Only at Participating Locations

Ever wonder about this phrase often found at the bottom of advertisements, coupons and promotions? Did you ever think about what it really means or how it can be used? Or how about the phrase, ‘Participation may vary by location.’ Just what does that mean to you and me? There was a time I assumed that any business chain with multiple locations around the country owned by a single parent company had no choice but to follow all nationally advertised promotions. I also assumed that a business that was franchised had to follow any promotions of the franchiser, or parent company so that all customers would have a common experience no matter where they went. If you live in a small town, you may not notice the difference between how one business location operates compared to another because you may not have that many locations. Furthermore, you may think that if the parent company is spending large sums of money to develop and advertise promotions to drive customers to your door that you would want to take advantage of that business hoping to convert at least a percentage of them into repeat customers.

But apparently, that is not the case. In fact, I’ve notice quite a few businesses who advertise on television and direct email but when you go to their local stores, they do not honor the promotions. Perhaps the local stores feel that people might feel guilty about just getting up and walking out when a local store manager says, ‘Sorry, we are not participating.’ But are they really sorry? If they were so concerned about our feelings they would not trick us into their store only to say that they are not participating. Maybe it is time that we walked out of their store.

Truth be told, I live in tourist town, Orlando, FL. I first notice this effect several years ago. One time when we questioned the policy we were even told that because they are a tourist location, they do not honor the advertised discounts. I suppose they figure that the tourists have no choice. Most cannot make meals in their rooms. Most do not know the area well enough to risk finding another location that may be participating. And most don’t want to take the time away from their vacation just to save a few dollars. So you might think of it as a convenience fee.

Besides food chains, this effect becomes even more obvious with the price of gasoline which seems to almost consistently go up the closer you get to the major tourist attractions or the airport and its surrounding car rental agencies. Yes there are some exceptions and the locals know where they are just like the locals know the best places to eat that are not part of nationwide chains.

But let’s get back to the main issue. I know several of the fast food chains with locations near the tourist attractions that will not honor the promotions of the nationwide chain. Several times I’ve been told point blank that the locations near the attractions can charge more because they are there just for the tourists, not the locals. Were they telling me to go away? I guess I moved to the wrong side of town.

A good example occurred recently at a nationwide chain that was offering a meal deal of an entrée with an appetizer. (I will not go further into the details here.) The promotion was sent directly to my email address because I subscribed a long time ago to their ‘club’. Granted, the promotion added the words, ‘Limited time only.’ The thing is, I received that email just last Thursday. The next day, Friday, we decided to go there for supper to take advantage of the deal. As we sat down and were given menus, I noticed that there was no reference to the ‘special’. So I asked about it thinking that maybe they only gave the promotion menu to those that asked. Instead I was told by the waiter that he had heard about that promotion, but thought that it had ended but would go ask the manager. A few minutes later he came back and told us that his manager said that the promotion indeed had ended. Fortunately I could still bring that email from the previous day up on my phone. Aren’t smartphones great? So I showed him the email and the date on the email. He went back to his manager to ask again. This time when he came back, he said that his manager said, ‘We are not participating in that promotion.’ So we got up from our seats. He asked us if we were leaving. We replied that we were not participating in bait and switch tactics and left.

Really makes you wonder though whether the promotion was only for one day (which it did not say in the email) or whether they just did not want to offer it to their other customers, the majority of whom where tourists.

In any case, I say that it is bad business to advertise any promotion and then decide not to honor it just because your location is near tourists, a more affluent part of town, or any other arbitrary reason. It may be a long while until I go back to that location. Maybe they don’t care. Maybe they get enough business from the tourists. For me, I’d rather find another location where the location manager operates fairly and honors the promotions of the parent organization he is a part of. If you don’t like the promotions, become a store manager of a store that does not have promotions or start your own store if you want to do whatever you want. The bottom line for me is that unless there is a legal reason not to honor a business promotion created for the chain that is designed to send more customers to your door, you should honor the promotion and give those customers the best experience possible so that they might decide to come back again and again.

C’ya next time.

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Walk Drunk

In a recent episode of Freakonomics Radio (www.freakonomics.com), which by the way can now be heard every other week on NPR, Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt bring forth statistics that show mile-for-mile you are 8 times more likely to get killed walking home drunk than from driving drunk.  Of course they are not proposing that you should go out, get drunk and then drive home instead of walking.  While some of these walking-involved injuries result from walking in front of a moving vehicle, many are also due to falling down steps or other similar accidents that involve no one else other than the individual themself.  They report that of the 34,000 people who died in traffic accidents in 2009, 41% of them were drunk.  Furthermore, in that same year, 35% of the 4,000 pedestrians who were killed were also drunk.  While that may sound like your chances as a pedestrian are slightly better, when you add in the number of miles travelled by those killed, it was far more dangerous to walk drunk.  In fact, January 1st has been shown to be the deadliest day for pedestrians with over 50% of the fatalities occurring to those who were drunk. Check-out the full podcast at Freakonomics-Marketplace.

So what is the solution if you cannot drive or walk home?  I suspect the simple answer to drunk walking remains the same as for drunk drivers.  This New Year’s Eve (and any other time during the year), make sure that someone in your group is the designated driver.  Then let someone else take you home if you do over indulge because I have lots of interesting things to talk about in the coming year and you don’t want to miss any of it.  Also I highly recommend listening to Freakonomics as a New Years resolution for anyone interested in a slightly different but statistical view on everyday things in life.

Be safe!

Bad Waiters, Good Food at Friday’s

On Thanksgiving evening, we decided to go to Friday’s for a supper. Our meal was delicious, but our service was terrible. It began with our having to wait forever to order. The people at the table next to us sat down after us and their waiter (a different one) not only took their order, but had brought them their drinks before our waiter even stopped by. Now before you say that our waiter must have been busy, I must tell you that it was early evening, and the place was only about a quarter filled.

After we ordered, we again waited forever, the table next to us received their food and were done eating not just their meal, but also had just received their desert before we got our meal. During this time, our waiter never once came around to see if we wanted a refill in our drinks.

When our food arrived, it was brought out by other staff as is often the case I suppose. The waiter stopped by after the staff that brought our plates moved away and looking at our drink glasses said, ‘I suppose you want more to drink.’

When he returned with new drinks for us, Sue informed him that her vegetables for her fajitas were not grilled as she had requested. So without saying anything, he grabs her plate and carries it off to the kitchen. A few minutes later, one of the kitchen staff comes out to tell us that they cannot grill the vegetables because they do not have a flat grill, just a grill with the bars which the vegetables would fall through, but he did microwave them a little more. Funny the waiter did not know that.

As we ate, our waiter did not stop by to see how we were doing. He did not stop by to refresh our drinks. In fact, we did not see him for a very long time. By the time he did show up, we were done eating and I had my arms propped up on the table as I was talking to Sue and my daughter. I had not seen the waiter come up to our table. He poked my arm and said, ‘Move your arm so I can take your dishes.’

We were amazed at his rudeness, He took the plates away and we expected that he would return with our bill. But he did not. We waited nearly ten minutes before he returned and asked us if we wanted desert. We really were still kind of full from Thanksgiving dinner and so we declined and just asked for the bill. He again disappeared for another ten minutes.

When the bill finally came, we gave our waiter our Friday’s Points card and two $25 gift cards we had previously bought to pay for the bill which amounted to around $46. Again it took the waiter nearly 10 minutes to process the cards and return to our table with our receipt. He gave us our Friday’s point card back along with the receipts from our bill, told us we had a balance of about $4 on the one gift card and then prompted walked off pocketing both gift cards before we could say anything. He did not return to us the gift card that still had the $4 on it.

It took another 5 minutes before he returned to our area and we were able to flag him down at which point we asked him for the card with the $4 on it. He said, ‘Oh, I must have forgot.’ and placed one of the cards which he pulled from this right apron pocket back on the table and again quickly ran off. We picked up the card and compared the number on the card to the two receipts and sure enough, the card he returned to us was the card that had been totally used.

It took another five minutes before we were able to flag him down again. When we told him that he returned the wrong card to us, he said, ‘I gave you one back.‘

We said, ‘Yes, but you gave us the one that was totally used up.‘

Then he said, ‘Oh I suppose you want this one then.’ He pulled a second card out of his left pants pocket, slammed it on the table and walked off again.

Clearly he knew which card still had money on it. When he first left our table with both cards he obviously separated them and put them in two different pockets. He put each card in different pockets so he could keep track of which one was still good.

Now had we not been ‘wise’ enough to compare the numbers on the backs of the gift cards to the numbers on the receipts, we might have left the restaurant never knowing that he had ‘stolen’ the card with the money. Perhaps he manages to ‘fool’ many of the tourists that come to Orlando in this way. But we are not tourists and we do not appreciate locals who try to rip-off tourists which Orlando depends on. So we notified the restaurant manager discreetly of what had happened. He said he would keep his eye on the waiter. Hopefully, something will be done here, but in the meantime, we probably will drive a little further to go to a different location the next time we want to go to Friday’s.