Burger King U.K. has apologized for a tone-deaf attempt at honouring International Women’s Day on Twitter, after the company started a thread of messages with a seemingly misogynist statement about women.
“Women belong in the kitchen,” the verified @BurgerKingUK account tweeted on Monday morning, in a statement that instantly triggered fury and a tide of sexist remarks.
“If they want to, of course,” the company added in a reply, before explaining that it wants to empower more women to become chefs with a scholarship.
The initial tweet exploded on Twitter, garnering tens of thousands of replies and more than a quarter of a million retweets — far exceeding the reach of the other messages in the thread.
Some celebrated the tweet in misogynist terms while complaining about cancel culture. Many others labelled it a whopper of a misstep on International Women’s Day, and one that could have easily been avoided.
“This could have even fit in one tweet,” one user wrote, along with a screenshot of the message in a Twitter draft page. The message does indeed fit within Twitter’s character limit.
“Burger King belongs in a trashcan,” actor and comedian Chelsea Peretti wrote.
“Sometimes I’m scared that I’m bad at my job,” one person tweeted along with the initial statement. “But at least I didn’t think this was a good idea.”
Burger King later claimed that the outrage was a feature, not a bug in its social media campaign. The company fired back at several critics in its replies.
“The best time to delete this post was immediately after posting it,” rival KFC’s video game-focused account tweeted. “The second best time is now.”
“Why would we delete a tweet that’s drawing attention to a huge lack of female representation in our industry, we thought you’d be on board with this as well?” Burger King tweeted back. “We’ve launched a scholarship to help give more of our female employees the chance to pursue a culinary career.”
The account also claims to be entertaining. “Come for the burgers, stay for the tweets,” its profile reads. “Drop us a DM to talk about your food. Otherwise, enjoy the show.”
The original “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet was shared 20 times more than the follow-up tweets about empowering women, the Twitter statistics show.
Burger King’s other Twitter accounts, including those in Canada and the United States, did not join in on the campaign.
Evidence suggests that the U.K. tweets were not the work of a rogue Burger King intern, as the company also took out an ad in the New York Times with the same message. The ad was placed by the Burger King Foundation in the United States, the Washington Post reports.
The “Women not belong in the kitchen” text is written in large letters on the ad, followed by the remainder of the message about empowerment in smaller text.
Many mocked the brand for exposing itself to such backlash with its attempt at being clever, especially when it could have easily made a “Burger Queen” joke and moved on.
Lost in the fray was Burger King’s actual pledge: that it will set aside money for current female employees to pursue culinary education programs. The scholarships are each worth $25,000 in the U.S., and similar programs will be established in the United Kingdom and Mexico, spokesperson Adrianna Lauricella told the Washington Post.
“We are committed to helping women break through a male-dominated culinary culture in the world’s fine dining restaurants — and sometimes that requires drawing attention to the problem we’re trying to help fix,” Lauricella said.
“Our tweet in the U.K. today was designed to draw attention to the fact that only a small percentage of chefs and headchefs are women. 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.”
Critics quickly assumed that Burger King UK would tweet an apology within minutes of the backlash.
The apology appeared nearly 12 hours later, after the initial tweet had been covered widely by media around the world.
“We hear you. We got our initial tweet wrong and we’re sorry,” Burger King’s U.K. account tweeted on Monday evening. The account added that it was only trying to draw attention to its scholarship program. “We will do better next time,” it tweeted.
Burger King U.K. also said that it had deleted its original tweet. “It was brought to our attention that there were abusive comments in the thread and we don’t want to leave the space open for that,” the tweet said.
“And it only took you 12 hours and 666k likes,” the top response to the apology said.