No sub for you! Troubles with Quiznos' free sandwich promotion, and now, a company response!
The complaint box is as stuffed as a 12-incher. The most common one is manager-made signs of refusal (often misspelled) being taped up at the counter. Other beefs include managers who restrict redeemers to the cheapest part of the menu, in contradiction of the coupon, which specifically gives customers two menus from which to choose. Still more complaints involve a bait-and-switch requiring the purchase of a drink and chips, too.
Changing the terms of an offer at the checkout counter is unethical to say the least, and possibly illegal, but apparently no one has given Quiznos managers, many of whom are already teetering on the brink in this economy, a crash course in law.
I used my Quiznos Million Sub Giveaway coupon Wednesday, before this story broke. My coupon warned that it would only be good "at participating locations," but I had no way of knowing which locations that might be. Trouble is, I live in Manhattan, U.S.A., where these so-called promotions are rarely honored. I'm often excluded from the deals granted to suburban Americans through national TV ads. The free Dr Pepper coupon (that promotion was a train wreck, too) I was sent this winter only guaranteed me a $1.59 bottle, when they typically cost $1.79 at the local drugstore, and the Value Menu at McDonald's is priced far over the 99¢ most of my fellow countrymen seem to pay.
Red flags were going up the minute Quiznos e-mailed me the weblink I needed to print my coupon. The company warned me that my coupon could only be printed once, which alarmed me. If my printer failed or jammed, I'd lose. Then I was also told that I had to use the coupon within five days, which meant that now I had to shuffle my lunch plans over the coming days to make it work. My printer, though, held up, and I decided to have lunch on Quiznos.
So, taking a risk, I walked into a location on 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan and handed my coupon over. I got the free small sub with no questions asked. No I.D. was requested (one Quiznos was reported as recording customers' drivers license numbers upon redemption), and I was able to order off every menu the coupon said I could. The clerk even said, "Have a good day" at the end of the transaction. It was the antithesis of the complaints being registered across the country. (The soda machine was completely out of Dr Pepper, though. So I had a cup of irony with my Classic Club.)
There's no doubt that there's a big problem with these promotions. The phrase "at participating locations" is like the word "from" before the price. On ads and coupons, it gives vendors a loophole to escape through after they've scored the free publicity of the face value of their offer. I was in a spin from the start over whether my Quiznos would be one of the "participating" ones, which is more trouble than I think a customer should be put through.
So when I got home, I e-mailed the public relations representative from Quiznos' corporate office to ask how participation was determined. Do stores get to opt out in the middle of the process? Are they chosen by corporate? And how does a customer know in advance whether the location they're taking their coupon to will be "participating"? If it isn't, I'd be willing to bet most people would just buy the sub anyway, to avoid the hassle of turning around and leaving.
You won't be surprised to learn that Quiznos didn't get back to me. Maybe it'll get back to you.
But then again, the company is in a bit of a pinch, with the CEO resigning on Tuesday, and a huge price war going on with Subway, so maybe they have other fish to fry. Now the company's founder Rick Schaden will be coming back on board to try to rescue the company. Seems to me he's got his work cut out for him.
UPDATE: Representatives from Quiznos read this story and sent us the following statement, which got the name of the promotion wrong:
"The response to the Quiznos Millions [sic] Subs Giveaway has been nothing short of overwhelming. That's great, right? Right... but given that we have had over a million consumers respond in only three days, there are a handful of people who have reported some problem redeeming their free sandwich. If you're one of them, please let us know right away by emailing email@example.com. We're working hard to address every issue very quickly.
And, if you weren't quite fast enough the first time around, there's still a chance to win a free-subs-for-a-year gift card through our Hometown Heroes promotion throughout the month of March. Check out www.millionsubs.com for details. "
Essentially, in addition to seizing this moment to send out an ad for a sweepstakes Quiznos wants you to tell on the managers who won't play ball. And yet locations are apparently permitted to opt out. Quiznos said there is no chain-wide requirement to participate, and the only way customers can know if their chosen location will take the coupon is to call ahead. Reading between the lines, you should only bother tattling on a store if it fiddles with the terms of the coupon, but not if it refuses it outright.
If you're one of the people who had trouble with the promotion (and by our count, there's way more than just "a handful," and customers aren't angry simply because they "weren't quite fast enough"), let us know if the company is responsive to your complaint.
SECOND UPDATE: I interviewed Quiznos' head of marketing about the promotion mess. Read her full explanation.