Ask any native Texan what their favorite burger is, and ten times out of ten (or at least nine) they’re going to say Whataburger. Even asking such a question might be viewed as wasted breath, as there can only be one right answer in the state of Texas. At least that’s the message projected by Whataburger’s rabid fanbase. Sure, other chains like In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A have devoted customers, but the relationship between Texas and Whataburger seems to be on another level.
What fans of the burger chain might be surprised to discover is that while Whataburger’s fries might be golden, its reputation is not. That’s right, Whataburger has some secrets lurking behind that big orange-and-white W that they’d prefer fans forget or never learn about. Proceed with caution because what you’re about to learn may just change how you feel about a Whataburger patty melt forever! (Or not. It is just fast food, after all.)
Whataburger is no longer solely Texas-owned
In June 2019, a bomb was dropped on the good people of Texas by one of their very own. Not a literal bomb, of course, but an emotional one that had a sting more devastating than the worst jalapeno cheeseburger heartburn imaginable. Whataburger was sold — to Chicago!
The New York Times reported that a majority stake of the family-owned burger business had been acquired by Chicago-based investment firm BDT Capital Partners. Both BDT and Whataburger assured customers that the chain’s "recipe for success" wouldn’t change. Despite the company telling fans on Twitter, "Texas, we don’t want you to be upset …" people were pretty upset over the matter.
Texas publications such as The San Antonio Express-News and Texas Monthly mourned the news, while a popular criminal defense lawyer declared, "get your hands off our hamburgers." Houston Texans star J.J. Watt even pleaded with fans to rally together and chip in to buy the brand back. The fact of the matter is, as much as Texas would like to believe Whataburger is 100 percent Texas through and through, there’s now a substantial piece of it 1,200 miles away.
Whataburger’s gravy has landed the company in hot water
It’s the burgers at Whataburger that keep the fans coming back, but it was the chain’s gravy that landed them in some legal trouble. Fast food companies always try to deliver on the promise of fresh, hot food, but trouble happens when that food is a little too hot and results in burns. McDonald’s found itself in court with a $3 million lawsuit in the ’90s after hot coffee burned a customer, and in 2018, Whataburger was in the hot seat.
According to The Dallas Morning News, a customer’s five-year-old daughter suffered a bad burn after the restaurant’s "scalding hot" gravy spilled on the girl’s legs. The lawsuit alleged that the girl’s second-degree burns were because careless employees hadn’t been properly trained regarding the spillage risks of serving hot gravy to a child.
If all this sounds vaguely familiar to Whataburger fans, it’s because the exact same thing happened to a seven-year-old child in 2010. In that lawsuit, Whataburger got off in the court and was not held liable. However, the 2018 case doesn’t appear to have been resolved yet. Considering that this has happened twice now, Whataburger might not be so lucky the second time around.
Whataburger’s beef is packed full of antibiotics
Even if Whataburger’s beef is fresh and never frozen, it’s not winning too many accolades when it comes to antibiotics. U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a lengthy roundup in 2018 of how well fast food burger chains scored when it came to antibiotics in their meat, and Whataburger flunked big time.
Whataburger’s beef received a big, fat "F" in the report — though it was hardly the only one. The Texas burger chain did just as poorly as other popular favorites like Five Guys, Carl’s Jr, and McDonald’s. The report went on to detail how Whataburger and other fast food chains that used beef containing high levels of antibiotics could result in the spread of drug-resistant illnesses (via San Antonio Business Journal). Whataburger didn’t publicly comment on the report.
While nobody likes a Debbie Downer scolding them over their burger choices. Perhaps opting for a burger that might not potentially contribute to a worldwide pandemic — because those are the worst — wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Whataburger’s customer service has made headlines … for the wrong reasons
Overall, Whataburger does pretty well when it comes to customer service and has a solid 4.3 out 5 from over 140,000 reviews on Facebook. That’s certainly not too shabby. The problem, though, is that some of their bad reviews have been pretty bad, and we’re not just talking about a few customers on Yelp who had slow service either.
In 2019, it was reported that a customer who visited Whataburger in Baytown, Texas, claimed to have found a clump of mud in her burger (yuck). Yesenia Sanchez reportedly asked for a bread swap with her sandwich and discovered the newly added ingredient in her chicken sandwich. Whataburger reached out to Sanchez with an apology and free meal, but no word on whether or not she took them up on it or said "thanks but no thanks."
The burger chain also found itself in the headlines regarding the treatment of two police officers. Police chief Jay Burch wrote on Facebook (via Fox News) that two of his officers were reportedly cursed at by an employee and denied service while the manager excused the behavior with the response of, "I don’t get into politics." As you might have guessed, the employee was fired, and Whataburger’s corporate office said it had plans to "make this right" with the local law enforcement. Perhaps a few extra hours of customer service training are in order.
A deep-fried rodent video from Whataburger went viral
Alright, so this one may not technically be a secret — it did go viral, after all — but it’s certainly something Whataburger would prefer people forget about. Whataburger loves to promote its fresh, never frozen beef, but no matter how fresh your food is, that all goes right out the window when a rodent is loose in the kitchen. Unfortunately for Whataburger, that’s exactly what happened at a restaurant in 2019, and to make matters worse, the entire thing was caught on video.
Customer Brushawn Lewis was at the restaurant when he captured a rodent scurrying across the counter before ending it all and launching itself into the deep fryer (via Newsweek). Lewis narrated the video saying, "I’m at Whataburger in Bastrop, TX. It’s a d*** rat just out in the open! But it did get deep-fried!"
Needless to say, it wasn’t especially good PR, and the video was viewed millions of times. Customers in the restaurant freaked out, and one woman in the video could be heard yelling, "Are you charging us for fried rat?" Not long after the video was posted to Facebook, numerous media outlets picked up the story, and the store had to be shut down and sanitized.
A wrongful death lawsuit was brought against Whataburger
On the career page of Whataburger’s website, the company says they "take care of each other." While that’s probably true for the most part, perhaps they should put an asterisk in there with a footnote that reads: "locations may vary." If that sounds a bit critical, then allow us to shed some light on the story of former employee Glen Alan Shorey.
In early 2020, Shorey’s family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Whataburger after the employee fell deathly ill on the job. Shorey was just 37 in 2018 when he began having chest pains while working at an Alamo City Whataburger, and his supervisors told him to go sit in the lobby (via San Antonio Express-News). Obviously, Whataburger employees aren’t expected to have any sort of medical training, but the lawsuit alleges that nobody checked on Shorey for four hours. It was only after his heart stopped beating that somebody finally stepped in and called for help.
The employee died four days later, and the family filed a lawsuit for over $1 million the burger chain, claiming that the company failed to "respond appropriately." As of September 2020, the lawsuit is still pending.
Whataburger has hired some sketchy security
Unfortunately, the case of Glen Alan Shorey isn’t the only time Whataburger has been involved in a wrongful death lawsuit. In 2017, a lawsuit was brought against the company resulting from a murder at one of its restaurants. The crime occurred at a New Mexico Whataburger when a truck pulled up to the drive-thru and its occupants became belligerent with an employee. That’s when the Whataburger employee told the security guard, who had been hired by the restaurant, to "take care" of it. Uh oh, not good.
Rather than drive away to another fast food joint to satisfy their burger fix, one of the truck’s passengers got out, and the security guard then shot him. The man, who was unarmed, died a few weeks later as a result of his injuries. Both Whataburger and the security company it hired — No Stone Unturned Security — were named in the lawsuit, which claimed the hired guard had no legal certification to carry a weapon.
A Whataburger employee was fired over a Black Lives Matter mask
More and more businesses are taking a stance on political issues, whether they be social, environmental, or both (via PBS). Not every business is putting itself out there when it comes to issues of the day, however, and according to a Revolt story regarding an employee’s firing, it seems as though Whataburger would prefer to stay on the sidelines.
Following the death of George Floyd, countless businesses showed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but when a Whataburger employee wore her BLM mask at work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, she was fired for doing so. Makiya Congious said that her manager told her, "Whataburger wants you to wear a mask that has no opinions whatsoever on them," and that her mask, which read "Black Lives Matter," might offend some people. Congious said she then told her manager that she wished to put her two weeks’ notice in and was promptly told to leave and not come back.
According to Revolt, Congious had worn her mask before at work, but it was only when a white customer complained that it became an issue. Whataburger’s corporate office said that while they "support racial equality," the manager was enforcing a uniform policy and that employees were given company-issued masks to wear.
Whataburger’s been accused of racial discrimination
Whataburger’s website says the company "is committed to providing equal employment," but a lawsuit alleged that some managers may not be embracing that practice. The burger chain had a lawsuit brought against it alleging racial discrimination in the hiring practices of a Florida restaurant.
A lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that the general manager of a Tallahassee Whataburger instructed managers to only hire white employees in order to "reflect the customer base where we do business." To make matters worse, the hiring manager who filed the lawsuit said she was both verbally and physically abused, which ultimately led to her resignation.
Whataburger denied any of the allegations in the lawsuit and said that during the timeframe of the plaintiff’s lawsuit, 81 percent of employees and 93 percent of new hires in the area were Black. The burger chain eventually settled in April 2020 and agreed to pay $180,000 but said that doing so was "purely as a business decision." The company’s press statement regarding the matter said that it was "proud of its record of compliance with all applicable laws and regulations" in reference to the Civil Rights act of 1964.
Whataburger’s plastic table tents have become a black market commodity
As any longtime fan of Whataburger knows, the chain hands out plastic table markers to customers after an order is placed. As it turns out, those table tents get stolen — a lot. The chain loses around $200,000 on the costs of replacing the plastic table tents every year. Ever since the company made the switch from plain plastic markers to ones with orange and white stripes, the trend has gotten worse — and weirder.
According to Texas Monthly, the table tents have become a hot item on the black market and regularly pop up for sale online, sometimes fetching as much as $200. Among the most coveted are table tents with the number "69" because … well, you know. Some police departments have even reported recovering large stashes of the stolen tents … which they then used to mark a murder scene with (seriously!).
What Whataburger doesn’t publicize is that it won’t chase after tent-thieves and, dare we say, get a kick out of having the plastic tents swiped. "When we see them on a dashboard or somebody’s desk or shelf, it makes us proud that somebody likes us that much," Rich Scheffler, Whataburger’s vice president of marketing and innovation, said. The theft of Whataburger’s plastic tents has even been somewhat encouraged — though not by the chain — with the Houston Chronicle declaring, "you’re not a true Texan unless you take a Whataburger number."
Whataburger’s had some (mostly friendly) beef with Wonder Woman
Pop quiz! What do Whataburger and superhero Wonder Woman have in common? If you said a "W" logo, then you, sir or madam, are correct. In a perfect world, these two icons would share the W logo in perfect peace and harmony. In this case, that’s mostly true.
When Wonder Woman hit the big screen in 2017 with an updated logo, Whataburger became a little concerned that the superwoman’s new logo was a little too close to the one the company had been using since 1972. It wasn’t long before headlines like "Whataburger vs. Wonderwoman: Dawn of Logo Theft" began popping up. Was Whataburger about to go after the Justice League’s number one female superhero? As MeTV pointed out, despite Wonder Woman kicking bad guy butt for 75 years, DC Comics didn’t bother to trademark her logo until the 1980s.
Thankfully, the issue never became a full-blown legal dispute, and Whataburger didn’t bite off more than it could chew and sue DC Comics. In fact, the chain said in a statement that despite any rumors, it was "not at war with Wonder Woman" and that the company supported the Justice League. Whew — Wonder Woman really dodged a bullet.
Some people think Whataburger is pretty overrated
Whataburger might not be on the Texas state seal just yet, but make no mistake about it: Texans think it’s pretty much the greatest burger joint ever. Outlets around the internet have examined why Texas will "ride or die" when it comes to Whataburger and attributed this love to In-N-Out Burger’s struggles in the Lone Star state. Yes, as far as Whataburger is concerned, it’s the best thing to happen to Texas since statehood, and that’s all there is to it.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and as much as Whataburger would prefer that it were universally loved without a sliver of criticism, that’s certainly not true. The burger chain has been called out for being overhyped numerous times. A Houston transplant who tried the burger chain a whopping 23 times summed up Whataburger in a scathing review as being "bland" and "overcooked," adding that they longed for the day when Shake Shack would arrive. Another review called the burger chain "tasteless" and "nothing special." Ouch.
Perhaps most controversial was Whataburger being called out by a major paper in its own state. The Houston Chronicle ran an article that questioned the loyalty Texans have for Whataburger, noting that chains such as Chick-fil-A have more loyal fans.