When the birthday freebie fails to deliver

Many restaurants readily embrace the birthday discount. Some give you a free dessert and others give you a BOGO (buy one, get one) coupon. Not everyone does it, but the ones who do generally understand the value of goodwill and positive word of mouth. Creating a good memory at their establishment on your birthday will only make you want to return for another special occasion, right? The answer should be yes, but my answer is an unequivocal no.

One of the sweetest freebies you can get on your birthday is a free ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins. You have to sign up in advance on their website, but after that they send you a coupon for a cone. Last year, I got a scoop of Cotton Candy ice cream at my local 31 Flavors. The clerk said, "Happy birthday!" and handed it to me with a big smile. Mission accomplished—a warm and fuzzy feeling about Baskin-Robbins and the desire to encourage everyone I knew to go try the new flavor. This year, however, was a much different story.

I went to another store in my neighborhood and ordered a new flavor of sherbet. I took my cone and handed the woman the coupon before she approached the cash register. She promptly said, "Why didn't you show me this before? The cone I gave you is too big." I replied, "I'm sorry, it says a free scoop and I only got a scoop. What do you mean it's too big?" She snapped that the coupon was for a 2.5 ounce scoop and she gave me 4 ounces. "Huh?" I said. "It says a scoop and that's what I ordered. If you think you gave me too much, I guess you can take this back and give me less." The woman did just that.

She returned to the counter with my cone, however, instead of giving me a new scoop, she had scraped away sherbet from the sides and the top of my original ice cream cone. It was all lopsided and looked like someone already had their way with it. I said to her, "You know, this is supposed to be good PR for you. It's stupid to alienate a customer by giving me something that looks like this." Her response? "You're stupid for not telling me." Excuse me???? I'm stupid? Wow, happy birthday to me!

In short, I vowed never to return.

The moral of the story: Birthday promotions are smart marketing and can create brand loyalty that lasts a lifetime. Scolding a customer and calling her stupid can cause you to lose that customer and dozens more who will undoubtedly hear the tale. It's Marketing 101. I suggest you teach that to your franchisees, Baskin-Robbins.


  1. Take the cone. Turn it upside down. Mash it on the countertop. Turn on your heel and march out the door. Oh, and twitter it all over the place.

  2. From a customer service standpoint - not to mention the marketng and goodwill aspect - that is appalling. Just on general principle you should notify the manager, but that's probably a big giant hassle so, yeah, twitter it all over. I'll RT :)

  3. P.S. Happy Birthday - I'd buy you a gelato if I were there ;)

  4. Priscilla,

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my post! I appreciate that.

    I did call the corporate office and they listened to my story. However, since it was a franchise, all they would do is convey my complaint to the owner. Very unsatisfying.

    Thanks for the cyber-gelato! Yum ;->

  5. P.S. I did ask for the manager while I was at the store and the woman said SHE was the manager. I don't know if that was true or not.


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