No doubt about it, the restaurant industry is becoming more competitive all the time. To stay relevant, you must be proactive about creating effective restaurant promotions to drive traffic and attract new customers. But how far would you be willing to go in the name of marketing?
As it turns out, some restaurants are willing to go to extraordinary heights to claim their 15 minutes of fame. Keep reading for some of the world’s wackiest restaurant promotions — believe it or not, they actually worked!
Note: Nobody will know about your promotion if you don’t spread the word. Marketing materials like restaurant flyers, stickers, posters, and more can help you broadcast your message to the masses!
Bad Reviews Become A Restaurant’s Biggest Asset
Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! In 2009, San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina made a pioneering promotional move — they created a line of t-shirts for employees with quotes from mean-spirited reviews.
Why broadcast bad reviews? To take back a little power, poke fun at the trolls, and let customers in on the joke. As the owner explained, restaurant owners have little recourse when it comes to bad reviews. By printing them on t-shirts, they gained a voice — and the ability to prove the bad reviews wrong by exceeding customer expectations.
The stunt paid off — it got plenty of press and attracted plenty of diners who wanted to sample the pizza for themselves. Today, Pizzeria Delfina has grown from one 600-square-foot location to four bustling restaurants.
Patriotic Promotion-Turned International Sensation
Today, the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest is an international sensation — but did you know that it started as an argument that turned into an impromptu restaurant promotion?
According to the Nathan’s website, on July 4, 1916, four European immigrants decided to settle an argument about patriotism — by seeing who could eat the most hot dogs. Obviously, whoever could eat the most hot dogs was the most American of all — on that fateful day, it was Irish immigrant James Mullen, who ate 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
When people caught wind of the contest, they clearly wanted more — Nathan’s rose to the occasion and offered it the next year, and in fact every year since. Of course, these days, Mullen’s appetite seems amateur. The current world record is held by Joey Chestnut, who ate 76 hot dogs and buns in a mere 10 minutes in 2021.
Domino’s is On a Roll
In recent years, Domino’s Pizza has proven to be a tour de force in the world of wacky promotions. Here are just two highlights:
Times Square Transparency
The book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is, in fact, written about warfare — but in recent years, it’s been adopted by cutthroat executives who want to “win” the war of business. When sales were down at Domino’s Pizza, the head honchos read up on Sun Tzu’s wisdom and decided the only way to win was to put up a fight to survive.
The solution? Domino’s did something very different. In 2011, they took transparency to a whole new level when they took out a digital billboard in Times Square and broadcast customer feedback from around the world. Barring inappropriate messages, any review — good, bad, or ugly, would be broadcast for all to see.
Pizza Wedding Registry
Everyone loves pizza, right? Domino’s found a way to put a ring on it — a pizza wedding registry! The Domino’s Pizza Wedding Registry includes items like a “2 a.m. Bachelor Feast” and “Dancing With My Slice” (a pizza delivery late in the wedding reception to help give tired guests a second wind). As a nod to pandemic closures and delays, there’s also a “rain check” version of the registry for couples whose nuptials may have been knocked off-schedule.
Promotions like these paid off for Domino’s — if you look at their growth over the past decade, it’s been a fairly steady ascent.
Burger King Undercuts the Competition
Getting more customers by sending them to the competition? It’s a weird approach that worked for fast-food giant Burger King.
To gain more traction for their online-ordering app, Burger King created an unusual promotion: if customers went within 600 feet of a McDonald’s location, the app would automatically unlock an offer for a one-cent Whopper. Additionally, the app would helpfully navigate the customer to the closest Burger King location.
The promotion, which was called “diabolical” by some, was reportedly a smashing success — well, except for that one guy who was accidentally charged $1,000 for his Whopper…
Let Your Fingers Do the “Cooking”…
When Canadian chain Boston Pizza was looking for a way to increase delivery sales, they decided to go right for the funny bone.
In 2010, they debuted a tongue-in-cheek satirical cooking show called “Finger Cooking With Bill.” Bill wasn’t much of a cook — “finger cooking” is actually just a funny way to frame ordering takeout or delivery. The campaign proved mightily popular and even led to a booklet called “The Joy of Finger Cooking” that offers more tips to help people avoid cooking.
The results were impressive — delivery orders were up over 20% for about two years in a row following the promotion.
Morton’s Meets Man at the Airport
Sure, airport food can be a bummer. But when Peter Shankman, founder of media matchmaking service Help A Reporter Out, jokingly tweeted a request to Morton’s Steakhouse to meet him with a porterhouse steak when he landed, he never expected them to actually do it.
Surprise, surprise! When he landed in Newark after the fateful tweet, he was met by a tuxedoed Morton’s server toting a to-go bag with a porterhouse steak and all the fixings. Sure, it took a little manpower, but the stunt did not go unnoticed — it was picked up far and wide in the media, and it almost certainly made Shankman a customer for life.
Some Like it Hot
Care for a little danger with your pizza? New Zealand’s Hell Pizza came up with the ultimate challenge for heat-seekers when they developed a supercharged hot sauce challenge called “Pizza Roulette.”
Those who were up to the challenge would get a pizza with one slice topped with two drops of “3 a.m. Reserve,” one of the hottest hot sauces in the world — about 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeno.
The catch? Customers didn’t know which slice was packing heat, essentially turning every pizza into a game of Russian Roulette. The challenge didn’t come with an upcharge, but as the company acknowledged, “There’s no cost, but somebody pays.”
Customer pain led to financial gain for Hell Pizza — according to the company, it led to their biggest single day of sales, with a 17% uptick in new customers.
It Pays to Think Outside the Box!
As these restaurants prove, sometimes the wackiest restaurant promotions get the most attention. The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to get a little weird and think differently when designing restaurant promotions — it could pay off in attracting new customers and sales!
What’s your favorite wacky restaurant promotion?