Grubhub’s Disastrous New York Promo is About More Than Just Bad Marketing
The bombastic failure of GrubHub’s free meal promotion highlights the biggest issues in the restaurant industry — and why restaurant workers aren’t returning
There is a sound that haunts my dreams. It sounds like a cowbell, only tinnier. More electronic. Artificial. In this instance, the cowbell is not a prescription — it is a disease, a weapon of insanity. The GrubHub order notification.¹
Now, take that cowbell, and multiply it by 6,000. Effectively, this is the fiasco that occurred in New York this past Tuesday, May 17.
As reported by numerous media outlets, GrubHub, citing a survey that said 69% of working New Yorkers skipped lunch, decided to run a promotion offering New Yorkers a $15 credit from 11am-2pm if they ordered from GrubHub — basically a free meal². Here’s the catch, though: GrubHub didn’t let restaurants know about the promotion in advance.
Additionally, New York City restaurants are, like other restaurants across the country, struggling to hire enough staff. Mondays and Tuesdays also happen to be the slowest business days for restaurants nationwide — the restaurant where I used to bartend isn’t even open on Tuesdays at the moment, due to slow business and a small staff size.
No restaurant is going to have a full staff on for a Tuesday lunch, not even in New York.
So, what do you get when you combine free lunch, the most densely populated city in the United States, and every understaffed restaurant across five boroughs?
To be blunt: a shit show.
These were, in fact, the exact words used by a chef when interviewed by Eater. Hana House’s chef, Max Zumwalt, reported to Eater that the Korean restaurant, which is currently only open for takeout and delivery, typically receives 40 to 50 lunch orders on a typical Tuesday. Thanks to GrubHub’s surprise promotion, however, Hana House received more than 100 between 11 and 11:20am. At its peak, GrubHub was receiving 6,000 orders per minute before their site inevitably crashed.