Fast-food outlet kicks charity, hospitality out the door

Monday, September 16, 2019
 | 
Michael F. Haverluck (OneNewsNow.com)

Taco Bell at nightEmploying its slogan, Taco Bell used to invite its customers to "Make a run for the border" – but it was more like "Make a run for the door" last week to a group of homeless customers in Louisville, Kentucky.

When Shannon Gridley left Jefferson Community and Technical College's library Tuesday night around 7:30 to get a bite to eat at a nearby Taco Bell, she felt a calling to reach out to the less fortunate on the way.

"Inspired by a biography of Eddie Murphy – who was known to take drifters and prostitutes out to dinner when he was a young comedian on the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles – Gridley invited three homeless people she saw on the street to join her," Louisville's Courier-Journal reported.

"Then she saw three more people on a street corner 'flying signs' asking for money and she invited them, and as she walked under the viaduct, she saw about a half-dozen more people just hanging out, some of them asleep – she collected them all."

Putting no limits on her generosity, Gridley invited other "impromptu company" on the way, as described by TheBlaze.

"Then, as they were about to go inside the restaurant, one of the men saw a buddy who was standing at a bus stop with about five other people [and] Gridley told the man, 'Invite them all,'" the Courier-Journal's Joseph Gerth recounted.

Taco Bell doesn't ring for the homeless …

Eager to dine with her new group of friends, Gridley encountered a Taco Bell staff on Broadway that wasn't nearly as eager to welcome or serve her dining party.

"When Gridley tried to buy a group of nearly 20 homeless people dinner at the restaurant Tuesday night, the manager ordered the bathrooms remain locked, the lobby closed and kicked out Gridley and all the people she was trying to help," Gerth summarized.

Initially, Taco Bell management would not respond to the local paper or allow its employees to speak on the matter, but eventually, one of the workers – on the condition of anonymity – told Gerth, "The managers call [the homeless] 'those people.'"

Gerth relayed Gridley's account.

"By the time 'those people' came to Taco Bell Tuesday night, there were about 20 of them ranging in age from their mid-teens to mid-60s, said Gridley – a 44-year-old empty-nester who is studying to be a nurse – but as soon as they approached, trouble began," Gerth retold. "First, a security guard began questioning one of the men in the group."

Gridley then approached the guard to explain the situation. "I held up my credit card and said, 'All these people are going to order everything they want, and I'm paying for it,'" she told the guard.

That plan evidently was not well-received. "This is all going to be to go," the cashier immediately turned to tell the food preparer in response, according to Gridley. "Bag it all to go."

EXIT sign (green)The lack of hospitality reportedly got worse.

"One young woman – who Gridley said appeared to be about 16 years old – tried to use the restroom, which was locked," Gerth recounted. "An employee told the group it had been cleaned – about an hour and a half before closing time – and the workers weren't about to clean it again."

This was unacceptable to Gridley.

"She told the Taco Bell employee that she and her new friends were going to eat in the restaurant, [a]nd she said some of them needed to use the restroom," Gerth continued. "After the first part of the group ordered, the employees wouldn't allow them to take their food before it was paid for, so Gridley put $77.05 on the plastic, and her new friends took their food and sat down at tables. Then, the next group ordered: $11.64 more, and then, another group: $11.12."

The act of charity was contagious.

"One nicely dressed man came in and saw what Gridley was doing and gave her $10 to help, [Gridley] said," according to Gerth. "About that time, a worker came out and announced that the dining room was closed – even though a few of the homeless men hadn't ordered, [and] neither had the nicely dressed man who donated to the cause. That was about 7:45 p.m. The restaurant's lobby closes at 9."

Gridley remembered that after the well-dressed man objected to the closure and treatment, the woman behind the register offered to take his order.

"I said, 'Stop. Nobody's ordering anything until they do,'" Gridley told the paper, noting this was when everyone was kicked out.

Taco Bell ashamed?

The local paper investigated the incident.

"When I went to the restaurant to ask the manager what had happened, she said she wasn't allowed to comment – and as I walked to the door, she lectured her employees, telling them that's how they should respond if the media started asking questions; but one employee did talk, confirming key parts of Gridley's story and adding some context about other ways the store's managers treat the homeless and advocates who try to help them," Gerth recalled.

"The good news is, the franchisee that owns the restaurant is investigating what happened and is ordering its employees retrained, according to Taco Bell's corporate public relations office in Irvine, California."

The paper reported the interviewed employee's account only differed with Gridley's regarding the actual time of the incident.

"The employee said the managers have threatened to have homeless advocates' with cars towed when they have parked in the nearly empty parking lot to deliver food and water to homeless people who live nearby," Gerth added. "Employees are under strict orders not to allow homeless people to come into the store to use the restrooms, the employee said."

Taco Bell corporate provided this statement to the newspaper:

"[Taco Bell understands that homelessness is an] unfortunate issue [and the] franchisee looks forward to connecting with local organizations to see how they can help and work better together in the future."

Taco Bell is America's fifth-largest restaurant chain with $10.36 billion in total sales last year – behind only McDonald's, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, and Subway, according to Nation's Restaurant News.

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