Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Taco Bell Shell Hell: Licking a Public Relations Problem

Taco Bell employee licks a stack of crunchy taco shells
Lick Mas at Taco Bell
June 4, 2013 - A photo of a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells has set off a public relations panic at the fast food chain's headquarters. The photo (right) was posted to the company's Facebook page on Sunday. The employee was suspended shortly after the photo was posted.

The shells were stale and about to be thrown out, but that has not stopped Taco Bell from going into full damage control mode, "conducting a full-scale investigation." See Taco Bell's  full statement below.

"It's unclear exactly where the image came from, although it was posted by someone named Jj O'Brien Nolan," reports Eater.com. It is not known at which restaurant the taco shells were licked, but Gawker reports that some Facebook commenters said the photo was taken at a store in Ridgecrest, California (map).

Taco Bell issued a statement on Monday, in which they said that the taco shells "were used for training in March before we launched a new product, and were in process of being thrown out."

Problem is, this is hardly the first time that a photo of a Taco Bell employee performing disgusting acts with the restaurant's food has been posted online. In one photo, an employee appears to be urinating on a plate of nachos (although it was actually Mountain Dew, not pee). That photo was posted to Twitter. ABC News has that photo, and other examples of stupid fast food employee photos.

Here is Taco Bell's "Updated Statement Regarding Social Media Issue."

Irvine, CA - June 3, 2013

What is the Issue?
On June 2nd, we learned of a photo circulating online illustrating a Taco Bell restaurant team member violating our food handling procedures with a stack of taco shells.

Our food handling procedures are strict and we have zero tolerance for any violations.  In the spirit of full transparency, we want to inform you of what we know in order to respond to customers’ questions on our social media channels.

How Did this Happen?
The taco shells were used for training in March before we launched a new product, and were in process of being thrown out. Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product. The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable.  This image was clearly unacceptable – it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it.  But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee’s policies, and it emerged online in social media.

What we did
We immediately investigated the situation and learned these facts from our franchisee.  We are continuing our investigation and our franchisee is cooperating fully.

Our first question was, were the taco shells served to customers?  In short, absolutely not.  The taco shells were sent to restaurants for training purposes before the new product launch, so team members could use them to practice making the new product before it became available to the public.   These shells were a part of that training, were never intended to be served to customers, and were discarded. This is standard operating procedure, and our franchisee confirmed this protocol.

What We’re Doing
We do not believe these employees harmed, or intended to harm, anyone.  But we deplore the impressions this has caused to our customers, fans, franchisees, and team members.  The behavior is unacceptable for people working in a restaurant.  Our franchisee is responsible for the employment and conduct of his restaurant’s employees and he has informed us that he immediately suspended the employee shown in the photo and is in the process of terminating his employment.  The employee who took the photo no longer works there.  As we complete our investigation we will work with our franchisee to implement any additional action we find appropriate to address this situation and ensure it never happens again.