Just a week before, McDonald’s India, the American fast food giant was promoting its new range of double patty burgers and now it has gone silent, with the last update on Facebook being on 17th January. Right now McDonald’s is facing an extreme PR crisis after a staff from Pune threw out an impoverished child from the JM Road outlet, saying “such people” are not allowed in. Right now McDonald’s has suspended the staff member and is investigating the matter internally.

The issue came into limelight when Shaheena Attarwala shared the incident on her Facebook wall, which happened on 10th January 2015. Shaheena, who was travelling to Pune on a business trip decided to visit a nearby McDonald’s outlet. “We went and got ourselves some coke floats… when we came out a poor kid started asking for some. Since it’s not very exp i decided to buy him a fanta float. I asked the kid if he would like to come in with me and stand in the line to purchase it by himself… he agreed. I took him in and he stood in the line. Of course I accompanied him,” writes Shaheena on her blog too.

Seeing the impoverished child, a worker from McDonald’s pushed and threw the kid out of the outlet. Shaheena confronted the staff stating that she had brought the kid inside to get him a Fanta float. However, she was told quite rudely by the McDonald’s staff that “these kind of people” are not allowed inside the outlet.

Left with no choice, Shaheena took the child out and later shared the incident on Facebook asking why poor kids are not allowed at McDonald’s. The Facebook post also had two visuals to support the claim. The post on this day has more than 765 shares.

McDonald’s was quick in action to sort the matter but only to cover it up with an illogical argument. The representative from the fast food joint justified itself by stating that the store staff took the action because Pune had witnessed a bombing incident in 2012. Interestingly with that logic, bombers or militants are dressed shabbily. The argument fizzled before Shaheena and her response could be read on her second Facebook post.

Could this have been handled in a better manner? Can you wait and play the passing ball game in the social media age?

In a matter of 24 hours this was a big news on social media as it was trending on Reddit with 400 plus upvotes and 250 plus comments.

Later it got picked up by The Logical Indian Facebook page which has more than 2M fans. The Facebook post went viral and right now has more than 13K shares and 64K likes. What is more interesting is that the Facebook post which has close to 5K comments has seen multiple threads running.

With social media buzzing about the discrimination by McDonald’s staff in India, the story was then picked by the bigger publishing houses such as DNA, Yahoo, among others.

By 17th January the news was all over the Internet as well as in the offline world, enough for McDonald’s India to wake up. The brand updated its Facebook and Twitter page where it stated that an inquiry is going on and that it does not support any form of discrimination. “We shall further examine if in any manner there has been a breach in basic courtesy and respect and take appropriate action, including re-training wherever required.”

Further it stated, “McDonald’s seeks to provide all our customers a safe and welcoming environment. We will always ensure that our guests feel comfortable, safe and looked after.”

To make matters worse, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has also reacted to the story, saying appropriate action will be taken. The incident also got soaked in the colors of regional politics with Shiv Sena discussing the incident in its editorial mouth piece Saamana while referring to BJP’s election slogan.

“We will continue to find poor children standing on roads, below flyovers, near signals on railway stations and outside restaurants with hands on their stomach. What will happen to these children? When will Acche Din (good days) really come for them,” it asked.

McDonald’s Pune – discrimination incidents in the past

Discrimination against the poor is quite common in India. Let’s face it: we see it in our society, traffic signals, near eating joints, among other places. It is embedded in almost all of us; we see them and move on. Just a simple search will pull up horrifying stories about such discrimination. The only reason it became a big news was due to the fact that “an American food joint could treat poor Indians like this in their own country.”

While it is true that we Indians hate the poor (that’s why we have a separate lift for such people), but at the same time we can’t ignore McDonald’s discrimination incidents in Pune in the past. This is the second such incident at the outlet, which has been reported in the last six months. In September last year, a group of homeless children had gone to the restaurant for a meal. Although, they had allegedly paid the bill, the staff struck up an argument with the group and insisted that they leave. The matter was solved after local police interfered.

A new year, another social media crisis but brands behave the same way they did in 2014. The matter could have been solved if only McDonald’s employees had taken this issue on top priority and not relaxed thinking that it is just India.

It might take a few days for McDonald’s to be back on social media promoting its burgers and fries, we will continue eating at the joint and chances are that a similar incident might occur again.

But will McDonald’s act in the same way as it has done now? Will it learn its lesson otherwise those spends on social media and accumulating fans are of no good.

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