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Grubhub's 'Free Lunch' Promotion In NYC Quickly Turns Into Nightmare As Restaurants Are Overwhelmed

Grubhub's 'Free Lunch' Promotion In NYC Quickly Turns Into Nightmare As Restaurants Are Overwhelmed
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images; @ameliajpollard/Twitter

On May 17, Grubhub's promotion of offering free lunches to New Yorkers within a three-hour window quickly backfired and turned into a PR disaster.

The food delivery app gave a "free lunch" to New Yorkers who placed an order using the code "FREELUNCH" between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The promotion was inspired by results from a survey indicating New Yorkers didn't eat lunch because they were too busy.

Participating customers basically received a $15 discount but were responsible for paying additional taxes, fees, and optional tips.

However, Grubhub was not prepared for the high demand of an average of 6,000 orders per minute during the promotion.

As exhausted service workers frantically tried to fill thousands of orders that eventually jammed the system, hangry New Yorkers griped about the ordeal that led to canceled orders.

Customer Ebenezer Ackon resorted to giving up after waiting an hour upon seeing that he was in 3,630th place in line to talk to the app's customer service.

He wound up leaving his apartment to get food from across the street.

Another customer named Blake said his order was canceled by the restaurant he ordered from because they were backed up with 200 orders in five minutes after the promo started.

The mayhem prompted Grubhub to issue the following statement:

"The overwhelming demand initially caused a temporary delay in our system, which was quickly fixed, and ultimately were able to fulfill more than 450,000 orders connected to the promotion."

But the crisis seemed to fall hardest on the delivery workers and understaffed restaurants who were desperately trying to keep up.

They ultimately had to cancel orders.

Lilly, a worker at a Mexican restaurant in Harlem who is in charge of packing orders, told BuzzFeed she personally had to hand-deliver 11 meals by taking an Uber after the restaurant's driver couldn't keep up with the demand.

She texted the media outlet about the day she was having: "INSANITY."

Brandon Ching, who works at Greenberg’s Bagels in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was also distressed.

He said:

“It got overwhelming. We were short-staffed today so it really added extra stress to my day."

Grubhub claimed they "gave advance notice to all restaurants in our network, which included multiple forms of communications across various platforms (e.g., email and in-platform)" and "increased driver incentives to help support demand."

But it seems the alleged advance warning did little to help with the mayhem. Or the messages were never received.

Grubhub added:

"We [knew] 72% of New Yorkers call lunch the most important meal of the day, but the demand blew away all expectations."
"For context, we executed a similar promotion last year, which had a higher promotion value and our redemption rates for this promotion was 6X higher."

The company said their care team was working on crediting back $15 to customers who've had their orders canceled from the bungled promo.