Hey, we know that everybody makes mistakes. But when a major chain restaurant makes one, whether through a failed new menu, a dumb social media post, or a boneheaded move by an employee or manager, it can go down as an error of historic proportions.
Back in May 2013, 29 different TGI Friday’s locations were caught substituting low-end alcohol for premium brands, filling liquor bottles with dirty water instead of alcohol, and trying to pass off rubbing alcohol with food coloring as scotch. The owner of the restaurants, Briad Group, agreed to pay a $500,000 fine.
Before Darden sold Red Lobster to Golden Gate Capital in 2014, it tried a bunch of last-ditch attempts to bring in new guests, including adding new, non-seafood dishes to the menu including spicy tortilla soup and a wood-grilled pork chop. They were axed from the menu as soon as Golden Gate took over.
But Red Lobster’s biggest blunder of all occurred in 2003, when the company decided to offer an endless snow crab promotion. Not only was it launched amid a surge in wholesale crab prices, the chain also underestimated how many crab legs each guest would order and how long it would take to eat them, leading to major wait times. The promotion cost the company $3 million, and led to the ousting of Darden president Edna Morris.
Chili’s decided to get in on the pizza game in 2012, and added five-cheese, pepperoni, Southwestern chicken, and taco-flavored nine-inch pies to the menu. After a couple years, the pizzas were axed due to poor sales and not fitting with the company’s image. Chili’s also nixed country-fried steak and Philly cheesesteaks from their menus around this time too.
Applebee’s found itself in some hot water last year after three kids, aged 9, 10, and 11, ordered root beer but instead received the alcoholic Not Your Father’s Root Beer, which is 5.9 percent alcohol. When the father complained, the server assured him that it was non-alcoholic, so he called the police as well as Applebee’s corporate headquarters. An Applebee’s spokesperson called it “an isolated mistake in one restaurant owned by an independent franchise operator.”
In 2013, Olive Garden attempted to lure Millennials with a new selection of “small plates” like fried risotto balls, garlic hummus, chicken skewers, and fried pizza dough with cheese sauce. Those were off the menu within a year, as the chain decided to focus on menu items that were a little more Italian than, you know, hummus.
In the mid-2000s, Ruby Tuesday executives decided that the whole “burger and beer bar” thing was a little played out, so they decided to reposition the brand as a “high quality casual dining” chain, with an emphasis on wine over beer and a new tagline, “Simple Fresh American Dining.” To make a long story short, it bombed, and the more affluent guests they were hoping to attract never materialized. The overall number of guests declined, as did sales, and when all was said and done, the company lost nearly $40 million. Founder and CEO Sandy Beall found himself out of a job, and the entire strategy was abandoned.
The food poisoning outbreak sparked by a Pennsylvania Chi-Chi’s in 2003 wasn’t just embarrassing, it was a tragedy of epic proportions. Mexican green onions that found their way into salsa or cheese dip were infected with hepatitis A, and 600 diners who ate them were sickened; three died. The chain never recovered, leaving the U.S. market the following year.
Maggiano’s is well-known for its private party rooms, but perhaps the company should do a better job of vetting the folks who try to rent them out. Last November, a white nationalist group called the National Policy Institute rented out a room at a Washington, D.C., Maggiano’s outpost at the last minute, using an assumed name, and word got out after reality TV star and Nazi sympathizer Tila Tequila tweeted out a photo of her at the restaurant, giving a Nazi salute. The restaurant was forced to temporarily close due to protests, apologized, and donated $10,000 to the Anti-Defamation League.
IHOP had to take a long, hard look at its social media strategy in 2015, when it sent out some tweets that many found offensive. A photo of pancakes was captioned “Flat but has a GREAT personality,” another photo of butter-topped pancakes was captioned “The butter face we all know and love;” and a photo of mini-sausages was captioned “small but knows how to use it.” The tweets were deleted, and the company tweeted an apology.