Now, it's the Taco Bell employee who is taking a licking.
The nation's largest Mexican fast food chain says that a Taco Bell franchisee has suspended -- and "is in the process of terminating" -- the restaurant employee whose photo showing him licking a stack of empty taco shells went viral earlier this week. The person who took the photo no longer works for Taco Bell.
The photo caused a serious public relations headache for Taco Bell earlier this week. Red-faced Taco Bell executives had to try to explain to a skeptical public the circumstances behind the embarrassing photo. On Monday, the franchisee informed Taco Bell corporate that both employees were no longer with Taco Bell.
YUCK: 'Consumerist' post about Taco Bell photo
Never mind that the shells were never sold, but were only provided for workers to practice making the new line of Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos. The shells were thrown out after use. "This is standard operating procedure and our franchisee confirmed this protocol," says Taco Bell's statement.
But many consumers viewing the photo had to think otherwise. So Taco Bell had to act quickly. "One of the smartest things a brand can do is to respond as quickly and intelligently as possible," says Erika Napoletano, a brand strategy consultant.
The photo was taken way back in March at a Taco Bell restaurant in Ridgecrest, Calif., north of Los Angeles It was taken for an internal contest to supposedly show employees enjoying their first bite of the new product. Things went haywire when the photo, which was never submitted for the contest, ending up being posted on the employee's Facebook page.
Not only was this a violation of company policy, but the worker also violated Taco Bell's food handling procedures, the company says.
"We do not believe these employees harmed or intended to harm anyone," says Taco Bell's statement. "But we deplore the impression this has caused to our customers, fans, franchisees and team members."
Taco Bells says that it -- and the franchisee-- are taking action to make sure this kind of situation "never happens again."
Written By: Bruce Horovitz, USA Today