UPDATE [4pm March 18, 2014] Added McDonald's new statement at the end.
Singaporean guide dog owner Cassandra Chiu said that she and a friend were “refused” service at McDonald’s on Monday amid the retail chain’s island-wide free breakfast promotion.
Chiu, who is visually-impaired and is best known for being one of the first in Singapore to own and use a guide dog, told Yahoo Singapore she was told by the store manager of a McDonald’s outlet in Jurong Park that she could not be served as the store was crowded and they were giving away egg McMuffins for free.
“I told the guy, ‘You’re jumping to conclusions — I wasn’t even going to sit down or have any Egg McMuffins for free,” she said. “I just wanted to buy some hash browns and coffee and get on the road!’”
Chiu recounted that after she and her friend stepped out of a car and entered the restaurant at 9:20am, she stood at the McCafe section while her friend read out the cakes that were available in the glass display. Moments later, they heard counter staff shouting that dogs were not allowed inside.
“I tried to explain that it was a guide dog, it wasn’t a pet,” she said, adding that they moved toward the counter to queue to place their order. “But my girlfriend was quite upset being shouted at that way, and so she asked to speak to the manager to ask for an explanation."
Chiu said the manager was friendly and apologetic enough, saying sorry to them on behalf of his staff. “My girlfriend actually wanted the staff to apologise for behaving that way, and the manager insisted there was no need, he was apologising on behalf of them, but anyway they won’t be able to serve us today; they’re very very crowded, it’s a free giveaway or something like that for egg McMuffins, and if I were to come back any other time they would serve us.”
In response, she told the manager she was not even planning to sit down -- she simply wanted to buy hash browns and coffee and head on to a meeting she was due to attend in Benoi Sector.
Chiu said she was quite upset after that and left the restaurant, deciding not to have anything, and took to her Facebook fan page for Esme, her guide dog, where she wrote curtly, “They just refused to serve us because it’s free muffin day and blind people are not entitled.”
Her post generated more than 100 likes and close to 300 shares by Monday afternoon, with many taking to the McDonald’s Singapore Facebook page in protest against what had happened.
The fast-food outlet did respond a few hours later, however, saying in a comment on her post that a member of its staff at the outlet had mistaken Esme for a pet, and “made an inappropriate remark”.
“The comments of this particular crew member in no way represent our stand as a company and we sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this incident may have caused,” read a follow-up statement it posted on its Facebook page, stating also that the manager in charge of the restaurant had immediately apologised and offered to assist Chiu with her order.
In its initial statement, it also said it is “more than happy to accept guide dogs at (their) premises and have a standing policy to that effect”, and promised to take greater effort to educate its staff to recognise guide dogs and differentiate them from regular pets.
Chiu stressed, however, that it was not the counter staff yelling at her that she was upset about but the manager’s reason for turning her and her friend away.
She said that if the fast food giant did not have a guide dog-friendly policy, she would not have blamed him for turning her away, but it was his jumping to conclusions that she would sit down at the restaurant that upset her.
“All I expect or ask for from society is that I be treated equally as anyone else walking in,” she said. “I’m not asking you to give my dog or me free French Fries or a Big Mac or whatever; allow me to be another customer just like anyone else.”
She explained also that the scene in the store was just as crowded as it was on any other day, and that the surge in people around came from the ones queuing outside the restaurant for McMuffin redemption coupons.
“Honestly to me, if someone were to shout ‘no dogs, no pets’, I’m sort of quite used to that; it happens all the time,” she said. “Out of this incident I was more bewildered by (this:) what difference is it whether it’s a free Egg McMuffin day or not?"
This isn't the first time Chiu was not served while she had Esme with her. In September last year, she was turned away from a Häagen-Dazs outlet in Holland Village, where the store's manager insisted that "no pets" were allowed even though guide dogs had previously been excluded from the ice cream company's no-pet policy.
Monday's incident occurred on the same day that McDonald's was running a large-scale giveaway of Egg McMuffins, in conjunction with National Breakfast Day. It gave away more than 100,000 McMuffins at all but seven of its outlets.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, McDonald's said they contacted the customer earlier in the day and aplogised to her. They also offered to invite her back to the restaurant to review what took place.
"She declined and shared that she is not seeking any further against members of our staff but awareness about guide dogs. We appreciate her gesture and hope to work closer with both her and the local Guide Dogs Association of the Blind to achieve this," they said.
"Our policy is to be accepting of guide dogs and we will look into ways to strengthen our training efforts for our crew. We seek our customers’ support to help us create a guide-dog friendly environment," they added.