24 October 2016
Ruby Tuesday's free burger promo offers a lesson on how not to promote a product. Photos: HKEJ
Ruby Tuesday's free burger promo offers a lesson on how not to promote a product. Photos: HKEJ

Ruby Tuesday’s free burger promo turns into a PR nightmare

There is no such thing as a free lunch because one gets into all sort of problems once it is free.

Take the case of Ruby Tuesday, whose free burger promo turned into a public relations disaster during the Labor Day holiday.

Apparently intent on becoming as popular as McDonald’s, the American dining chain offered free bacon cheeseburgers in its Hong Kong outlets.

Originally priced at HK$172, the burger was offered for free to diners who only needed to pay the 10 percent service charge, amounting to HK$17.2.

Given the special rate, one would expect people forming kilometric queues at its outlets in the same way that mainland shoppers swarmed the Louis Vuitton store in Tsim Sha Tsui before Xi Jinping began his campaign against corruption and ostentatious lifestyle.

Unfortunately, what it aroused was a deep feeling of resentment among people who were made to wait for more than two hours but still could not avail themselves of the burgers.

They did get a lot of publicity, bad though it was.

Those in the queue noticed that only four out of the 20-plus tables in one outlet had been filled and yet they were not allowed to go in.

It turned out that VIP members who opted out of the free-burger option were given priority to the available tables, but many people could not come near the restaurant because of the long queue.

Some of these people even paid over HK$1,000 for the membership, but their monthly discount privilege went to waste because of the queue.

Worse still, some posted their complaints and comments on Ruby Tuesday’s website, but most were taken out rather than acted on.

In one instance, one exasperated customer wrote “f**king” to describe his experience, but Ruby Tuesday quickly removed it “because we do not tolerate offensive language”.

Another unhappy customers vowed to take his complaint directly to Ruby Tuesday’s management at the restaurant chain’s head office.

So what is the point of upsetting your loyal clients for the sake of gaining a few customers, who were unable to get the cheap burger anyway?

Francis Fong, honorary president of the Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing and a loyal Ruby Tuesday VIP member himself, said he could not understand the purpose of offering free burgers.

“Perhaps Ruby Tuesday had worried the May 1st holiday would be worse,” Fong said. “That could explain why they offered discounts, but now they are much worse off.”

Ruby Tuesday’s management should now have an idea of how local people react when they are deprived of their rights. 

Just look at the localist protests against Sheung Shui smugglers and mainland shoppers at New Town Plaza. A good idea can turn into a bad thing if not handled properly.

Perhaps Ruby Tuesday can learn a lesson from singer Leon Lai, who immediately apologized to his fans on Facebook after his concert was abruptly cancelled last week. Bad publicity can also turn into a good thing if handled properly.

Taking out unflattering comments online only aroused more negative feelings.

Honesty is the best policy, after all.

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EJ Insight writer

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