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Bike-Riding Mom Denied at Drive-Through Turns to Twitter

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USA TODAY: Sarah Gilbert stepped off her bicycle long enough to send one angry tweet via Twitter-- and it's changed the way one fast-growing burger chain treats bike riders.

biking mom twitter

The 35-year-old blogger, freelance writer and mother of three doesn't own a car. She gets around usually bike-friendly Portland, Ore., on a custom-made stretch bike that fits all three of her boys, ages 2, 4 and 7. A bumper sticker boasts: "One less minivan."

But after biking last week into the drive-through of the local Burgerville-- an eco-conscious burger chain that even recycles its used cooking oil into biodiesel -- she tried to order four cheeseburgers.

No go. She was refused service at the drive-through for, of all things, ordering from a bike. Never mind that the environmentally friendly restaurant chain spent $185,000 on wind energy credits in 2008 to compensate for the electricity used in its 39 stores and at its corporate headquarters.

When Gilbert got home, she sent out a huffy tweet followed by a pointed letter to the chain, which she posted on her blog, cafemama.com. By the next day, the company apologized. In short order, the Vancouver, Wash.-based chain, with locations in Oregon and Washington, revamped its policy and will announce a new bicycle-friendly drive-through program on Sept. 8.

"Bicyclists aren't dangerous," says Gilbert, who has accepted the chain's apology. "They're people who've chosen not to drive a car."

Particularly in Portland -- 4.2% of workers commute to work via bike, vs. 0.47% nationally, says the Census Bureau.

What frustrated Gilbert most is that she'd been served at the same drive-through -- on her bike -- a few weeks earlier.

McDonald's and Burger King both ban bikes from drive-throughs, citing concern for the safety of their customers.

Being shunned from drive-throughs is a frustration for bicyclists, says Elizabeth Kiker, vice president at the advocacy group League of American Bicyclists. "It's so arbitrary."

But bicyclists don't always go quietly. Besides her blog, Gilbert tweets, and has 3,000 followers.

The lesson for companies that incorporate green values into the brand is to carefully match company guidelines with those values. "Burgerville doesn't only sell burgers, they sell trust," says Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. Unless Burgerville quickly comes up with an outside-the-box sustainability move, the marketing consultant says, "They'll always be known for the woman on the bike who didn't get served."

Jeff Harvey, CEO of the $70 million burger chain, wants to do more. He says he even wants Gilbert's help in developing the new bike-through program.

"It's a bit humbling," says Harvey, who has strived to build the chain's reputation around sustainability concerns -- with 70% of its food ingredients coming from Oregon and Washington. "If we had it to do over again, we'd have designed a different response."

Burgerville's drive-through sensors don't detect bicycles when they pull up, so for the short term, the chain will post signs at drive-throughs that tell bicyclists to go to the pick-up window to order. It's working on a better system for what Harvey calls "greener" drive-throughs.

It may be too late, Lindstrom says. The "Twitter cycle" on this company's actions may have already come and gone, he says. "Corporate America is built on inflexibility, but Twitter is about turning things around in minutes. Few brands have prepared themselves for this."

Or for Gilbert, the mommy bicyclist-turned-activist who finds the drive-through "safety" issue absurd. It's not dangerous, she says.

Except maybe for businesses that shoo away bicyclists, she says. They may get tweeted.


next: My Friend Ruined My Surprise Party!!
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Just Sayin' August 21, 2009, 3:41 PM

So, I guess this means that while she’s in the drive thru with her bike and small children ordering her meal and a car comes flying in there and kills her kids she is not going to tweet and sue and scream and complain? That will be nice of her. They should keep this on file for when that happens.

JayMonster August 21, 2009, 4:26 PM

Well Hell, somebody beat my to exactly what I was going to say about getting run over by an overzealous motorist whipping around the corner of the building.

Seriously… you are on a bike. Lock it and walk into the restaurant. Is it really that difficult?

This “Twitter Rage to stir things up so I get what I want” game is really starting to get out of control and on my last nerves.

I don’t care how much she THINKS it is safe to take a bicycle through a drive through, I am betting the insurance company for the restaurant is going to disagree.

Seriously August 21, 2009, 4:47 PM

So where is the accountability for these people who you say just whip into the drive thru without looking? Hello?? You are near a building at a fast food place where there are typically children. Do you not slow down and drive careful? She is someone trying to do something good for the earth by riding a bike and reducing pollution and the many other effects driving has. It is a mode of transportation and should be allowed to go through the drive thru especially at a place as environmentally conscious as the Burgerville.

Coral August 21, 2009, 4:51 PM

How hard is it to go inside and order. People always have to complain. Oh no, not a tweet! BTW- too many kids on that bike.

Sarah August 21, 2009, 5:29 PM

Cyclists are not dangerous, it’s the cars that are dangerous to the cyclists! Bicycles offer no protection to you, and are less visible in a drive through. Other drivers are not going to expect to see a cyclist in front of them. It is for the protection of cyclists, and pedestrians that they are not allowed in drive-throughs. I am not supporting cyclists going able to go through the drive-through.

Mel August 21, 2009, 8:03 PM

A mother with three kids on her bike now thats a picture of safety!

kjgh September 21, 2009, 1:27 PM

“So where is the accountability for these people who you say just whip into the drive thru without looking? Hello?? You are near a building at a fast food place where there are typically children. Do you not slow down and drive careful? She is someone trying to do something good for the earth by riding a bike and reducing pollution and the many other effects driving has. It is a mode of transportation and should be allowed to go through the drive thru especially at a place as environmentally conscious as the Burgerville.”

accountability? Well, I’m sure they would be held accountable AFTER they hit her on the bike, but that’s not helping anything.
The fact that the restaurant is environmentally friendly also has nothing to do with it. This is another example of arrogance. Someone thinks they are right, and so they don’t consider the other implications. Instead this women probably views her self as fighting for Bicyclist Rights. As it’s been said, how hard would it be to park the bike? It’s a drive through, for cars. The inside is for pedestrians. If they don’t like it, they can take their business elsewhere.

kresley cole demon from the dark ebook torrent March 15, 2011, 10:55 AM

I’m still learning from you, while I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely love reading all that is written on your website.Keep the stories coming. I enjoyed it! %WEBSITE%


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