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Unfortunately, unless you have been living as a modern day, technology-enabled shut-in, having every meal you eat that is prepared outside your home delivered to your door by Uber Eats or Grubhub, we have all seen it happen at one time or another. Whether the setting be fast-food or fancy, dining in, or driving through, we have all witnessed behaviors that, shall we say, at least—"back in my day," says the AARP-card carrier here—gotten you sent to the principal's office. We have seen it on the part of customers behaving badly—with one another, or with restaurant workers, or sometimes, a combination of all. We have seen workers arguing with each other, or with their managers. We have heard the yelling. We have seen the confrontations. We have witnessed the threats. And yes, sometimes we have even seen the punches—or drinks as the case may be—thrown.
Sometimes in the world in which we live in 2019, just going out for a meal, or alternatively, hitting the drive-thru window, can be nothing less than an adventure. And now of course, with everyone having a video camera at the ready in their pocket or purse, these moments don't just become part of our own memory, they become part of all of our collective memory. And quicker than you can read this first of two-parts article series on violence at fast-food restaurants, anyone can post a video online, and have the whole world witness an angry—sometimes even violent—confrontation involving "just" customers, between a "guest," and an employee, or two or more workers fighting with one another. And knowing the way we consume social media, almost nothing goes viral more quickly—well, maybe with the exception of those cute cat or adventurous dog videos—than a clip of two customers fighting (badly usually), or of a customer yelling NSFW expletives at a fast-food employee, and then trying to jump over the counter to actually get his hot french fries!
The McDonald's "Fight Club"
The setting of so, so many of these viral videos is a McDonald's somewhere in America. At present, there are approximately 14,000 locations of the fast food chain all over America. And whether it be at one of the dozens of McDonald's in a busy big city, or in small-town where the "Golden Arches" is the only "restaurant" there, "stuff" just seems to happen more frequently at McDonald's than any place else in the restaurant world, and seemingly, almost any other single location in the country.
We've seen videos of customers getting angry with McDonald's employees...
We've seen videos of customers actually assaulting McDonald's employees...
We've seen videos of customers using food (hot coffee) as a deadly weapon—literally—against McDonald's employees...
We've seen videos where customers and McDonald's employees go after it...
And unfortunately, we've seen videos where customers do try and seriously hurt McDonald's employees...
... and videos where a McDonald's worker puts a serious beat down on a complaining customer (Hint: don't go into the kitchen area!).
On the other hand, we've seen videos where McDonald's managers don't exactly follow the adage that "the customer is always right," be they a male supervisor...
... or a female manager.
We've seen videos where McDonald's workers seriously get into it with one another....
And on the other hand, we've seen videos where McDonald's customers fight not with restaurant employees, but with other "guests"...
... even over toilet paper!
McDonald's confrontations and fights have become so viral, and so widely viewed that they have even inspired some savvy Web-folks to produce compilations of the "best of" these confrontations, scuffles, arguments, brawls, and the like.
And today, if you Google "McDonald's" and "fight," you could literally watch endless hours of well, our fellow humans behaving badly!
Why McDonald's Matters
And yes, all of this can be seen as quite funny in one context. Probably the main reason that these videos do go viral is the fact that we Americans do seem to enjoy watching folks scream at one another—and even better if they start, in the words of the great, modern day American philosopher, wrestler, and movie star, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, "to lay the smacketh down..." But on the other hand, seeing all of these "incidents" can be quite disturbing. And if you are managing a public place where two or more people are gathered today (well, that would be just about everywhere wouldn't it?), you know that any day, any moment—your business could suddenly go viral—and for all the wrong reasons.
If you have come to suspect that more of these "crazy things" just seem to happen more often at a McDonald's than anywhere else, well, you are not imagining it. The level of bad behavior—and much worse—at McDonald's is now becoming a topic that is drawing some very real media attention—and yes, legal scrutiny.
This raises an important issue for management in our times: In an age where our society is becoming ever more coarse, and yes, violent, just what is the duty of employers to ensure a safe work environment—and what should be the definition of "safe" today? And this is by no means just a McDonald's issue. Indeed, it has ramifications across not just the fast food sector and the overall restaurant market, as really, these same issues permeate all customer-facing businesses in the America of 2019 and beyond.
In the remainder of this piece, we will look at the very real issues facing McDonald's today. And in the second part, we will examine yes, the conundrum that Mc Donald's executives should—and must—confront today in terms of the safety of not just their workplace, but the whole environment of their over 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. today. Indeed, worker—and customer—safety is one of the starring larger issues facing executives today. We will look at just how one should seek to manage in the world of today that is increasingly coarse—and yes, violent, with much of it being captured on video to be shared, and shared, and shared... and live on forever.
The McDonald's Conundrum
One of the ways McDonald's advertises itself is as being "America's first job" (which it literally has been for millions of Americans over the years)...
... and for so, so many of us, the experience gained through that "first job" can be life-changing—wherever that may be.
Take the size and scope of the company - with literally an outlet very near to almost all of us across much the United States. Couple that with the fact that yes, it is fast food, and as such, there will always be a high turnover rate and thus, a constant "churn" of workers. So when you combine the accessibility of McDonald's - and its ongoing need for "more human resources (yes, even in an age where ordering by kiosk is becoming the de facto norm, despite customer preferences for working with a cashier over a computer), all of this does make the restaurant chain a great and viable option for that first job.
However, these same factors also mix together to form a perfect recipe (or even a "perfect storm" if you will [more on that in a minute]) for—shall we say—some very real, very substantive employee "issues" to arise as well. McDonald's - and its employees—have certainly been in the "real news" of late—and it seems like for all the wrong reasons. The company has been in the headlines for a number of human resources-related concerns nationally, including sexual harassment concerns (and even among its teenage employees!)...
Conclusion.... and a Look at Part 2
Add all of this negative news to the seemingly constant flow of those viral McDonald's violence videos that your "friends" share on your Facebook and Twitter, and the company is taking a massive public relations hit! One writer, Jenny G. Zhang, recently stated in an article for Eater that the public's "ire towards McDonald’s, which has been building for years, is apparently at an all-time high at this very moment." In Zhang's piece, she observed that all of this has combined to form what she labeled as a "shitstorm." As a strategic management professor, and consultant of some regard, I could label it no better myself!
And now, all that anecdotal evidence from all those viral videos about the dangers of being a McDonald's employee—and maybe even a customer—is being matched with some very real statistical data, and legal action that may well lead to some very real changes needing to be put in place not just at this one company, but perhaps across the entire fast-food sector—and maybe beyond.
We all know that liability and legal concerns—combined with bad publicity—often combine to spark companies to take action—however reluctantly that might be. In the second part of this article series, we will examine the very real, very potentially messy—and costly—issues that violence in the fast-food restaurant setting—and particularly, but not exclusively, at McDonald's—has become. We will look to answers for executives, and for policymakers for working anywhere today where one is dealing with an increasingly agitated public. And yes, those customers are today more armed than ever in human history, both with weapons and with their smartphones.
So, whether we are talking about a huge chain like a McDonald's, or even the local coffeehouse, these are, unfortunately yes, matters that all managers, workers, and indeed customers should—and must—think about today. Join us in looking at these important issues in the second part of this article series.
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