GrubHub NYC Free Lunch Promo Turns Fiasco Amid 6,000 Orders a Minute

The company offered free lunches up to $15 to people in the NYC and surrounding area who placed orders through their app or website within a three-hour window on Tuesday -- and a lot of people got the message

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More than a handful of New Yorkers got the message Tuesday about GrubHub's free lunch promotion -- like, to the tune of 6,000 orders a minute -- but one critical group says it was left out of the loop. Restaurants.

Restaurants say they weren't clued in about GrubHub's Tuesday promotion and ended up catastrophically overwhelmed, with diners having to wait hours for orders that in some cases never came and others unable to capitalize on the promotion at all.

It was a one-day-only deal. Grubhub offered free lunches up to $15 to people in the NYC and surrounding area who placed orders through their app or website within a three-hour window on Tuesday. A spokesperson told MarketWatch the company saw an "unprecedented amount" of orders, "more than we've seen before with any promotion."

Given the current state of the economy, it's not really a wonder why. Grubhub told MarketWatch it was trying to process 6,000 orders a minute from its New York customers and encountered technical problems because of the surge. The spokesperson said those issues were resolved within the three-hour offer window, but by that point, restaurants say they were far too backlogged to catch up.

Grubhub did announce the promotion a week ahead of time, but it appears restaurant owners would have preferred some direct advance communication.

Crumpled piles of receipts and messily packaged food orders highlighted some of the frustrated threads from customers on Twitter. "Grubhub customer service" was still the company's top Google search term by mid-morning on Wednesday.

Harlem Public says it was one of the restaurants buried in orders. It posted an Instagram story showing orders and receipts just pouring out of machines, along with a message of apology for those who had to endure the wait.

"If you ordered from free GrubHub lunch day, sorry for the delay. We didn't know this was happening and couldn't adjust ETA," the restaurant said. "Delivery drivers are riding all over the city and are hard to find. Sorry."

Another Manhattan restaurant proprietor told MarketWatch his pizza lunch business was 30 times higher than average for a Wednesday during those hours. He said he was still trying to make deliveries from the Grubhub promotion well after it ended.

"It was monstrous," Zazzy's Pizza's Richie Romero told Marketwatch of the order craze.

He said he had to bring on extra staff to handle the flood, but appreciated the new business because of the promotion. And he told Marketwatch he gets it.

"With inflation, people just want a good deal," Romero said.

In a statement, Grubhub said that "the demand blew away all expectations."

"For context, we executed a similar promotion last year, which had a higher promotion value and our redemption rates for this promotion was 6X higher. Along with our restaurants and drivers, we ultimately were able to fulfill more than 450,000 orders connected to the promotion," Grubhub said, in part, in their statement.

"We gave advance notice to all restaurants in our network, which included multiple forms of communications across various platforms," the company's statement went on to say. "We also increased driver incentives to help support demand. Even with that preparation, there was unfortunately strain on some restaurants due to the unprecedented demand; however, we’ve already been hearing from many of our partners about how this was a success and a positive boost to their business."

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