Update: On Monday afternoon, Burger King UK tweeted in response to the backlash: "We hear you. We got our initial tweet wrong and we’re sorry. Our aim was to draw attention to the fact that only 20% of professional chefs in UK kitchens are women and to help change that by awarding culinary scholarships. We will do better next time." It is unclear if the company plans to remove the ad slogan from print editions at this time.
This story was originally published on Monday, March 8, 2021.
Brands and corporations have a history of fumbling holidays and celebrations like International Women's Day. Two years in a row, fast-food giant McDonald's received backlash for flipping its logo from an "M" to a "W" without implementing any tangible behind-the-scenes change. But this year, competitor Burger King is under attack for a particularly questionable Twitter joke.
"Women belong in the kitchen," wrote @BurgerKingUK, before adding, only in a follow-up tweet, "If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We're on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career." The thread closes with a pledge to launch a scholarship program for women chefs at Burger King.
The account responded to several complaints, including one tweet calling the joke "weird" and another requesting it be taken down. "We think it's weird that women make up only 20% of chefs in the UK restaurant industry," @BurgerKingUK replied. "That's why we've created a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career."
To bring attention to the huge lack of female representation in the restaurant industry? Yeah we think it's a good idea, that's why we’ve created a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.— Burger King (@BurgerKingUK) March 8, 2021
The comment was intended to raise awareness about the underrepresentation of women in the culinary industry, but many users found the phrasing reactionary and counterintuitive at best — and sexist at worst. Some people pointed out that, without context, the tweet just looks like a harmful joke at the expense of women… on International Women's Day.
But the tens of thousands of people gleefully retweeting the original comment, including extreme right-wing pundits, are not necessarily sharing the replies about Burger King's initiative. And even if the company had positive intentions, they're still baiting thousands of people with a tired joke that feels fresh out of 2006.
Predictably, Burger King’s social media team is now facing an outpouring of criticism and blame. But — as is almost always the case — the judgment error comes from the company's higher-ups. The tweet is actually just one part of a new global campaign: the same text appears in a Burger King press release and a full-page ad in the New York Times.
"Our tweet in the U.K. today was designed to draw attention to the fact that only a small percentage of chefs and head chefs are women," Burger King wrote in a statement. "It was our mistake to not include the full explanation in our initial tweet and have adjusted our activity moving forward because we’re sure that when people read the entirety of our commitment, they will share our belief in this important opportunity." Next year, if the company wants to go for an easy, "fun" gimmick, Burger King should really just rebrand as Burger Queen and leave it at that.
And ultimately, it's the person managing their social media pages — who more likely than not didn't come up with this campaign — that now has to suffer the consequences of cleaning up their messy bad joke