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


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 - 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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nonmember avatar Christie

I feel that they responded the way they should....And I would not avoid papa johns due to this and I would hope others wouldn't either....the simple fact is sometimes trash disguises itself well that you hire them to work for you and then find out .... sh*t happens the important thing is they fired the idiot!

nonmember avatar Kt

Do the deserve it?


Will it happen anyway?


Obviously for the lame employee to write it there must be racism going on in that particular store to some degree...


PonyC... PonyChaser

No, the brand should not be linked to racism.

I don't even think I'd go as far as saying that the employee was racist. Stupid? yes. Looking for attention? Yes. And it may not be a popular opinion, but one single comment does not make a person (or an entire organization) "racist".

And it seems like this "racist receipt" thing is the new "planking". The Stir has run two or three articles (that I can remember) in recent history about it... one from Chik-fil-A, and one from McDonald's maybe. I really think it's just another way for some idiot kids to get some attention.

nonmember avatar Anon

I absolutely believe it and I absolutely believe it's discriminatory. I had a similar experience with Papa John's. I was working (doing respite care with an individual with a disability who used a computer to talk). The individual ordered a pizza using his computer and the person on the phone actually asked me why I was wasting his time letting the "retard" talk. His manager backed him up. We called the regional manager who gave us a coupon for a free pizza, so we tried it again. As soon as we ordered the pizza, the same employee said, "I thought we had been over this and he isn't allowed to call." Called regional manager again and got no response. I almost lost it. I boycott Papa John's and encourage others to do the same!

Valda... ValdaThomas

Let me get this straight: this isn't one of Margaret Cho's standup routines?!? I am appalled at the utter racist contempt of this Papa John's employee!

nonmember avatar sweigertsays

As a former waitress, sometimes it's easier to write a description of the customer on a receipt to ensure the order gets to the right customer. However, I always picked shirt colors or hair styles, not anything that would have been derogatory or nasty. Even when it comes to pizza or other food, people should really utilize or develop their customer service skills.

nonmember avatar PapaRacists

Just imagine if the employee wrote 'Lady Nig***. The entire internet would have exploded. There is such a double standard. Sometimes the media is so very depressing....

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