Breaking a promise is a serious issue for any business. If you want to build a trusting, loyal fanbase, going back on your word is a surefire way to create suspicion in place of faith. Normally, it just leaves people disappointed. However, when you introduce something as sacrosanct and delicious as burgers into the mix, breaking a promise can turn a happy customer into your worst nightmare.
This is exactly the scenario facing Burger King this week, after it emerged that a man in Oregon is suing the brand for allegedly reneging on an offer of “free food for life”. As anyone who knows anything about trying to fleece free things from fast food joints will tell you, this is not something that will have been proffered lightly. Even if there has been a misunderstanding, there is clearly something more complex is going on under the surface.
The story starts, as with many great adventures, in a toilet. As reported by Portland local news station KATU, Curtis Broomer was visiting his local Burger King franchise when he was suddenly summoned by a nature’s call. Naturally, he headed to the bathroom, which he would later describe as “the kind of place where you hold your breath: Go in and get out of there as fast as you can." Initially business seemed to proceed as usual. However, when Broomer attempted to open the door, he knew that something was amiss.
The subsequent lawsuit filed by Broomer and his team sums up what happened next perfectly. They write, “When he tried to leave, the lock on the door jammed. After several minutes of trying to get the door to open, he called the phone number on his receipt. Several employees responded, ultimately handing him a hard plastic-edged card and later a fly-swatter and instructions to squeeze it through the crack between the door and the door frame to move the locking mechanism." The situation was far from ideal.
Eventually, after an hour spent struggling with the latch, a locksmith arrived to assist. All the while, Broomer insists that he could hear staff and customers laughing at him and his predicament from the otherside of the door. Frustrated and panicked, he cut his hand on the jammed lock. When he was finally released from his lavatorial confinement, Broomer was allegedly too distressed to leave the restaurant. It was then that the manager offered him a compensation package - a free burger whenever he wanted. This cheered him. The pair shook hands and parted company.
For several weeks, the restaurant made good on their offer. Broomer returned dozens of times, and was rewarded with free food for every visit. However, on December 28th, the burger tap was turned off. The manager informed him that they could no longer honour the arrangement, as it hadn’t been officially cleared with the powers that be. This was something that Broomer would not tolerate.
He quickly pulled a legal team together and filed a $9,026 suit - calculated as the cost for one Whopper meal a week for 22 years. He and his lawyer, Michael Fuller, claim the fact that the offer was upheld for more than two weeks is ample evidence of a promise broken, and therefore that compensation should be paid.
Though it is unclear what the franchise plan to do at this stage, Fuller told People on Monday that his client “...is still hopeful Burger King will do the right thing and honor its agreement (sic),” suggesting that this drama may go unresolved for sometime yet. Brooner himself also added, "Someone could have had a medical situation. You could have had a fatality. You could have had a child locked in there, someone elderly. They are lucky it was me." That may be the case, but we doubt whether Burger King are feeling particularly fortunate, as it stands.