Jun 7, 2024 8 min read

Lessons Learned in Giving Away 1000 Free Burgers

Things are really tough in the restaurant business right now, with rising costs of goods, inflation, labor issues and growing competition… driving revenue and being profitable presents an immense challenge. I believe that all the knowledge that you need to be successful is out there.
Lessons Learned in Giving Away 1000 Free Burgers
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Things are really tough in the restaurant business right now. Not that it’s ever easy, but with rising costs of goods, inflation, labor issues and growing competition… driving revenue and being profitable presents an immense challenge.

I believe that all the knowledge that you need to be successful is out there. You just have to seek it out, understand it, improve it and do your version of it.

This isn’t the first time the restaurant has been under tough times so to solve the challenge at my restaurants and for my clients, I reached out to people with much more experience than I have and asked what their plan is. The biggest piece of advice I got for driving top line revenue, and if you want to get business, sample. To quote my friend Gregg Majewski "we built Jimmy John’s on free sandwich cards."

At Handcraft Burgers and Brew, we’ve tried a number of things this year in that energy. In March and April we ran a buy one get one free hamburger promotion that increased our daily sales on average $1100. In May we decided instead to value price the same burger at $5 (basically half-off). That worked as well.

But we were looking for a big bang. Something that would set growth into motion just a little bit faster.

I’ve recently developed the playbook for several of my restaurant clients where we leverage a food holiday like National BBQ Day or National Pita day to jump sales growth. Some of my clients have seen three and four times sales growth off of of only one to two days of promotion. The revenue growth continued, proving it wasn’t a one day freebie kind of thing.

So we decided to use the plan at Handcraft offering 1 free Burger per person for the last four days of National Hamburger Month, starting on May 28 National Hamburger Day.

For new guests, my playbook included running acquisition ads on Meta that sent people to a landing page where they would enter their name and email to get the redemption instructions. My good friends at Targetable helped to execute the play.

For returning guests, we made a copy of the landing page (so we could trace the source) and shared that to owned channels like email and social media.

The former resulted in 500 sign ups, and the latter resulted in 1600 sign ups.

Going into the first day of redemption, we expected a deluge of activity. From the available measurements at that point, it was clear that the promotion was driving both new CRM growth and attention from current guests.

What happened once the doors opened on May 28, you would liken to a roller coaster ride that goes on and on for four straight days.

In the first hour of the first day of the promotion we received 300 orders alone. It was wild.

And that's when the problems started ...

  • Long wait times
  • Technology failures
  • Redemptions without additional purchases
  • 1-star reviews
  • and worst of all .... scams.

If a couple people here and there got an additional free Burger here and there, no big deal. But it started happening over and over. Two people redeemed more than 15 times! We started catching them before the orders went to the kitchen but that added extra stress and work onto our team.

On the third day of the promotion one person went so far as to create 50 fake phone numbers to place 50 orders for free Burgers. That's when we pulled the plug. With 24 hours left in the promotion, we shut the whole thing down. Put up an apology post on social media and sent out an email to all of our guests informing them of what happened.

Bad apple stats:

  • 19% orders were scams
  • 88% orders had no tips for our staff (one was not required)
  • 27% orders were for the free burger with no additional purchase (one was not required)

Keep in mind, these are the ones that went through the system. This does not take into account all of the orders that got stopped in the dining room by our incredible staff.


So was it a mistake? Our social media posts certainly would have lead you to believe that. We'll get into stats in a moment, but I believe its never a mistake if you learn and improve. In that case, it was a growth moment.

So before I share the sales statistics, here are ..

Lessons Learned in Giving Away 1000 Free Burgers


No matter how good the promotion and or the food, this all boils down to an experience. If your team is not ready to grind while maintaining their cool and kindness, the whole thing falls apart. Now you've sent a bunch of people to have a bad experience. Totally the opposite of why you would do it.

Things to prepare for:

  • Increased work volume
  • Increased stress
  • Increased issues
  • The need for additional patience and kindness
  • Long days

Thank goodness our team was on board and we are so grateful for their hard work and dedication.


One of our biggest mistakes was not setting up our online ordering to have a max capacity. Our cook time is already pretty fast but when the tickets are backed up and backed up, fast can seem not fast enough and that's when corners get cut.


We've been using the same online ordering since we opened. We had an understanding that if you clicked one button, all promo codes would be one time use per person. That was a safety mechanism.

What we never understood is that is the case but only if we require the guest to create an account. That's our mistake. Even though the extra steps would probably lead to less guests, if you aren't willing to do a little work on your end to get the free food, you probably are only coming to us for free food. Said another way quality > quantity.


Throughout the process we received direct feedback from more than 300 guests using one of my fave pieces of tech, Ovation . That allowed us to handle a lot of issues in near real time.

Most guests sharing a complaint just want to be heard. By simply responding, you provide the service needed that prevents 1 star reviews. By the same token, most of our guests were pretty happy and thanks again to Ovation, were happy to give us a 5 star review, 30 of them in fact

That required having someone on top of feedback, all day, every day. This included social media, email, reviews and our feedback tool, Ovation.

I believe that you should practice the same level of hospitality online that you would in store so we responded and responded quickly to every guest that reached out.


Im a huge Mr. Rogers fan and while we won't get into that here, he was right. Most people want to do good and help. When a few bad apples ruined this for everyone, our guests who love and support us were replying to unruly people on social media and we even had people in store trying to help us calm down people who were visibly frustrated or disrespectful.

Again, we are so grateful to our guests and our team.


I'd say this about all marketing efforts – if you're gonna do it, have a goal in mind, know what to measure and be sure you do it


  • Total 224
  • Avg. check size $12.75
  • Avg. total orders 5.5
  • Avg. lifetime value $70.19


  • This promotion got guests to return, driving transaction count & LTV.
  • 117 of those guests, more than half, had only ever dined with us once.


  • Total 723
  • Avg. check size $7.88
  • Avg. total orders 1.1
  • Avg. lifetime value $8.66


  • This definitely drove new guests and CRM growth
  • Overall, enough guests ordered more than just the free Burger to drive the average about the equivalent of of the promotion ($5)
  • 11 guests have returned in the week since the promotion with an average check size of $18.65. 2 of those people have come back twice in a week!!


  • Total 898
  • Avg. check size $11.09
  • Avg. total orders 2.1
  • Avg. lifetime value $23.56


  • Our AOV is $23.41 which means that overall, the average lifetime value of all guests that took part is higher than our single order average.

PS We use Bikky to easily segment and understand our guests purchase behavior!


  • May over April = 8% sales growth
  • May over April = 48% transaction growth
  • Sales promotional period (Tue-Thu) vs prior Tue-Thu = 12.76% increase

and more one thing ...


The energy of gratitude is linked to the energy of achievement and success. Be grateful in advance, during and after something like this ... or really everything you do. The energy of gratitude can do a lot for you

🙏 Thank you to all of our guests who supported us during the promotion, both new and returning. We are so grateful to serve you.

🙏 Thank you also to our INCREDIBLE team who worked so hard, so patiently and with so much positive intent. We respect and applaud your. Thank you for your dedication.


So would we do it again? HECK YEAH!

Would we do it the same way? HECK NO!

Biggest changes:

  1. Limit how many total orders per hour we can accept.
  2. Have a maximum limit for total redemptions. When they run out, they run out.
  3. Make account creation mandatory for redemption. If you aren't willing to create an account, you don't get the free Burger.
  4. Smaller window of redemption. 4 days was too much. 1-2 days is enough
  5. Make additional purchase necessary. We would either run a buy one get one or free Burger with purchase of fries (or similar)

So with all that to say, I have 2 questions:

What would you do differently?

Do you need help with your promotion? Send me an email rev@brandedstrategic.net


- Rev Ciancio


*I help restaurants to build guest marketing programs.

*I help hospitality tech companies with lead generation and content marketing.

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