What could be better than unlimited Pasta from Olive Garden?

I give Olive Garden props for its attention getting twist on discounts:  their “Never Ending Pasta Pass,” good for seven weeks of unlimited pasta, salad, bread and Coke products. But when their website crashed and people could not purchase the pass it had a boomerang effect, with disappointed customers taking to social media to complain.
Jay Spenchian, executive vice president of marketing at Olive Garden told USA Today: “What we’re trying to do is get some attention. It’s sure to provoke a reaction.” It did, and overall that is a positive. The 1,000 available passes sold out in less than 45 minutes.
Here’s my thoughts on a few ways the promotion could have avoided the negatives and pumped up the positives:
(1) Have fans register over a longer period of time to win one of the 1,000 passes, avoiding website crashes and allowing more time for hype. They could give all info except credit card data when registering, then the winners would be notified and they could pay $100 for the pass.
(2) To boost social media, create a couple of more social media hoops for people entering to jump through such as taking a pic of themselves or a group at Olive Garden (no purchase necessary of course) and posting it online to enter, and earning more chances to win by inviting friends to enter via social media.  This would also slant the contest toward regular OG customers.
(3) Have a countdown to the drawing using emails to customers who entered, to establish Olive Garden emails as belonging in the customers’ “primary inbox.” Future marketing will be more likely to be seen by those customers and others following the news of the upcoming drawing.
(4) To continue pumping up social media, make the offer redemption contingent on recipients taking photos and uploading them when visiting as they redeem their “Never Ending Pasta Pass,” or if this is too much to ask, create an incentive for them to do so through a new contest or an additional free week of pasta.
(5) I would have suggested from the beginning to just make this 1,000 prizes, without the $100 charge, for 3 reasons. First, what is $100,000 to a large chain like Olive Garden? Second, making it a prize instead of a discount does not devalue the food and avoids the negative perception that Olive Garden is getting desperate. Third, if it’s a prize instead of a purchase it should be easier to control customer redemption problems such as table sharing of the food.

We’d love to hear your comments and any other ideas/thoughts on this offer and the discount mania in the restaurant/bar business.

Here’s more info on the offer from USA Today and the customer push back as explained by Mashable.

At A-List Marketing, we link proven bar and restaurant best practices over decades with all the latest innovations vital to succeeding today.  Please reach out if you’d like to learn about joining our client family, many of whom have included us on their team from pre-opening to 10 year anniversaries and beyond.

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