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Grubhub’s free lunch promo was a hot mess

Marketing Bites: An apparent lack of communication and preparation turned the delivery app’s promo into a pro-don’t, Pizza Hut gets into the metaverse and more marketing news of the week.
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Marketing Bites

Welcome to RB’s weekly roundup of the latest developments in restaurant marketing.

We reported in this space last week that Grubhub was planning to buy New Yorkers lunch, offering up $15-off codes in a show of goodwill to encourage time-pressed workers to make some time for a mid-day meal.

That delivery provider’s promo took place between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday and, well, as my colleague Joe Guszkowski pointed out, it was a hot mess. A tire fire. An absolute trainwreck.

Grubhub told Joe that it was unprepared for the “unprecedented” order volume, more than the platform had ever seen, causing its app and website to crash right after the promo started.

New Yorkers awaiting their free salads and gyros and pizzas were, understandably, torqued off.

“How are we supposed to get free lunch if both the app & website won’t load?” one person posted on Twitter.

Said another: “Did you warn restaurants in advance? Just left one swamped with 50 pending orders and not enough staff/no headsup.”

BuzzFeed News reported that Grubhub’s app was averaging 6,000 orders per minute during the promo, and there were widespread reports of overwhelmed restaurants simply turning off their delivery channels. Many operators said they didn’t even know the promo was happening and that they were completely under-staffed and unprepared for the lunch deluge.

A day later, a Twitter search for “Grubhub” was filled with negative articles and customer complaints about the absolute mess that was FREELUNCH Tuesday.

Now, we’re not privy to Grubhub’s internal conversations nor its communications with its restaurant partners. But, oof, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to realize this promo went completely off the rails and there was a clear breakdown in communication somewhere in the system.

If you’re going to offer free lunch to the country’s largest metropolitan area, during a very limited time window, do not be surprised when customers rush to take you up on that offer. Spend the necessary time informing all relevant parties what’s to come.

As Grubhub found out Tuesday, there’s no such thing as free lunch when it costs you a bunch of consumer goodwill.

Pizza Hut dives into the metaverse

Pizza Hut, which when I was a child was most known for its very analogue Book It! reading-incentive program (I am very old), is now getting into the virtual realm.

The pizza chain said this week it will participate in the Complex Land virtual shopping experience in the metaverse.

The event, which takes place May 25-27, will feature custom-designed Pizza Hut delivery vehicles and drivers, nine NFTs and the chance to win free pizza for a year. (I’m assuming this is real, edible pizza—not digital pizza.)

It’s the third year for Complexland, which tries to convert attendees into actual metaverse shoppers, with an NFT art gallery and exclusive product debuts.

“This metaverse experience is only the first of many to come for Pizza Hut, and we’ll be sure to share each new step as it unfolds,” the chain said in its announcement.


Carl’s Jr. and Hardees have a meaty, dinosaur-themed menu to go along with the new Jurassic Park movie.

I’ve read this story three times and I don’t fully understand it. But, apparently, Domino’s is running a “Stranger Things” promo that lets you order pizza “with your mind.  

Value positioning is a big deal for full-service restaurants, not just fast-food places. 

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