TGI Fridays may have ditched its servers' flair, but it hasn't completely abandoned a flair for really dumbass promotions. The chain recently announced its "Endless Appetizers" summer promo offering all-you-can-eat appetizers for $10 per person. Diners choose one appetizer and get unlimited refills; Fridays chief marketing officer says that sharing is discouraged but won't be enforced. Jesus-potato-skinning-Christ, what could possibly go wrong with this?
While TGI Fridays loses covered wagons full of hard cash, here's a list of the top five dumbest restaurant promotions. This list might make TGIFs feel a little better, but probably not.
5) McDonald's McSensitivityFail burger
In the summer of 2002, McDonald's launched a new "McAfrika" burger (a beef, cheese, tomato and salady-stuff pita sandwich supposedly based upon an authentic African recipe) in economically sound Norway, while at the time 12 million people in southern Africa were facing famine-related starvation. The phrases "crass" and "ill-considered" were used to described the badly-timed promotion, but the phrases "classist dickery " and "all the WTFs" would have been just as appropriate. McDonald's released a PR statement claiming "we acknowledge that we have chosen an unfortunate time to launch this new product," while simultaneously kicking off a half-assed attempt at allowing donation boxes to be placed in some of the restaurants.
If corporations are people, then this promo disaster makes Golden Archie not only a spectacular asshole, but also the guy who was born with big balls but missing a soul.
4) Wendy's Superbar was super-dumb
One of the most epic examples of the low-brow American excess of the 1980s and early 90s was Wendy's "Superbar." You could stroll in to selected locations and -- for around four bucks -- get your fill of a three-part buffet consisting of "Pasta Pasta" (shitty Italian food), "Mexican Fiesta" (shittier Mexican food), and the mostly-ignored "Garden Spot" salads and cut-up fruit. I can personally recall the dining area in my local Wendy's being perma-trashed, the teenage employees looking beyond forlorn, and the joint crawling with tables of folks who paid for one person while consuming enough to fill a fleet of dump trucks. Wendy's discontinued the Superbar in 1998, thus destroying the hopes of all kids who had yet to slurp more than their weight in Frosties.
It's almost hard to believe that this sort of cheapo gladiator-gut-cramming didn't become a permanent thing for Wendy's, but Golden Corral seems to be doing just fine with it.
3) KFC's "You'll Get Nothing and Like It!" coupons
If the restaurant formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken has learned anything about its promotional practices, it's that offering free food on the Oprah Winfrey show is the opposite of smart. In 2009, it was announced on Oprah's too-popular TV show that viewers could download a free coupon for a 2-piece chicken meal with two individual sides and a biscuit. Indeed, the downloading happened, to the tune of 10.5 million coupons, and when around 4 million coupon-wielding chicken enthusiasts showed up at the stores demanding their due, some KFCs didn't have the staff -- or the chicken -- to honor the deals. The coupon was pulled and a do-over was implemented, but at the end of the debacle KFC gave away 42 million dollars' worth of freebies without the coveted good press to go with it.
KFC seems to have developed an original recipe for enraging Americans with a massive fried chicken tease, but with the rise of Groupon, this sort of gimme-gimme-grab isn't all that uncommon anymore.
Keep reading for more really bad ideas...
2) No quiero Taco Bell Chihuahua
Unless you were in a coma between 1997 and 2000, you simply cannot forget that damn talking Taco Bell chihuahua, or his constant televised, voice-over reminders to hit the Mexican chain's drive-thru lanes early, often, late and always. That damn dog made us want to love that gut-annihilating grub; the master plan to have every American with disposable income dreaming of Mexican pizzas during the day almost worked -- except for the pesky marketing-bomb realization that the sassy mutt was not helping Taco Bell fill its coffers. In fact, the company's same-store-sales dropped by 6 percent in the second quarter of 2000, the most significant decline in Taco Bell history.
Taco Bell's dog days didn't sit well with Hispanic advocacy groups against cultural stereotyping and there was confusion over who first came up with the talking chihuahua idea (that ended with lawsuits not in Taco Bell's favor), but the biggest reason for the promo failure may have been that since customers didn't really know what comprised the chain's meat filling at the time, perhaps a dog wasn't the best promotional icon.
1) Red Lobster versus hardcore American gluts
"Never underestimate American diners' propensity to stuff themselves to the point of puke with cheap crab legs" is the lesson Red Lobster learned the hard way in 2003. In theory, RL's endless crab legs for one low-low price promo seemed legit, because most sane, health-conscious people would not go overboard and eat snow crab until their blood turned to brine, right? Wrong. Customers destroyed those crab legs like their very lives depended on third, fourth or fifth helpings, alienated non-stuffing customers with long wait times, cost Red Lobster $3 million in revenue loss in a single quarter, and, oopsie-poopsie, the price of snow crab was at an all-time high during the promo.
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Somebody important from TGI Friday's should put in a call to somebody important at Red Lobster for a dose of reality, because if TGI execs think for one solid second that 'Merican consumers will voluntarily temper their lust for cheap all-you-can-eat fried mozzarella sticks, then they may as well rename the chain Black Friday's and offer free plasma screens with every purchase.