chain’s food is closer to a factory’s output than anything you’d find on a farm or ranch. This week restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski reported that the brand is about to address the criticisms with a switch to higher quality grilled chicken, a preparation wholesome and unprocessed enough to be touted as “artisanal.” 

If Kalinowski’s tip from unnamed sources is correct, the adoption of an improved chicken would be another step to upgrade the quality and composition of the ingredients used under the Golden Arches. McDonald’s is currently promoting Chicken Select Tenders, a Chicken McNuggets alternative that’s made with a more-natural piece of poultry. It announced about a week earlier that it would phase out the sale of milk from cows treated with most antibiotics.

Your head may have been turned away from the chain’s responses to social concerns by the carefully choreographed to-do over alleged violations of OSHA regulations by the chain. Labor organizers staged a publicity event to paint the chain as a modern-day capitalist villain that routinely puts employees at risk.

The effort had less to do with employee safety than with the continuing attempt to hold McDonald’s responsible for the labor policies and practices of franchisees, the controversial concept of franchisor and franchisee being joint employers of the latter’s staff. OSHA has never held a franchisor responsible for the actions of franchisees.

With the guidance of the Service Employees International Union, employees publicly charged 19 McDonald’s franchisees for failing to protect them from hazards like sputtering fryer grease and wet kitchen floors. The workers said they’re going to press OSHA to take action not only against their employers, but also their employers’ franchisor, McDonald’s Corp.

OSHA has yet to say if it will indeed hold McDonald’s Corp. responsible for what franchisees do. But the McDonald’s brand was already tried and condemned in the court of public opinion.

Starbucks leaves customers steamed. In case you’ve just emerged from a coma, Starbucks charged this week into a social topic that most businesses, across all industries, go to great pains to avoid. The last thing any corporation wants to do is take a stand on race relations. Any one except Starbucks, that is.

Its stance should have been beyond reproach. At the prompting of CEO Howard Schultz, who’s been conducting give-and-takes with employees across the country about race, baristas were invited to spark a conversation on the topic by writing “Race Together” on customers’ cups. The notion was to float unity as an idea worth speaking about.

In a matter of hours, some customers were so outraged by Starbucks’ attempt to broaden minds that the company’s SVP of global communications had to shut down his Twitter account to dam the vitriol.  ”Given the hostile nature of what I was seeing, it felt like the right thing to do,” Corey duBrowa wrote in a blog posting on Starbucks’ website. “I felt personally attacked in a cascade of negativity. I got overwhelmed by the volume and tenor of the discussion, and I reacted.”

The chain was bashed for a variety of reasons. Some complainers said it should stick to lattes and keep out of race relations. Others blasted the brand for hypocrisy, noting how white people tend to predominate in promotional and marketing materials. Another faction read the effort as a dilettantish effort by Schultz to wear a halo on race issues. The less-kind called it white man’s guilt.

But Starbucks, a publicly traded company, didn’t back down. Its stock actually rose in price, though observers attributed the increase to the company’s stockholder’s meeting, not its efforts to foster racial harmony.

Not that free bird, dude. Controversy has yet to follow a recent marketing decision by four Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken restaurants in Washington, D.C., but it’s just a matter of time. The fast-casual units decided to help neighbors suffering from the peculiar state of hunger known as the munchies by giving away chicken on the first day District residents could toke up without fear of legal sanctions.

Recreational use of marijuana was legalized as of 12:01 a.m. Thursday. At 4:20 p.m. of the same day, Nando’s provided its chicken free of charge to all comers. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” explained the group, which specializes in flame-broiled chicken marinated in Portuguese flaming-hot peri-peri sauce.

Nando’s said the time of the giveaway was chosen at whim, consistent with the city’s new freedom. 

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