Grubhub’s director of consumer PR on lessons learned from its overwhelming ‘free lunch’ promo

Christopher Krautler says the bigger-than-expected response is a ‘reminder to never underestimate the power of PR.’

Grubhub saw an overwhelming response to its NYC 'free lunch' campaign. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

CHICAGO: The overwhelming response to Grubhub’s $15 promo code for New Yorkers on Tuesday is a reminder to never underestimate the power of PR, said Christopher Krautler, director of consumer public relations for the food-delivery service.

The delivery app’s New York City marketing campaign, offering a "free lunch" to consumers, went a little too well this week. Grubhub told media outlets that at times, the app was averaging 6,000 orders per minute and the campaign received six times more orders than a similar promo last year. It also backfired: restaurants struggled to handle the influx of orders, and many deliveries were delayed. 

Last August, Grubhub offered a similar promotion in New York, Boston and Chicago with a higher value, $20, but it received less coverage, and not nearly as many customers took advantage of it, said Krautler. 

“We didn’t have plans at the time to do another promotion of that magnitude,” he said.

However, Grubhub started a campaign based on its own data about consumers’ lunchtime eating habits. It found that 72% of full-time workers in the Big Apple view lunch as "the most important meal of the day," but nearly seven in 10 (69%) skip lunch on busy days.

“We thought there was a need to remind people of the importance of lunch, and there are convenient ways to get it so you don’t have to skip it,” said Krautler. “That became the impetus of this program. We leveraged that insight as our narrative to get word out.” 

Grubhub promoted the May 17 effort via earned, owned and social media, as well as via influencers. Grubhub also reached out to its restaurant partners, letting them know two weeks in advance about the promotion. It also sent follow-up emails to help its driver network prepare, said Krautler.

“The consumer demand for Tuesday’s deal blew away all of our expectations,” he said. “We modeled our projections of what we could anticipate our order volume to be based on the promotion from last year. That demand well surpassed what we initially projected.”

 Aside from the strain on restaurants that received a much bigger surge of orders than they were expecting, Grubhub’s app also experienced technical issues. Krautler said they were “quickly corrected.” 

Grubhub’s customer care team is issuing credits to users whose orders were canceled or suffered other issues on Tuesday. It is also working with restaurant partners to resolve their concerns, Krautler said.   

Grubhub tweeted late Tuesday about how it is addressing concerns about the promo.

“It was a win in terms of response, but we are going to take this and figure out what we can do to optimize and mitigate any of those challenges we had with the sheer number of orders,” Krautler said. “We are applying those learnings to future similar promotions.”

Is Grubhub done with the tactic? Not exactly. The company will continue with similar promos because they are “great for businesses,” said Krautler. Drivers delivering during Tuesday’s promotion generally made two- to three-times more than their usual hours because Grubhub increased incentives. For future offers, the platform will assess the type of promotion, the scale and what that means for restaurants and the volume of orders.

Krautler attributed the demand from consumers to PR. He said that for last August’s promotion, Grubhub “did little-to-no PR support” and got only two pieces of media coverage. For Tuesday’s deal, Grubhub “went all out with PR and with an earned narrative at the core of why we were doing this because it was a broader societal issue or need,” said Krautler. As a result, the promotion “picked up so much steam with national and local press.”

“PR has the power to drive awareness and move people to act,” he added.

In March, Grubhub brought on Golin as its PR AOR. The agency is helping the company to improve its reputation in terms of the perception of its relationship with restaurants. Grubhub’s corporate comms agency since January 2021 has been APCO, which handles business and financial media, crisis and issues management and litigation comms. Last fall, the company brought on Precision Network to handle its paid reputation efforts. Golin’s hire didn’t impact the agencies’ work with Grubhub.

Dave Tovar, SVP of comms and government relations  joined Grubhub last August. Other recent changes to the comms team include the promotions of Amy Healy to VP of government affairs and Katie Norris to director of corporate and employee communications. The company also hired Krautler, and Lisa Belot as director of brand reputation and corporate philanthropy, both in January. 

This story was updated on May 19 to correct Precision Network's ownership.

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