Why Are Fast-Food Restaurants Making Us Do Tricks for Our Food?

Fast-food chains already took our health. Now they’re going after our dignity.

It started this past weekend when McDonald’s aired its “Pay With Lovin’ ” Super Bowl commercial, a promotion that runs from Feb. 2 through Valentine’s Day and randomly selects customers to—you guessed it—“pay with lovin’ ” instead of, you know, normal money. If this sounds cute to you, understand that in practice it is not. Here’s how Kate Bachelder, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, recounted her experience with the marketing stunt at a McDonald’s in Washington, D.C.:

If the “Pay with Lovin’ ” scenario looks touching on television, it is less so in real life. A crew member produced a heart-shaped pencil box stuffed with slips of paper, and instructed me to pick one. My fellow customers seemed to look on with pity as I drew my fate: “Ask someone to dance.” I stood there for a mortified second or two, and then the cashier mercifully suggested that we all dance together. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I forced a smile and “raised the roof” a couple of times, as employees tried to lure cringing customers into forming some kind of conga line, asking them when they’d last been asked to dance.

You might think that already-beleaguered McDonald’s, which recently bid farewell to its tragically unsuccessful chief executive Don Thompson, would realize that forcing unsuspecting customers to perform stunts and make semisentimental declarations isn’t necessarily the best way to bring back business. Apparently not, though. Even worse, at least one other quick-service chain appears to be following the McDonald’s example.

Late this morning, an email with this unfortunate subject line popped up in my inbox: “Story Idea- Get Saucy & Share a Smooch for a Free Smothered Burrito This Valentine’s Day.” It turns out that Qdoba, a Mexican-food chain, has decided that to celebrate the holiday, it would be pretty cute for people to earn free “smothered burritos” by sharing “a smooch with a loved one, friend or even a willing stranger.”* Not in a relationship? No problem! “Single or taken, any guest of the national Mexican fast casual chain chain can take part in the event,” Qdoba’s spokeswoman wrote.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I order a burrito or an egg-and-cheese sandwich—or really anything else—I just want to pay for it, get my food, and leave. I don’t want to call my mom to get my french fries (sorry, Mom!). I don’t want to dance a jig in front of strangers. And I certainly don’t want to feel pressured to kiss a random person in the checkout line, especially in the middle of flu season. None of that is cute. None of that is even fun. It’s just gross.

*Correction, Feb. 6, 2015: This post originally misstated that Qdoba’s “Share a Smooch” promotion runs from Feb. 12 to Feb. 14. While a new smothered burrito sauce is available beginning Feb. 12, the promotion itself is only on Valentine’s Day.