Boston Market CEO Explains Bungled Promotion

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Kay tracked down Boston Market CEO Lane Cardwell to get him to answer to his restaurants’ muffed $1 meal coupon promotion. Boston Markets were unprepared for the deluge of customers who wanted to take advantage of the deal, and stores ran out of food.

Kay posts a message from Cardwell, who says one problem was the promo ran too long:

Our mistake was in thinking that we were making things better by having the promotion run for a week, instead of 2-3 days. We never would have done a 1 day promo like KFC since it makes your guests jump through too many hoops to take advantage of it.

However, by the third day it was clear that instead of making the situation better from a guest standpoint, it make it worse. It allowed the coupon to take on viral properties and spread throughout the country. It gave time for people to come back a second, third, and fourth time, which we were okay with, but it made the lines longer, not shorter

Another issue, Cardwell says, is that Boston Market deals in fresh food, not frozen. He also said workers doled out rain checks to disgruntled customers who couldn’t get in on the $1 lovin.’

Boston Market CEO responds about coupon promotion [Baltimore Sun]
(Photo: Morton Fox)


Edit Your Comment

  1. frari489 says:

    We never would have done a 1 day promo like KFC since it makes your guests jump through too many hoops to take advantage of it.

    Hoops? Like making sure to come to the restaurant on a specific day?

    I think I see why this promotion resulted in a huge cockup.

    • Kogenta says:

      @frari489: I think their original intention was that if it spanned more than one day, you wouldn’t see people mobbing the place trying to take advantage of the offer before it was over. By spreading the crowds over many days, you see increased traffic, but it shouldn’t be unmanageable, and there’s a lower chance of running out of food because restaurants have the opportunity to restock.

      The only problem with that reasoning is how they did their coupons. If coupons had a one use code on them it probably could have worked.

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    How can any restaurant claim to be unprepared for these things when the results of such of a promotion are the same EVERY SINGLE TIME???

    I just can’t believe that when someone said “it might be a good idea to run a promotion where we give out free food” not one single person spoke up and said “you know, that would probably cause problems for us.”

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @dragonfire81: This isn’t rocket science. People like free food. It could have all been prevented had someone developed some common sense.

    • Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

      Or to use the words of Einstein: “Doing the same thing over & over again & expecting a different result is the definition of insanity!”

    • Nighthawke says:

      @dragonfire81: It’s the disconnect between operations and marketing. Marketing cooks up this $1 coupon deal that will directly affect operations. The CEO signs off on it and things go into motion, save for any advance notice for operations or few if any of the branch departments.

      Coupons roll out, franchises are caught off-guard and are either burned or buried by demand.

      This is what happens when you let marketers drive the business, they make promotions that will destroy the rest of your company if you let them. You snap a leash onto marketing’s collars and start yanking it HARD.

      • twophrasebark says:


        “How can any restaurant claim to be unprepared for these things when the results of such of a promotion are the same EVERY SINGLE TIME???”

        I wonder the same thing.

        I have started to believe that many people who rise to the top of executive ladders are very good at doing one thing:

        Telling their boss “That’s a great idea!”

        People who tell their boss: “That could be good, but we need to work on some issues to implement that…” do not rise up the corporate ladder.

        You can be sure there were many people at these companies who knew this would be a disaster.

        Frustrating, isn’t it?!

    • huadpe says:

      @dragonfire81: I don’t think it happens every single time. I think people just don’t report it when the marketing plan is only a mild success. “Coupon giveaway nets 20% increase in sales” is a headline only Advertising Age could love.

  3. sammy_b says:

    If you’re going to have a promotion that you want your guests to take advantage of 2, 3 or more times over the course of 3 days, how do you expect to not have long lines? People like free food – lots of people equals long lines. If you just wanted to sell $1 chicken for awhile create an evergreen dollar menu, then there won’t be such a rush to get there within the window.

  4. ThinkerTDM says:

    It might have been a good idea to have planned ahead, and ordered more supplies, and had some overtime. You would think the “higher-ups” making 6 figures could do that.

  5. Eticus says:

    Need more coupons that have the words ..

    “If we feel like serving you.”

  6. andsowouldi says:

    Should they have honored my coupon on Sunday? It said “expires 11/1” as opposed to “valid thru 11/1” so I wasn’t sure. Rare to see that on a coupon, but they wouldn’t give me my meal cause they said it was expired.

  7. RandomHookup says:

    I give him credit for even knowing that “deal sites” exist. Most execs just have their admins “do the internet” for them.

    Of course, he was briefed up by Marketing, but it’s a start.

  8. FatLynn says:

    I don’t get the impression that they were really okay with people coming back 2, 3, or 4 times. The way he phrased it, I don’t think that’s what they were expecting, nor do repeat customers ultimately serve the purpose of the promotion.

  9. LeChiffre says:

    Hey Lane, where do you folks get your common sense? From a toilet? Did you actually study in college? Or get stoned? I remember fully well what poor planning does and I still use those methodologies in my job even after graduating 10 years ago: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Also try to Communicate to your employees your objectives. Follow-Through. Be available for issues and bottle-necks, which ALWAYS occur; not sometimes. CEO Lane Cardwell had the ability to benchmark the poor example from KFC to help make Boston Chicken a success, yet, it still failed. In today’s world, failures seem to be the new American business model.

  10. Proz says:

    The interview response: “Duh?”
    My response can be answered about the entire promotion: “Duh!”

  11. Buckus says:

    If the coupons could only be used once, then it would have been manageable. But they allowed the same coupon to be used over and over again, so I’m betting there were some people coming back over and over again, plus sending the coupon to other people.

  12. Naame says:

    It was a pretty big “oops” that got a lot of attention, but to be honest I chalk this one up as a live and learn situation. I do not expect them to run a promotion which is both this attractive and lasts that long again.

  13. savdavid says:

    Why do companies keep doing this? I suppose any publicity is good is what they are thinking.

  14. PLATTWORX says:

    As others have said, how Boston Market (and their CEO) could not have looked at what happened when competitors ran similar promotions and known this thing would go viral, people would come back 2-3 times, etc. escapes my understanding.

    He basically said “Gosh, I guess we’re just not that good at running this place.”

  15. Aaron Poehler says:

    So basically no one who runs these promotions has any idea what they’re doing at all is the message this sends. I never thought of KFC or Boston Market management before in my life but after this year I associate them primarily with incompetence and poor planning. Kudos at becoming punchlines!

  16. calchip says:

    An acquaintance of mine is general manager of a Denny’s. If you remember back to when Denny’s had their free meal day, that was one of the smoother running free food offers. Yes, there were long lines, but Denny’s staff were out on line offering rain checks and free drinks and so forth and for the most part, people were very happy… and the promotion worked, because he said they were phenomenally busy for weeks afterwards.

    However, when they ran a similar promotion a couple of months later, which I think involved buy-one-meal-get-one-free, they prepared for a huge onslaught of people, remembering what happened with the free meal… and the onslaught never happened. Sales went up, but no dramatic crush of people.

    I guess people are only interested in “free” or “so cheap it’s pretty much free.” And… really, are the people that plan these things so completely out of touch that they can’t do a little Google research on how badly others bungled it and learn from those mistakes? They clearly knew about the KFC debacle, but what about Quiznos and all the others? Could they not see that the coupons would go viral in a nanosecond, and that by having the promotion run multiple days, demand would multiply logarithmically?

  17. cmdrsass says:

    Thanks for ruining it for everyone, internet!

  18. brodie7838 says:

    The BM in my town was pretty swamped, every person in line had a coupon and it was busy, but they handled it well.
    That said, I honestly don’t think the company can be fully blamed for this. As the original article mentioned, this was intended for the mailing list customers, so they probably *were* prepared for that number of customers, but not for the amount of customers it drew in when the coupon gets duplicated on the Internet.
    It’s really the same thing as money forgery in a lot of ways, it has the same effect.

  19. BytheSea says:

    There were no problems in the Boston Market outside Philly, PA. The wait was about 20 minutes but that wasn’t bad considering they were totally mobbed. They even put out crayons for the kids. I went there at 7:30, the line was wrapped around the whole resturant, but the staff was really mobilized and there was plenty of fresh made food.