Friday, February 27, 2009

The Days of the Free Lunch

Back in early 1991, when Randy and I were doing everything we knew to do to get our Grandy's to actually become a viable, money-making business, we sent a certificate for a FREE MEAL to every member of the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce.

Every. Single. Member.

A free meal. No other purchase required. Just come in to our restaurant, let us give you your choice of one of four different dinners with a beverage of your choice, and we will so amaze you with the quality of our food, and blow you away with the fabulous-ness of our service, that you will eagerly come back again and again and purchase more of the same.

It worked. Seriously worked. That year, we turned the corner on a business that had been on the verge of closing up and going away, and made it so successful that it led to building new Grandy's and buying others in several other cities around east Texas and Louisiana.

There were a couple of hiccups involved. We actually had one guy just go off on us, because he had his one certificate, brought his wife in to eat lunch, and expected that we would give him not the one, but TWO free meals. Really. I was at the register, I took their orders, he handed me the certificate, which I deducted from the total, then asked him for the...oh, I dunno...five bucks for the second meal and drink, and he said,

"It's supposed to be free."

Yes, sir, I said, I took the price of your higher-priced meal off, and the cost for the second meal and drink is $x.xx. And he said, quite a bit louder this time:


At first, I kinda thought he was just kind of joking with me, but as it became more apparent that he wasn't, I looked to Randy for help.

You know, generally speaking, we've always tried to take the advantage:guest attitude, but this guy was so jerky about not getting enough free food that we dug in our heels and they actually left the restaurant without eating anything. I hope they enjoyed whatever it was they ended up having to eat that day. Bet not, though. Some folks, you can just tell.

But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make here is that we chose to take the BIG chance of giving away food, when we were supposed to be in the business of selling food, in order to try to make a difference farther down the road. And it paid off. A risky move, to be sure, and we sweated over it, let me tell you. But drastic times called for drastic measures.

This past Monday, Quiznos announced a Million Subs Giveaway. All you had to do was to go to the website, register, and you'd get a coupon for a free small sub. Take it to your local Quiznos, and we will so amaze you with the quality of our food, and blow you away with the fabulous-ness of our service, that you will eagerly come back again and again and purchase more of the same. Sound familiar?!?

In Lubbock, it worked like a charm. Certainly being a college town helped - because the college kids put the word out on Facebook and Twitter, by text message and phone call - so that by 5 p.m. on the first day we had taken about 50 of the coupons between the four restaurants. And that total has increased as the week has gone on. Our own kids ate well in Tuscaloosa, and I heard that Rachel enjoyed her sub in San Angelo also ;-). Overall, it's been a great event for us.

Unfortunately, not all of our fellow franchisees embraced the idea. All week long, I've gotten Google Alerts to different blogs and message boards, where people are complaining that they have tried at their local outlets and either been refused altogether, or required to make another purchase in order to receive their "free" sub.

And so now, in many folks' minds, we have ALL been painted with the same broad brush: "Worst...promotion...ever," read one. "Fake, fake, fake," said another. "What a scam," from another. "I will NEVER go to another Quiznos" from still another.

And it goes on and on - given the ease and speed with which unhappy customers can make their voices heard, we ALL now have a stigma attached to us. No matter that, in our stores, we have happily redeemed the coupons and done our best to exceed our guests' some people, all Quiznos everywhere are now suspect.

And, not to sound like a child or anything, but: THAT'S NOT FAIR.

LOOK. I know it's a risk. I know it's hard to imagine that giving away food can be a good thing. But, I'm here to testify that it can be a good thing. And in dire circumstances - like determining whether your business will thrive or fold - a very good thing. In these uncertain, and very frightening economic times, we're all looking for something to count on, something to be sure of.

Here's one thing I'm absolutely sure of: in Lubbock, in Hot Springs, Bossier City, San Angelo, Tuscaloosa, and in hundreds of other communities across the country - most of us franchisees of Quiznos Sub EXPECT to succeed. Not succeeding? Not an option.

And that's the thing that those other franchisees don't get at all. And it's why, long after those other folks have closed or sold or been kicked out of their businesses, we'll still be here...amazing you with our food, and blowing you away with our service.


Paula said...

Well said, Frances. I do believe that a give away is genius. People do go back for great food. In these tough economic times, we will will not STOP eating out. We will all just be cautious to get great food at a reasonable price.A free trial is a great way to prove that you have great food. Wjen is Quizno's coming to Paris?!

Dee Martin said...

Unfortunately people love to embrace the negative and that is why the attitude of the franchises that did not go with the flow was shortsighted. Even at the school you see it all the time. One negative thing happens and the whole school district or the whole department or whatever whole thing you want - is painted with the same paintbrush. In today's world where everyone has access to the internet you have to expect it. I'm with Paula - when are we going to get a quiznos? I love them!