In the past, it was taboo to speak openly about employers, especially online. But amid waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and against a backdrop of national strikes and calls for minimum wage increases, creators started sharing their working conditions. And the TikTok generation isn’t holding back.
This was the year fast-food workers took their followers behind the scenes, accusing their employers of maltreatment, unsanitary food conditions, and overall negligence.
The trend of calling out well-known food chains and brands isn’t going offline anytime soon. We’ve compiled 15 viral stories that stuck with us in 2021—and that may make you rethink where you’re spending your dollars.
Bryan Johnston, 16, shared videos on TikTok showing how much food waste his Dunkin’ location generated on a nightly basis. He ultimately responded to comments by sharing another video in which he took some of the donuts and gave them to firemen and homeless people.
According to Johnston, the video blew up enough that corporate officials found out. He said he was fired for the negative attention and for eschewing store policy, prompting a double wave of frustration with the popular coffee chain.
“Clearly, Dunkin’ doesn’t want people to see they’re throwing away that many donuts, just because they don’t want to pay people to give them to the homeless,” he claimed.
Chick-fil-A has garnered a negative reputation for donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations, but one worker said that in her experience, that lack of care for others extended to employees.
TikToker @lelaaarealfuni detailed her experience, which included a claim that she was asked by her manager to front a customer money for his meal. Much like the Dunkin’ worker, she said the company caught wind of her video and wasn’t pleased. But that’s too bad because this TikToker quit after just three days on the job—with the full support of viewers.
There were a number of kitchen exposés in the fast-food world this year, thanks to TikTok. One of the more memorable ones featured an alleged McDonald’s employee showing the inside of an ice cream machine with McFlurry residue that “literally won’t come up.”
Viewers weren’t necessarily surprised to see a dirty ice cream machine, but it definitely turned some folks off to ordering frozen treats from the franchise. Others, however, pledged their loyalty to McD’s ice cream—assuming the machines are ever functioning.
One TikToker told viewers in September that workers at the Wingstop location where she claimed to be an assistant manager were instructed not to wear gloves when working with food. She also said employees were told not to discard any food that falls on the floor.
While commenters pointed out that they had seen Wingstop employees wear gloves at other locations, others weren’t sure what to think. Some expressed concern about the possibility that there may be unsanitary practices going on at any chain’s restaurants.
A Chipotle sign claimed that the store was closed after half of the staff—including the manager—walked out in the middle of a shift. The announcement went viral on TikTok in November after months of similar stories happening around the U.S. The walkout happened in Bardstown Road, Kentucky, and was inspirational to viewers who were frustrated with their own service industry jobs, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My team and I were cussed at, had food thrown at us, and called degrading and dehumanizing things over something as simple as a messed up order,” one supposed former Chipotle manager said.
Although the store reopened just a day later, commenters still cheered on those who decided to demand better from their employers.
An alleged Subway worker who pulled back the curtain on the chain’s steak in another TikTok video about how items are made at their fast food restaurant.
The user showed meat going from a pre-packaged block to crumbles that looked so unappealing, at least one viewer said they “wouldn’t even feed that to my dog.”
Starbucks had a hard time keeping ingredients and supplies in stock this year, something workers on TikTok were so frustrated about that many wound up making videos to explain to customers what was going on.
One TikToker, in particular, shared a video in which she alleged the Starbucks where she worked was buying ingredients from the grocery story to try to imitate their drink offerings because the syrups, milks, and other items specific to Starbucks weren’t in stock. Viewers were frustrated but also glad to understand why they hadn’t been able to order their favorite drinks off the menu.
As far as fast food goes, McDonald’s has some of the best fries in the game. But sometimes customers get a little pushy and demand fresher fries. One alleged employee showed folks on TikTok how, exactly, they handle those requests at their location.
Rather than actually get the customer new fries, they allegedly just dip old ones in the deep-fryer for a quick reheat. The video drew mixed reactions from viewers, although many suggested that people need to temper their expectations when it comes to fast food—and often overworked fast food employees. Either way, now everyone knows what might happen when you send those fries back.
A TikToker who identified himself as an ex-manager at Wendy’s called out his franchise location for mistreating workers during the already difficult pandemic, leading to the restaurant often being short-staffed. He said the store didn’t have a general manager for three months and that he basically ran the Wendy’s himself—all for $14.77 an hour.
But once a new general manager showed up, things allegedly got worse. The TikToker said when he finally admitted to himself and his co-workers that he was burned out and ready to throw down his apron, 17 other employees quit alongside him. He said they closed up shop, left things a mess, and never returned as a sarcastic “thank you” for all the help they never got while they were struggling.
A driver who delivers chicken to various Popeye’s restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area allegedly got one temporarily shut down after he filmed rats running around the kitchen and uploaded it to TikTok.
According to @blaqazzrick01, there were around 15 rats visible in the kitchen where he was supposed to drop off food. He filmed the rats running up the walls, scurrying across the floor, and clearly taking ownership of the place when no one was around. The location reportedly got shut down for a health code violation, but viewers in the D.C. area lamented that every restaurant on that block allegedly had rats running around; they just don’t usually get exposed on TikTok.
TikToker @mommymilkies42069 called out the Little Caesars where she allegedly works for cooking with frozen pizza dough after the company claimed that it’s “the only national pizza chain that makes dough in house, every day, at every location.”
The TikToker showed the packaging that made the claim, followed by a video of frozen dough arranged in a freezer. Viewers claiming to have worked at Little Caesars locations themselves pushed back, recounting all the times they say they made dough themselves and suggesting dough is frozen until later in the day when it’s needed. The TikToker followed up with another video of frozen dough lumps she says are shipped to her store every other week.
Frozen pizza dough isn’t exactly a dealbreaker for most people, but some commenters wanted to make sure the pizza franchise was being honest about what it promises customers.
A technician who goes around servicing ice machines shared a video of the scummy water in one unspecified restaurant’s machine, allegedly caused by a failure to regularly clean it out. It’s something @jantheman__ says he sees all the time and suggested that if you think you get food poisoning from a restaurant, it may very well have been from the filthy ice machine.
It’s not a surprising revelation if you think about it, but most patrons of fast food joints probably prefer not to. Still, consider skipping the unbottled beverages next time you’re picking up a burger and fries.
One TikToker popped into his regular Dunkin’ to ask workers dealing with impatient customers how long they go without taking a break.
One worker’s response horrified viewers, as he said he sometimes works eight or nine hours without slowing down, which he suggested he was “pretty sure is against labor laws.” Some viewers said their experiences working at various Dunkin’ locations were the same. Other commenters pointed out that companies will often take advantage when they can, and it’s up to the workers to demand better.
Starbucks had a difficult time keeping supplies on hand during the summer, but stores were hopping by the time November rolled around along with Red Cup Day, the switch to the holiday season when Starbucks locations give out reusable holiday cups with certain purchases.
But what benefits the company in mass sales can cause a massive headache for Starbucks workers, at least one of whom made a TikTok video to show how hectic things get. Other employees tweeted similar sentiments, treating the day similarly to how retail workers approach Black Friday.
“I SURVIVED. YALL STAY SAFE,” one alleged employee concluded.
While this wasn’t a TikToker outing their company or customers, it’s simply too bizarre to skip. Back in April, folks on social media noticed that a Philadelphia Bareburger’s Instagram had started posting all sorts of anti-employee sentiments, from stories to posts to full-on arguing with dissenters in the comments.
“Nobody wants to work rn when they can lazily collect Unemployment Benefits and a stimulus,” reads one post. The statement also noted that the restaurant paid $5 per hour for front-of-house workers and $10 per hour for back-of-house—which immediately made it clear to customers why no one was working.
The company later claimed the account had been “hacked” but this is 2021, not 2001, and absolutely nobody is falling for that excuse anymore.