Another Year That Shouldn’t Have Been: 64 Times Companies & Employees Embarrassed Themselves In 2016

Image courtesy of Ron G

Just like last year (and, honestly, every year), 2016 was rife with stories about companies and their employees treating customers badly, going too far with bad jokes on social media, and then issuing semi-apologies while making claims about “taking it seriously,” or sometimes “very seriously.”

It’s been yet another year of derogatory, mean-spirited messages scrawled on receipts, ads that suggested “maybe ‘no’ doesn’t really mean no,” strange things showing up in food orders, ripped-off designs, wrong numbers, errant pranks, goofs, gaffes, and screw-ups — so many that we certainly missed more than a few.

Regardless, without further ado, here is Consumerist’s list of stories that make us go “Wait.. What?”

Keep Your Free Frog

Image courtesy of 10 News

From spiders to lizards to weasels to heads of snakes and rats, customers found the most unexpected — and often disgusting — things in their food this year.

1. Can I Get The Dead Baby Weasel On The Side?: A nurse practitioner in England ended up with a dead baby weasel in her salad, and she was not pleased. The supermarket where the woman bought the salad, Walmart-owned ASDA, offered a £5 voucher ($7.22), later increasing their offer to £100 after tests showed that the animal was indeed a… dead baby weasel.

2. Ants Are Protein, Right?: A Pittsburgh Burger King customer claimed in January that he found his sandwich was topped with something moving: ants. 

3. There’s Something About Bugs: Sour cream, butter, chives, cheese: all acceptable topping for a baked potato from Wendy’s. Something that’s not acceptable, though, bugs. Yet, an Indianapolis customer says she was chowing down on a spud when she noticed what she believed were bugs underneath the potato.

4. Finding It A New Home: The tale of “Green Fruit Loop” the lizard is fit for the big screen: She ended up bundled up in some tatsoi greens, then was refrigerated, putting her in a hibernation-like state. The family who purchased the greens found GFL alive, and brought her to their child’s kindergarten class where, we assume, it lived happily ever after.

5. Snake Head Recall: Food is recalled every year for a variety of problems: salmonella, pieces of plastic, undeclared soy. But this recall of canned green beans in Feb. 2016 was initiated after a church group found a snake head among the veggies.

6. More Rat Head, Please!: A New York woman claimed in September that her daughter was traumatized after allegedly receiving a fried rat head with her Popeyes chicken.

7. Would You Like The Receipt In The Bag Of Meth?: An 11-year-old GameStop customer got quite the surprise with his video game in September when he found a baggie full of methamphetamine placed inside.

8. Is Marijuana A Spice?: In October, an Ohio woman claimed the Wendy’s french fries she ordered for her daughter came sprinkled with marijuana. Officers who responded to the complaint said they opened the bag and smelled a “strong odor of marijuana” and saw “green leafy vegetation” on the fries.

9. Limited Time Offer — Free Levers: A California woman’s daily ritual of visiting McDonald’s for oatmeal came to an abrupt end in September when she said her meal included the lever from the hot water machine used to make the breakfast item.

10. A Gross Duo: Back in August, McDonald’s was on the receiving end of several complaints when customers at two locations reported finding gross stuff in their food: worms wriggled out of a burger, and a snail was found in the bottom of an iced tea cup.

Imitation Is Not The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

Image courtesy of Lane Bryant/Shantell Martin

Copying an artist in order to make a profit for yourself is not a good idea, especially now that the people whose work is being copies can now share the evidence with the world instantly online.

11. “You Are You,” Unless You’re Lane Bryant: In September, New York artist Shantell Martin claimed that Lane Bryant ripped off her “You Are You” design, plastering it on a white T-shirt without permission. The shirt was later removed from the company’s website and Instagram page.

12. Two-Time Imitator: Last year, McDonald’s apologized to a pair of photographers after modeling a Twitter campaign on their work, but the Golden Arches didn’t learn its lesson. This time British animator Cyraik Harris claimed that a new McDonald’s ad campaign featuring talking cows was nearly identical to a video he posted on YouTube in 2010.

13. Adorable Dogs: Artist Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings claimed in October that Kohl’s was selling pajamas, socks, and other clothing times using her drawings of Boston terriers.

14. Not Zara’s Designs: Independent artist Tuesday Bassen posted side-by-side comparisons of her work and suspiciously similar ones being sold by Zara. The retailer allegedly told the woman that there was a “lack of distinctiveness” in her designs.

15. That’s Art, Not Graffiti: McDonald’s faced yet another accusation of stealing someone else’s work in October, when the estate of deceased artist Dash Snow claimed the company brazenly swiped one of his signature designs to use as fake “graffiti” decor at some of its eateries.

Employees Behaving Badly

From pepper spraying dogs to opening millions of unauthorized bank accounts, 2016 was rife with examples of employees behaving badly.

16. The Wells Fargo Fake Account Fiasco: A years-long investigation into the opening of unauthorized Wells Fargo accounts in customers’ names came to a head this year, when federal and state regulators ordered the bank to pay more than $185 million in refunds and penalties related to two million fake accounts.

17.FedEx Is The Worst Landscaper: A Texas woman said in February that a FedEx truck ripped up her yard when it drove onto her lawn and got stranded. To make matters worse, the tow truck that eventually extricated the truck caused even more damage.

18. No Drinking & Flying: An American Airlines co-pilot was arrested on the tarmac in March after he failed a breathalyzer test. Not only was he grounded for the night, but so were the passengers whose flight was canceled as a result.

19. Not The Dogs: Those who deliver mail and dogs don’t exactly have a great relationship. But pepper spraying two 20-pound dogs?

20. Flying Under The Influence: It was revealed in April that a JetBlue pilot had been arrested months earlier after a flight from Florida to New York for allegedly flying under the influence of alcohol. A random breathalyzer test found his blood-alcohol content was .11.

21. What’s In My Cart?: After engaging in a bit of back and forth with Amazon’s customer service department over receiving the wrong version of a textbook, an Irish man sent the book back. But when he returned to the site later, he found an oversized sex toy in his shopping basket. Because he hadn’t put “The Hulk 10.25-inch Huge Dong Black” in his cart, he immediately suspected an Amazon customer service rep had taken the negative feedback to heart and had retaliated.

22. Real Labor Pains: A New York City couple reported in January that after the pregnant woman vomited on the sidewalk, their Uber driver refused to give them a ride to the hospital. To make matters worse, the driver charged the couple $13 for the privilege of being stranded.

What’s Customer Service Got To Do With It?

Image courtesy of (frankieleon)

Some companies just never learn that customer service should be a top priority.

23. Pay Your Bill: Power company Reliant continued to text a Dallas family updates about their power usage, which somehow increased after a tornado destroyed the home.

24-26. Where’s My Kid?: First, American Airlines allegedly failed to notify a North Carolina family about a significant change in their 11-year-old daughter’s flight, only learning that her plane never landed at its destination because the girl called her parents.

Then, an unaccompanied minor flying on JetBlue from the Dominican Republic got mixed up with another kid and ended up in Boston instead of New York City.

And most recently, parents say that United Airlines left a 12-year-old girl on her own after her flight arrived in Houston.

27. Zip Your Lips: An American Airlines passenger traveling from the Dominican Republic to Miami says a flight attendant told him to “shut up and don’t talk to me again” over a confrontation about sold-out pasta.

28. Does Vomit Have DNA?: A New York city woman swore off using Uber, claiming in March that a driver accused her of barfing in his car, staging the photos of someone else upchucking to collect a $200 cleaning fee.

29. Too Short To Ride: A JetBlue passenger claimed in May that she wouldn’t be allowed to fly from Boston to Seattle because her shorts were too short. While the airline didn’t apologize for the situation, it did reimburse the woman for the replacement cost of the clothing she had to buy.

30. A 45-Hour Ride: Most Uber rides are under an hour. But a Chicago man was charged $573 for a 45-hour ride over a 23-mile area that he never actually took.

What’s In An Insult?

No matter how many employees make headlines each year for leaving rude and racist comments for customers, a new crop of idiots pop up to take their place.

31. Here’s A Pizza & An Insult: A Papa John’s franchisee in Denver apologized in July when a teen was surprised to find a racial slur printed on his box.

32. Facing The Consequences: A Sonic Drive-In carhop in Fort Worth, TX, was fired in October after writing an offensive word on the receipts of two customers dining together.

33. “CHAIR” Is Not A Person: A wheelchair-using couple were insulted when a restaurant that identified them on their receipt as “CHAIR.” The owner of the restaurant said she meant no offense with the receipt.

34. Just Stay Home: A waitress in South Carolina received a note, written on a napkin, chastising her for working in the first place, and that she should be home tending to her husband and kids — even though she has neither of these things.

35. Tips Are Only For Citizens: In August, a Virginia restaurant customer not only refused to tip her waitress after a meal, but also left a note on the receipt that implied the server was not a citizen and therefore somehow did not deserve a living wage.

36. Twitter Rants Not Advised: You can say just about anything you want on Twitter, but you shouldn’t do so and think you can keep your job: a Texas Roadhouse employee in Colorado was fired in July after Tweeting that “If we had a real life purge I would kill as many Mexicans as I could in one night.”

37. No Inside Jokes: A few servers at a Virginia restaurant apparently have a fun time mocking customers. While it’s in jest and done in the privacy of the kitchen, some comments — including “I have a small penis” — made it onto a customer receipt in May.

38. What Did I Do To You?: It’s bad enough when a trip you’ve been planning for months unexpectedly gets canceled, it’s even worse when someone working for Expedia writes a “F—k You” message in your itinerary.

39. Judging Your Consumption: Starbucks apologized after a barista wrote “Diabetes here I come” on a man’s grande white mocha. The man, whose two sisters have Type 1 diabetes, wrote his own message — “2 of my sisters are diabetic, so … not funny,” — on the cup and returned it to the worker.

Taking It Seriously

Image courtesy of Amish Hacker | YouTube

Each year companies do something that warrants a great big “we’re sorry.” While these apologies are generally warranted, the reasons why they’re needed in the first place can often be perplexing.

40. Never Okay: A San Antonio mattress store apologized in September after posting a video on Facebook advertising a “Twin Towers Sale” that parodied the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. In the ad, which aired prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the terror attacks, two workers stand in front of two mattress “towers” an American Flag, before the mattress towers are toppled in apparent shock over the sale.

41. The Comcast Demolition Derby: Comcast issued an “our bad” apology earlier this month when a tech crew in Indiana was recorded apparently disregarding drivers who ran off the road or collided while trying to get around the repair truck parked in the icy street.

42. Veteran Doesn’t Eat Free: Back in November, Chili’s offered veterans a free meal. However, one Texas veteran recorded an interaction with a Chili’s manager who called into question his military record and took away the man’s to-go box, saying he hadn’t proved he was a veteran.

43. Bae Interns Gotta Drink: Companies trying to attract a younger employee pool often try to be “hip,” and often fail, but not as gloriously as when Microsoft referred to interns as “bea” and invited them to have “lots of dranks.” The company subsequently issued an equally embarrassing apology.

44. New Slogan Gone Bad: Alaska Airlines apologized in January after coming under fire for using the phrase “Meet our Eskimo” in its rebranding campaign.

45. Bloody Mail: Getting mail is great. Getting mail covered in blood is not. The United States Postal Service issued an apology to residents of the town of Olean, NY, who complained about getting mail stained with blood.

46. Where’s The Cheese?: The presence of cheese is implied in the name “Mozzarella Sticks,” but McDonald’s early attempts at selling the cheesy appetizer didn’t go well, with the company having to apologize for serving up pockets of fried air.

47. Not For Kids: A California movie theater apologized in June when it accidentally played a trailer for Sausage Party (an R-rated, expletive-laden dark comedy featuring self-aware food facing imminent, violent death by human) to a bunch of people there to see Finding Dory (an under-the-sea, feel-good family flick). Oops.

Marketing Gone Wrong

Image courtesy of @online_shawn

To sell a product, companies generally create a marketing plan around the item using ads, displays, and social media campaigns. While the hope is that these efforts will pay off with lots of sales, sometimes things go south.

48. That Won’t Sell A Laptop: Home shopping network QVC said it was looking into the matter when a Consumerist reader watching the channel saw a laptop being hawked with the assistance of racist comments on the screen.

49. I Am Not Chipotle: A D.C.-area attorney was inundated with text messages from people seeking free burritos from Chipotle. The mix-up occurred when people accidentally added another digit to the six digit text code.

50. Prank Gone Wrong: Google quickly disabled its April Fools’ Day joke after the “Mic Drop & Send” button, which inserted an animation of a Minion (from the Despicable Me movies) dropping a microphone muting any email thread replies, caused a few problems for Gmail users.

51. Wrong Place: Facebook accidentally activated its safety check feature in March, asking people on the other side of the world from an incident to confirm they were safe.

52. What Were You Thinking Walmart?: It’s not uncommon for retailers to create eye-catching displays to sell products. But a Florida Walmart’s “We Will Never Forget” American flag tribute — complete with the World Trade Center towers — made entirely of Coca-Cola products didn’t go over well, as one might expect.

53. “No” Is Not Maybe: Forever 21 pulled a mens’ shirt that suggested “Don’t Say Maybe If You Want To Say No” after customers accused the retailer of making light of rape.

54. Violently Ill: Meal replacement startup Soylent pulled its new-to-market nutrition bars after receiving reports from customers who became ill after consuming the snack. A week later, the company also pulled its meal replacement powder citing similar illnesses.

55. Pulled Costume: A month before Halloween, Disney pulled a boy’s costume for a Polynesian character in the movie Moana, after receiving backlash from Pacific Islanders who compared it to blackface.

56. One Hot Toy: Toys “R” Us pulled a rideable Tonka Mighty Wheels Ride-On dump truck from stores in November after a family says the toy exploded and caught fire in the back of their truck on the way home from the store.

57. Creepy Peeping: Halloween decorations are supposed to be a bit scary, but a Peeping Tom adornment from Home Depot was just downright creepy, leading the retailer to pull the item from its shelves.

58. Massachusetts or Maryland, What’s The Difference?: Geography is hard. Or at least it appears hard for Walmart. Customers tipped off the retailer to its very obvious mistake in selling University of Maryland T-shirts bearing an image of the state of Massachusetts.

Forgetting The Law

Image courtesy of (Lucia Sanchez)

Each year, without fail, companies seem to forget that mothers can nurse their infants however and wherever they choose, and that service animals are allowed to fly on airplanes alongside their owners.

59. Put It Away: An Ohio museum clarified that mothers are welcome to nurse their children on the property after employees told a visiting woman that she had to stop breastfeeding in March.

60. Everyone’s Gotta Eat: While dining with her family at a local Pizza Hut an Ohio woman says she was asked to leave after she began to nurse her three-month-old son at the table.

61. Get Off The Plane: American Airlines apologized in November when an Illinois family claimed they were kicked off a flight because a flight attendant thought their service dog was too big.

62. Guided Out Of The Restaurant: A Popeyes restaurant in Brooklyn used its “no pets” policy to kick a blind man and his guide dog out of the establishment in November.

63. Uber Unfortunate: Uber has been called out in the past by blind customers and advocacy groups for the blind for drivers who refused to transport service animals. That continued in July when an Orlando driver was arrested for allegedly driving away from blind passengers with guide dogs.

64. You Can’t Fly: An army veteran sued American Airlines in October after the carrier’s employees allegedly wouldn’t allow her to board a plane from Kansas to Mississippi with her licensed service dog.

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