Julia La Roche/Business Insider
I recently got a firsthand reminder of how quickly a company can destroy its brand and future business with an individual customer.
With a restaurant, especially, all it takes is one bad — and badly handled — experience, and the customer may be gone for good.
Around midnight on Wednesday, Sept. 3, I went to the McDonald's at 946 8th Ave and 56th Street in Manhattan. After my experience there I'll never eat at the chain again.
I began the night at a party with a friend. Afterward, we were exhausted. We were also starving, so we went to McDonald's because it's convenient and open late.
I ordered a Southern Style Chicken sandwich meal (I've had this before). My order didn't come out immediately, so we picked out a table and waited.
When the food arrived, I opened up the bun. I'm not sure why. When I looked inside, I saw there was a white substance on the pickles, the bun, and at the edge of the chicken patty.
I knew there had to be a mistake. I've had this meal before and the sandwich is served plain with a buttered bun.
I took the sandwich back to the counter. When I told the cashier without being explicit what I thought the substance looked like, she laughed and said it was "tartar sauce."
The cashier asked if I wanted another sandwich without tartar sauce. I accepted.
My second sandwich arrived to my table. I inspected it and it looked OK. I ate it.
The next morning, with the help of a friend and some Googling, I determined that the whatever was on my sandwich was definitely not tartar sauce. McDonald's tartar sauce includes pickle relish, which was definitely not in the substance I saw on my meal.
I sent an email with the photograph to McDonald's corporate public relations. That afternoon, Linda Dunham, the owner of the 56th Street and 8th Avenue location, called me at my desk.
During our first phone call, she apologized and explained that there was not supposed to be tartar sauce or mayo on that sandwich. She said she would look into it.
I called her back the following Tuesday afternoon when I still had not heard from her.
"I apologize that I didn't get back to you yesterday," Dunham said. "What I did do is I watched some of the product being prepared and you know I don't see — other than occasionally — I don't know whether it's the grease that caused it or something like a little balloon that comes up and sometimes it has a little more white in it, but there's absolutely nothing that we add to that product other than butter."
I asked her why the cashier would have called it "tartar sauce."
"I could not explain that behavior," Dunham continued. "I don't think she knew. She only works the front counter. She doesn't work in the back. I don't think she understood or knew."
She went on to say that late at night a limited number of people work in the store but that she did not know who was cooking. Dunham also said that cameras cover part of the kitchen, but not every part.
She assured me that she didn't think anyone did anything intentional to the sandwich.
"I've been in the restaurant industry for 30-some years," Dunham said. "I've never, ever, ever, ever, ever known an employee to do something like that. That is ruining number one, a brand. That's also a person's job on the line."
Dunham said that it was a "safe product" and that she had never gotten a complaint like mine.
Well, McDonald's was responsive, at least. But I'm not satisfied with the explanation. And I'm still never eating there again.
Julia La Roche/ Business Insider
Julia La Roche/ Business Insider
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