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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About: Fast Food

Is KFC really legally forbidden from calling itself chicken? Will a crappy McDonalds job always be there? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: fast food. The world of golden arches and bolo-tied colonels is as laden with untruths as it is with grease. Do you want lies with that?

Lie #1: KFC Is Legally Prohibited From Using “Chicken” in Its Name (And “Kentucky”)

All fast food giants have myths surrounding them, but one of the most enduring may be the one that claims Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to rebrand to initials after being told that what they sold was no longer recognizable as chicken due to endless experimentation. It’s nonsense, of course, just like the claim that the state of Kentucky forced the name-change by insisting on royalties — one that started on rumor-debunking site’s needlessly annoying lies section

The truth is that KFC rebranded in 1991 in order to have a shorter name (one that matched how people frequently referred to it anyway), and to remove the word “fried” due to its unhealthy associations. Removing the “chicken” also helped to get away from the assumption that they only sold chicken (although… don’t they, pretty much?). The rumors still continue though, to the extent that they even have to debunk them on their website. But the initial-only name does let them have fun with it — after supply issues in the U.K. caused hundreds of branches to be without chicken, the chain apologized with full-page ads in newspapers headed “FCK”. (The joke there is that it’s a bit like “FUCK,” you see. Ha.)

Lie #2: If You Fuck Everything Else Up, You Can Still Get A Job At McDonald’s

McDonald’s is always there, right? So much so that the Douglas Coupland-coined term “McJob” is in the dictionary — a low-status job with minimal training, high turnover and tight management. Essentially, it’s seen as a shit-ass job that you do either while you sort yourself out, or because you fucked up your shit. Flipping burgers has become cultural shorthand for a lack of prospects, however unfair that might be.

But those McJobs might not be long for this McWorld, thanks to widespread McAdoption of McAutomated McKiosks (with McHuman McShit on them). Former McDonald’s President and CEO Ed Rensi, who started out as a grill operator for 85 cents an hour, has expressed his concerns about this in Forbes, but blames rising minimum wages rather than, say, an incredibly wealthy company building robots that don’t need pay checks (in 2018, McDonald’s made $6 billion of net profit).

They’re not daft, either, these robots. McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield, a “decision logic” tech company, earlier this year in order to use machine learning to more effectively upsell. The thinking here is that an intricately-designed algorithm that works with your personal information to push certain products is likely to be more effective than a squeaky-voiced teen asking if you want fries with that.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has claimed that the kiosks wouldn’t lead to job losses, saying they’d actually just let staff restaurant the place up a bit: “They provide an opportunity to transition back-of-the-house positions to more customer service roles such as concierges and table service where they’re able to truly engage with guests and enhance the dining experience.” However, more recent rolling-out of AI-led drive-through technology has been done so with the explicit aim of replacing human operators.

Lie #3: Subway Sells Foot-Long Sandwiches

Subway does not, in fact, sell foot-long sandwiches, at least, not in the sense of sandwiches that are one foot long. It sells “footlong sandwiches,” where the “footlong” part has nothing to do with length, and is merely a name. After an underwhelmed Australian Subway customer posted an image on Facebook of a sandwich that measured a meager 11 inches, the chain claimed “SUBWAY FOOTLONG is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.” A later lawsuit attempting to get refunds for everyone who had ever bought one ended with the chain paying a small settlement, including $1,000 each to nine named plaintiffs, and promising to try to keep their bread longer in future.

Lie #4: Ronald McDonald Loves Hamburgers

Just like the alien from barely-watchable E.T. rip-off Mac And Me, there’s nothing that cheerful mascot clown Ronald McDonald enjoys more than a lovely burger, right? Wrong! While the occasionally-terrifying mascot began life as “Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown” in 1963, in recent years, hamburgers have brought him less joy, to the extent that he is now never seen eating one in order to avoid accusations of encouraging children to eat unhealthily. 

Former CEO Jim Skinner once told Reuters that Ronald McDonald had “never sold food to kids in the history of his existence,” with the next CEO, Donald Thompson, claiming “We are not predators.” The official line is that Ronald simply spreads joy and smiles, and if that joy and those smiles happen to inspire your child to really, really crave a burger, so Goddamn be it.

Lie #5: Cops Unequivocally Love Dunkin’ Donuts

The police and Dunkin’ Donuts have always seemed like a marriage made in heaven, but it’s a marriage that once went through a trial separation. In 2017, the NYPD spent four months boycotting Dunkin’ Donuts after an employee in their Bed-Stuy branch said he wouldn’t serve cops.

Things got very heated on both sides as what was once a beautiful relationship fell apart. The chain’s initial apology was deemed to not be strong enough, which led to police officers snacking around while also reportedly refusing to give hungry civilians directions to Dunkies. While they reconciled in the end (following a full-page apology ad placed by the chain), you just know those four wild months — crazy nights of croissants, experiments with baguettes — will come up immediately next time they argue.