Chick-Fil-A's Plastic Bag Policy Is Drawing Some Serious Heat Online

Efforts among restaurants and the food industry to improve eco-friendliness and reduce waste have been gaining popularity over the last several decades. These may include substituting hand dryers for paper towel dispensers, donating leftover food to shelters, or eliminating single-use plastic cutlery. Just look at how widespread plastic straw bans have become in the last five years.

Some fast food establishments have joined in the movement (like Wendy's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030). However, cutting back on plastic and other types of packaging can be especially challenging for business models that revolve around drive-thrus and to-go orders.

But at a certain point, and especially at fast-food restaurants, waste restrictions can impact a customer's experience and attract more criticism than praise. This appeared to be the case for Chick-fil-A after an UberEats driver shared his story on TikTok about being denied a plastic bag when picking up an order for a disabled customer.

The UberEats driver's story

On March 4, the UberEats driver posted a video on TikTok under the username @lifeoftheowl about his experience with the caption, "Am I tripping or overreacting?" The video had more than 730,700 views and 74,300 likes as of March 22.

The video begins with the driver speaking to an employee and requesting a plastic bag. He explains that the customer he was picking up food for is handicapped and requested the bag to carry her food and drink. The paper Chick-fil-A bags that most food comes in do not have handles.

The Chick-fil-A employee consults another employee who appears to be a manager. This employee explains, "We are just adhering to our store's policy where we can only give out the plastic bags for the items that go in them, for things such as salads, side salads, and cold products. She's just adhering to our policy so we don't have unnecessary waste." The driver then leaves without a plastic bag. 

In the comment section for the video (and in a previous video where the driver speaks directly to viewers about the encounter), many viewers agree with the TikTok user. One wrote, "I'm an amputee and I can't imagine carrying in an order with a drink or any liquid without a plastic bag." Another wrote, "No reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities?!?!" Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, most businesses are required to provide reasonable access and accommodations for disabled customers, according to FindLaw.

So was Chick-fil-A in the wrong?

Chick-fil-A's website and 2021 corporate social responsibility report detail the brand's commitment to sustainability through using recycled materials and reducing food waste, but there does not appear to be a corporate policy related to plastic bags. That being said, Chick-fil-A restaurants are franchises, so different locations may have varying procedures, and the manager in the video refers to the bag restriction as a "store policy."

The operators of Chick-fil-A franchises seem to have very hands-on roles at the restaurants. Chick-fil-A describes franchising on its website as "a hands-on, life investment to own and operate a quick-service restaurant," requiring long hours and leadership by the store operators. Some commenters on TikTok referenced the strict reputations many of these operators have, one user writing, "Chickfila worker here. They're just following store policy. If the operating manager knows about it, it means that the whole store will be in trouble."

As for the disabled customer, the driver shared in the comments that after picking up the order, he messaged the customer and told her he'd help her carry the food wherever she wanted it.