Panda Express Avoids Food Giveaway Pandemonium, Serves Up Teeny Portions

Matt tells Consumerist that Panda Express may have found a way to avoid a coupon debacle similar to KFC’s grilled chicken giveaway last year. Their brilliant plan: dish up tiny portions, then charge comically high prices for meal add-ons. Like a $4 egg roll.

Hi folks, [on July 14] Panda Express had a printable coupon for a free Thai Cashew Chicken Breast, “single entree serving.” I figured I’d meet them halfway and get a drink and an egg roll along with it.


The guy rang up my meal and announced it would be $6.65 – after checking to make sure I hadn’t wandered into the Panda Express at the airport, I asked why so much for a drink and an egg-roll? Guy tells me that the egg roll is only $1.25 if it us purchased with a 2-item entree – so apparently on the sliding scale the eggroll is $4 if I don’t? I told him to forget the egg roll and just give me the entree and drink. After what appeared to be some sort of coordinated operation that required 2 people to have a discussion in private and then go through way too much activity to remove an egg roll from a bag, I paid for my drink and left.


When I got to my car, I opened the bag and found what you see here – admittedly a precious and cute little box containing a spoonful of cashew chicken. They had taken away all the rice and just gave me the chicken.

I’m not one to check the proverbial gift horse’s dentistry, but this is ridiculous. I think the average person would expect a scoop of chicken and a scoop of rice, at minimum. When they play games like this, they leave a…wait for it…bad taste in my mouth and I don’t want to go back anymore. I think I’ll go back to my local Barbecue joint that gives everyone a huge-ass pulled pork sandwich on National Barbecue day, no coupon needed – and no games played.

Based on the photo on the coupon, a true cynic would expect to get one mouthful of chicken as the free portion. Matt’s lunch was more substantial than that, but was his expectation unreasonable?

Oprah and KFC’s Free Grilled Chicken Promotion: What Went Wrong
Judge Says KFC Must Answer For Oprah Coupon Debacle


Edit Your Comment

  1. smo0 says:

    I get sick to my stomach every time I eat at Panda… and apparently they’ve done the “fast food thing” and their stores near my house are open to Midnight… :O

    But uh…. yeah no… wtf is that? That container barely looks big enough to hold a fortune cookie… also… did you get a fortune cookie?!

    • outoftheblew says:

      I think their iced tea is the best I’ve ever had.

      • Gandalf the Grey says:

        Yes! They have kind of OK food, but their tea is the only reason I’ll go there when my coworkers head that way for lunch.

    • rorschachex says:

      I’m from NYC, so I never had Panda Express until I lived briefly in Virginia and… it was the worst Chinese food I’d ever have. Ironically, it’s not even that cheap. Frankly, you’re better off just buying food from a local Chinese food restaurant (assuming they are around, if not, I’m sorry).

      • Cyniconvention says:

        What part of VA were you in? I live there right now and there’s only an overabundance of “Golden Jade Dragon Walls”

        I know they’re in CA, or they were when I lived there four years ago.

      • smo0 says:

        You’re right, it’s pretty fail. We have plenty of (good) Chinese restaurants here, but most of the food is fried… that reaks havoc on my tummy – I usually eat at Japanese restaurants/Sushi Bars or Thai food.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      Of course you would get sick – eating garbage like this!

      • smo0 says:

        Oh, I actually should have said “ate.” I think the last time I ate at Panda was in 2006, when I eventually gave up chicken in my diet.

        I forget you troll my posts, I need to be a bit more clear when I type out comments… my mistake, truly sorry.

    • SOhp101 says:

      That container IS the individual size container for one serving of one side. They charge for rice too and there’s nothing on the coupon that says you’re entitled to free rice as well. I would imagine a lot of people would just get the “one item + rice” combo and add the chicken along with it.

    • JennQPublic says:

      I just came in to comment that I get sick every time I eat there. I see you’ve already beaten me to it.

      I won’t even eat free samples from Panda Express anymore. The hours of gastro-intestinal distress aren’t worth it.

  2. Daverson says:

    That’s such a cute little container.

  3. caradrake says:

    You could almost get more than that by going up and asking for a free sample, no coupon needed!

    • UnicornMaster says:

      Yeah, here in the mall you can make a round in the food court and sample all of the different restaurants from cajun to japanese, all serving americanized cornstarch sauced chinese. By them time you make it to the Auntie’s Pretzels you would have a full meal.

  4. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    Agree with Smo0. I used to go to Panda Express every once and a while. Every time I did, about an hour later I would find myself sitting on the toilet making noises only dying rhinos could sympathize with.

    That said, I think the $4.00 egg-roll is crazy and that cute lil box is literally 2-3 tablespoons of food…not exactly a free entree. However I am sure their lawyers and accountants approved.

  5. Draygonia says:

    It appears 5 people on consumerist are completely braindead. The other 60 voters are survivers of the great depression and the other half of voters are true consumerist consumers.

    • Cameraman says:

      Up to twenty consumerists who are either braindead or are lackeys of Big Ethnic-Style Food.

    • ieatcatastrophe says:

      no, we are not braindead, thanks. we simply know how much food our bodies require, and are aware of what we put into it.

    • LadyTL says:

      So we aren’t true consumerist readers simply because we don’t expect to be piled with food just because someplace had a coupon for some free food? I’m sorry when did free mean as much as the customer wants?

      • Draygonia says:

        RTFA. They tried to avoid giving the correct servings. Also, to the person who responded about the “right amount of food for our bodies”, perhaps they need to read up on the recommended calorie intake. I believe 2,000 calories was the daily intake unless it changed again.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          That’s a single serving of meat. 4 oz.

        • coren says:

          It varies from person to person, but this item is 300 calories. Considering that one should also have breakfast and dinner, not to mention snacks (and whatever beverage is had) that could be an appropriate sized lunch.

          Nevermind the fact that this is, in fact, the correct serving.

        • Doughbuy says:

          American’s are too fat anyways. Eating a little less won’t kill anyone. Panda Express is promoting a healthier lifestyle and decreasing insurance premiums. I totally agree!

  6. milk says:

    The way Panda’s meals are set up is you get a side and two or three entrees. The ad offers a free entree, hence a serving of only the entree. When you order a three entree meal, you get two on the plate with your side and the third in a little container like this one. They provided exactly what the ad stated.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      What I was going to say. That IS their standard 1 entree serving size, but they never intended it to be a full meal. That is worth about $1.25 if you are adding it to a meal by the way.

      • FatLynn says:

        I think that makes sense, but then they shouldn’t have tried to gouge him on the egg roll and other things, or they should have advertised it as “free add-on” to a basic meal.

      • MadameX says:

        Exactly. It isn’t intended to be a meal. The ad might be a little misleading for people who don’t normally eat at Panda, but as someone who lunches there semi-frequently, it’s exactly what I would have expected it to be.

    • MaxPower says:

      Exactly. I actually got an entree by itself a couple of weeks ago and it came in that box. I didn’t complain though because I knew I was getting just the entree (no rice or anything). It’s actually a good option for people who aren’t very hungry and don’t want to spend a lot of money because it’s only like $3 for a little box of broccoli beef or whatever you like.

  7. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that expecting some huge portion is entitlement?

    You got something for free. Complaining that you didn’t get more is a bit silly.

    • cape1232 says:

      No, it’s not silly. Stores advertise free stuff to get people to walk in the door, and then hopefully buy more or come back some other time. It’s deceptive to have an ad that suggests/promises/hints that you’ll get more than you actually get, even if it doesn’t cost you money.

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      It wasn’t free. OP sacrificed the opportunity to go somewhere else and pay for a decent meal. The coupon offers an “entree”. At Great Panda, that’s a little more than a cup of meatlike food, served near some rice, and anyone familiar with the restaurant would expect that.

      If GP was only in food courts, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it’s pretty rude to trick people into spending their lunch hour obtaining a portion of food that is only going to make them hungrier later in the day.

      • htowninsomniac says:

        Maybe you can bill the restaurant for your time, Mr. Opportunity Cost.

      • trentblase says:

        Where do you live that they call it “Great Panda?” Does the food taste greater? Is it slightly slower?

        • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

          In my imagination, apparently. I think there is a mall chain here called that, and I can’t tell them apart. Whoops.

      • Voxxen says:

        Saying it that way makes it seem like you think a fastfood customer’s time is some sort of valuable commodity. I beg to differ, especially of those that think a free serving of food is going to be enough for the average bloated American physique.

        If your alotted lunch-break time was actually valuable in any way you would have brought something from home. Period.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Opportunity cost?

        It might have cost him a few minutes or so, unless he drove quite far for this. He could’ve always just gone next door to the next place and said, “Gimme whatcha got.”

        Instead, we’re sitting here debating some faux economic theory about how much time this cost him? Even if he makes $100K a year, and works 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, his time is worth about 83 cents a minute. Worst case scenario, this “cost” him about $4.17 in comparable work time (5 minutes of time to order and be served). Silly to worry about, especially considering that he got what was offered.

    • ninram says:

      Who said “Huge” portion. Just what the coupon states, a “single entree serving.

      What the OP received hardly looks like a single serving.

  8. Cyniconvention says:

    Is putting cashews in chicken or shrimp even legitimately Asian?

    • evilrobot says:

      I agree, there is nothing remotely authentic Chinese about PE food.

      When I start receiving heads and feet bits in my 3-item platter entrees, we’ll talk.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      Maybe it’s the faux-Asian restaurant version of adding bacon to everything.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      The “Chinese food” you see in America has no resemblance to the food in China whatsoever.

    • Carlee says:

      There is a chicken cashew dish at most Chinese restaurants (not American-ized), so yeah, it’s legit.

  9. babyruthless says:

    It seems to me that if they want to give out a small amount of food, they should just give it to you with a spoon in a tiny cup, no coupon required, like they do at Starbucks when they want you to try a new pastry, or at Sam’s or Costco when they want you to try anything. That’s not an entree, that’s a sample.

  10. dolemite says:

    The problem was, each time he told them what he wanted, the person at the register would say ” And then…?”

  11. c!tizen says:

    I’m sure my Mother would say that some starving children in China would gladly take this without complaining, but I’m sorry Mom… I think they would and this isn’t China.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Not quite related to the topic at hand, but I’ve wanted to quantify my hunch that “there are starving kids in XXXX” can be used to date people.

      How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
      Currently, the rankings are in order of decreasing age:
      Japan — China — Somalia

      I got Somalia myself.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      ~50 and it was always China for us

  12. The Epic Chicken says:

    I’m surprised. I would’ve expected that they’ll give the amount that the chopsticks was shown holding. Then again, maybe I’m just too jaded.

  13. htowninsomniac says:

    You over-sized Americans are just too used to over-sized portions.

  14. EyseTre says:

    You guys are idiots…that is the regular ‘single-serving’ entree size in a to-go box. It looks much bigger on the plate. Plus, a single serving entree does NOT include rice or noodles, that is a one-item COMBO!

    • trentblase says:

      I agree — according to the website, a single serving of thai cashew chicken is 6.3 oz, 280 calories. So that box looks about right. This is what you would get if you paid full price for a “single serving.” Anyways, I usually get the kids meal because the fried rice totally triples the calories.

  15. Cameraman says:

    That’s what you’d technically call a “mouthful”. Not “entree”, which normally consists of, at minimum, 8 to 14 mouthfuls (depending on personal preference).

    More than a taste but significantly less than an entree.

    • Elcheecho says:

      Maybe in standard imperial but in SI units it’s exactly 10 mouthful per entree.

      • Cameraman says:

        My Chinese food lunch specials get 14 furlongs to the hogshead, and that’s the way I likes it.

    • coren says:

      If that’s a mouthful, the mouth of measure is enormous

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      I’d like to think my mouthfuls are small because I have an incredibly long and dexterous tongue. Ooh, hold on, I’ve got an itch on my back. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  16. VOIDMunashii says:

    That looks like one of their single serving containers to me. If you order a three entree meal that is the box the third entree comes in. It certainly looks like the same size Panda has used in the past when they’ve given out free Orange Chicken.

    I’m not sure why he expected rice to come with his single serving entree; the coupon says nothing about rice and if you went in and only ordered a single entree instead of a meal you would not get rice. Rice is a side, not part of an entree; would you complain if McDonalds was giving away free cheeseburgers and they did not give you any free fries to go with it?

    As far as Panda making people ill goes: I’ve never had that issue with them.

  17. midwestkel says:

    That’s the size entree container they always give you on the side even if you pay for it.

  18. midwestkel says:

    That’s the size entree container they always give you on the side even if you pay for it.

  19. JeffM says:

    Hey if you saw how many calories Panda can pack in to one of those containers perhaps you would agree that it is indeed an entree.

  20. aloria says:

    What I want to know is why that dude only has 4 fingers.

  21. georgi55 says:

    They probably saw your Prius

  22. shanecrow99 says:

    I used this coupon and it worked great for me. I bought some Chow Mein and then used the coupon for the free chicken. Total damage was $2. Plenty of food for just 2 bucks. Don’t know why the OP got shafted like that.

  23. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Like some of the other commenters, my sister gets sick everytime she goes to Panda Express. Not like, food poisoning sick – but the other end. She still continued to go until she found a worm/millipede thing in her food. She even sent me a picture. Nasty.

  24. the_real_keenfrenzy says:

    Perhaps people should reevaluate their definition of the word entree. It is French for “entrance” and represents “the entry course” or part of the meal that *precedes* the main dish.

    Expecting a little much when you think you’re entitled to a filling meal for free when no such thing was offered. This is the exact same thing a paying customer would get if they walked up to the counter sans coupon and asked for 1 entree.

    That being said, 4 bucks is INSANE for an eggroll. I like Panda Express, but their eggrolls are garbage IMO.

    • BettyCrocker says:

      An entrée (pronounced /ˈɑːntreɪ/ AHN-tray, French “entrance”) is one of several savoury courses in a Western-style formal meal service, specifically a smaller course that precedes the main course.[1] Usage may differ in North America where the disappearance in the early 20th century of a large communal main course such as a roast as a standard part of the meal has led to the term being used to describe the main course itself.[2] In that case what would otherwise be called the entrée is called the first course, appetizer or a starter.

  25. DanGarion says:

    Wait, they took away your rice too? Oh no they didn’t nothing said you get free rice… What’s the problem here, other than they gave you free food?

    Do they normally sell the single entree serving? Because I’m sure that’s actually the single serving they have on their nutritional sheets.

    • coren says:

      They do serve in those boxes – either as a third (or fourth, fifth, whatever) entree, or if you just straight up order one.

    • Sumtron5000 says:

      I also don’t understand why he says that “the average person would expect a scoop of rice.” The ad says nothing rice. The point of the giveaway is to get you to try their food, hoping you will like it and come back, not to give you a free 3 piece meal.

  26. kylere1 says:

    TANSTAAFL holds true!

  27. jefeloco says:

    Apparently the OP has never ordered more than a 2 entree meal (or order) from Panda Express. That is the standard entree box, and rice is a side. The coupon explicitly states “single serving entree”, nothing more.

  28. timd1969 says:

    This promotion was ill conceived at best. I left with a very unfavorable impression of Panda. Not only was the “serving” itself minuscule, but mine completely lacked any cashew pieces. Charging for white rice as a side item was just irritating. I only went to have this “free entrée”, because a friend asked me to come along. After a snack that seemed more like bait-and-switch than a bona-fide opportunity to try a new menu item, I walked away thinking that it will be a really long time before I enter another Panda.

    • coren says:

      So they should have, what?

      Given you a larger portion than their normal entree?
      Given you a side dish free when they don’t normally?

  29. nyCecilia says:

    A coworker and I ventured down to Panda’s in SF for lunch that day. We ordered the free entree…the chicken, no rice…and supplemented with a side of noodles. While not my usual choice of lunch, it was plenty of food for each of us, and cost just over $2 per person.

    Maybe they changed how they handled this later on, but it was a fine almost “free lunch” for us, and the chicken wasn’t half bad, either.

  30. OwenP says:

    Panda Express sells you a plate of food. Every time I go, the pressure seems to be to get rice and 2 “entree” food pieces, with an optional egg roll. If you get all of these, it fills a plate quite well.

    Also keep in mind that the definition of entree varies wildly by restaurant. I can pay $6 for a burrito that weighs a pound at some places. Other places, $8 gets me enough pasta + sauce to count for 3 meals if you go by calories and fat content. Yet in “fancy” restaurants, I’ve paid $30 for portions roughly the size of your chicken scoop. In the context of Panda Express, I feel like the portion you got is consistent with the entree portion. It’s certainly larger than the portion the advertisement featured.

    It does seem cruddy that they didn’t include the rice, but I’m sure if you write one of those Executive Email Carpet Bombs they’ll be glad to refund your money.

  31. Rob "SuperRob" Stevens says:

    I eat at Panda all the time. Anyone that goes there knows that an “entree” is just what he got. There is no rice with an entree. And the “spoonful” he mentions is a rather large LADLE, and they really pack it into those “little” containers. Note that the customer didn’t show how much actual food he got. Panda has GENEROUS portions … I’m always surprised just how much they cram into those boxes.

    • frosteternal says:

      Yeah, that “tiny box” holds over one 500 calorie serving of Orange Chicken. Panda is probably one of the few “Asian” chains that actually gives you a reasonable-sized portion from a calorie point of view.

  32. sopmodm14 says:

    no its not a single serve entree, but it was a free sample or someting

    yes it was a free sample or something, but its not a single serve entree

  33. coren says:

    Laura, that’s the size you get if you, for example, get a three entree combo (the third entree goes in that) and it holds approximately the same (if not a little more) of the dish than normally goes in the box. I’m not sure what the OP was expecting – but this is their default entree size, and an entree doesn’t come with rice or chow mein (unless you get a combo)

  34. turi319 says:

    Panda Express is disgusting period. No one should eat there unless you are being held hostage at an airport or amusement park.

  35. Breve says:

    I think this may be a little exaggerated as he says there was only “a scoop” of chicken inside. If they are using a scoop the size of that box then I’d say that’s pretty generous for a free portion. Otherwise, why didn’t he take a picture of the inside of the almost empty box with a tiny dollop of chicken instead?

    In any case, short of almost getting a $4 egg roll, he seems to have got exactly what the coupon specified. He seems to feel some entitlement because he was buying other stuff on a “no purchase necessary” coupon?

  36. LuckyLady says:

    I make my own cashew chicken at home.


  37. Mr. Pottersquash says:

    i know we are to trust OP story but COMON. You didn’t notice it was tiny till you were in your car??

    Does no one check to see what they are recieving before leaving a place? Fastfood restaurants should just have bags of moldly bread to hand ppl at the window. Apologize to anyone who notices, and cry foul to anyone who comes back later with a “why would we have bags of moldly bread to hand out?”

  38. MotorboatJones says:

    I’d thank them for the small portion. Their food tastes like cat shit.

  39. PingPongDarts says:

    Apparently some people have never eaten at Panda Express. You can fit a lot of Chinese food into one of those boxes, it’s approximately the same amount you get for an entree when you order a 2-entree meal, and it’s also what they use when you order a 3-entree meal to go because you can only fit two entrees plus a side (i.e. rice, fried rice, chow mein, etc.) into a full-size takeout box.

    The eggroll price issue is stupid on Panda Express’ part, but this is how their mini boxes have been for over a decade.

  40. areaman says:

    Panda Express is one of those places I go to when there’s no other options.

    When I want Americanized Chinese food I’ll go to a mom and pop stop. Food will be better and I might get entertainment out of it if mom and pop are arguing that day about someting in Chinese…

  41. frosteternal says:

    This IS the normal 1 serving-sized “a la carte” menu option.
    It’s like $2.80 and this is the size of box normally used. Cute, really just a little taste. It never comes with rice (that is a “Panda Bowl.”)
    Not sure about the $4 eggroll thing Рthe potstickers are generally more expensive without an entr̩e purchase, but I know I have bought an eggroll for ~$1.25 without ordering anything else.
    Panda is generally kinda a rip-off, but consistent in quality at least – gross.
    (Then again most “Asian” food sold in America is a gigantic ripoff. Cheap ingredients, easy to mass produce.)

  42. LastError says:

    This is not the only cheap thing Panda does. Take a look at their stryofoam trays. Unlike most stryotrays which have flat bottoms, Panda uses ones where the compartment bottoms are raised up about a quarter inch.

    The result is that the trays LOOK more full than they actually are, because you look at it and think that the tray is sitting flat on the table. No, only the edges and the sort of reinforcement ribs are touching the table. The food compartments are not.

    It’s not a huge amount of “displaced” food but when it’s the routine way they do it, the savings add up to big profits.

  43. TVGenius says:

    I am SO TIRED of seeing the posts and complaints on here (and anywhere for that matter) when people whine about stuff like this. Guess what, that’s their business, that’s how they decided to make their menu, it hasn’t changed in years. I’m so tired of being stuck behind people in line at restaurants who want everything *their* way, even if it’s not on the menu, and not in the register. It clearly shows on Panda’s menu boards that the $1.25 price is for an addition item, so too bad.

  44. DJSeanMac says:

    This littered Facebook with mobile uploads. Promo fail.

  45. 420greg says:

    Orange Chicken FTW!