Papa John's Racist Receipt Scandal Shows Power of Twitter Publicity

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Here's a slice of pizza-related trivia for you: in 2001, the founder of Papa John's, John Schnatter, was advised against appearing in his own commercials by Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's. Apparently Thomas's opinion was that Schnatter came across as an "immature frat-boy" -- unlike the warm, grandpa-like vibe Thomas gave off in his own ads.

Fast forward 10 years and it seems Papa John's hasn't quite shaken that immature, uncouth image, because last weekend at one of its New York restaurants a customer named Minhee Cho got a steaming side of racism with her order. Here's one major way things have changed since 2001, though: Thanks to Twitter, the racist slur used on her pizza receipt was seen within hours by thousands of people.

Ah, the speed of social media. In the business world, this can be a great thing … or as Papa John's learned, a really, really bad thing. 

Cho was at a Papa John's in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood on Friday night when she received a receipt that identified her as "lady chinky eyes." Unlike Starbucks, who's been known to biff a customer's name once or twice, this was clearly the act of a stupendously obnoxious employee who either forgot that the slur would be printed and handed to her, or simply didn't care.

It turns out that if you're going to refer to a customer by a derogatory name, you might not want to pick a communications manager at the nonprofit investigative journalism group ProPublica. Cho jumped on Twitter on Saturday to tweet the following, along with an image of the receipt:

Hey @PapaJohns just FYI my name isn't "lady chinky eyes"

By Sunday afternoon, the receipt had been viewed online almost 200,000 times.

Papa John's is hardly the first company to feel the wrath of Twitter. Microsoft's Bing got thrashed a while back for appearing to use Japan's devastating earthquake as a publicity stunt when they tweeted about a donation campaign:

How you can #SupportJapan - http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.

Kenneth Cole earned plenty of outrage over this tweet, sent during the political riots in Egypt:

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.

Angry social media campaigns also stirred up some bad feelings towards J.C. Penney's after the infamous "I'm too pretty to do homework" shirt was circulated online.

As for Papa John's, they responded to the backlash fairly quickly:

We are very upset by recent receipt issue in New York & sincerely apologize to our customer. Franchise employee involved is being terminated.

The owner of the New York store also said he was shocked about the incident and planned on having sensitivity trainings to avoid anything similar happening in the future.

I certainly don't blame Cho for tweeting about her experience, but I actually feel a little sorry for the franchise, because it's not like one rogue employee's views represent the entire organization. That's the power of social media, though. One idiot writes something dumb on a receipt, and an entire nationwide chain takes a beating.


It's worth keeping in mind, especially if you're running a small business. Word of mouth has definitely become far more powerful than it's ever been before.


Do you think Papa John's handled this incident in the best way possible? Do they deserve for their brand to be connected to racism?



Image via Papa John's

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