How a restaurant could have turned a catastrophe into an opportunity

A couple of weeks ago my colleague, Megan Lane, wrote about businesses that have problems dealing with marketing campaigns that are “too successful.” This week, my wife and I experienced that situation first-hand.

One of our favorite local Chinese restaurant chains offered a “2 Entrees for $10” special in honor of its 10th anniversary. When we pulled into the parking lot, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of vehicles but plenty of spaces still available. Once inside, we discovered why.

Earlier that evening, the promotion attracted so many people, the restaurant shut down its dining room. “The kitchen couldn’t handle it,” was the only explanation the hostess gave us. We could still order takeout, but it would be a minimum 90-minute wait. Sorry, but I didn’t cool my heels that long for Springsteen tickets. There was no apology as we headed for the door (possibly for the last time).

Clearly, this establishment was unprepared for the onslaught of guests and they panicked. Shutting down the dining room was the only “solution” they could come up with when things began to spiral out of control. Cooler heads and a little creative thinking could have turned this into a win for everyone. Instead, I’m sure we’re not the only regulars feeling alienated and disappointed.

Here are a few ideas they could have implemented on-the-fly.

Post a sign in the window – Allowing customers to walk in and get ambushed by bad news was a big mistake. A little advance warning could have softened the blow.

Manager – Where was this guy? He left the staff to do the dirty work – and didn’t even prep them properly. I’m picturing him cowering in the back until closing time.

Apology – A few sincere words could have made a big difference.

Complimentary beverages – For those choosing to wait for take-out, a free cold drink would have been a nice gesture.

Bounce-back coupons – Here was a genuine missed opportunity. You’ve got a room full of loyal patrons (becoming less loyal by the second). Why not print up some home-made flyers giving them a chance to redeem the same special anytime during August? Or the manager could write it on the back of his business card. Oh, wait. See above.

Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor annoyance. But one that could have been easily avoided. They’re lucky I don’t own the Mexican food place across the parking lot. I would have passed out coupons to all the upset customers on their way out. That’s guerilla marketing at its finest.

Brian Rouff is the managing partner at Imagine Marketing.
Contact Brian at

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