On Tuesday (17 May), the food delivery service Grubhub offered people in New York City a free lunch with a special promotional code between 11am and 2pm. As NYC residents and office workers used the code FREELUNCH at checkout, many customers reported instances of the app crashing due to overloaded servers. Others found that the restaurants in their area were closed during the hours of the giveaway.
Grubhub announced the campaign on 11 May after the company found in a survey that 69 per cent of New Yorkers admitted to skipping lunch during the work day. “As the city’s premier food delivery service, this is just one small step in our larger mission to connect local restaurants with hungry diners,” said Senior VP Ariella Kurshan in a statement.
“Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 17, people in New York City can use promo code FREELUNCH at checkout in the Grubhub app for up to $15 off their order subtotal,” the company said. “Plus, Grubhub will be offering an additional $5 off promotion in NYC until May 31 for anyone who missed out.”
However, it seemed as though many customers missed out on the free lunch giveaway. On Twitter, “Grubhub” became a No 1 trending topic as users claimed the app had crashed, their promo code failed, or local restaurants failed to participate.
“Who could have possibly predicted that Grubhub offering free lunch to the entire city of New York during a specific 3-hour window would be a complete disaster?” said journalist Kevin Ryan.
“3min into @Grubhub free lunch promo, and the app is crashing. So much marketing and hype, just to fumble out the gate,” said Twitter user Lee-on Pedahzur.
“Why did @Grubhub offer free delivery in NYC & then the restaurants all turned off their delivery,” claimed another customer.
Who could have possibly predicted that Grubhub offering free lunch to the entire city of New York during a specific 3-hour window would be a complete disaster?
— Kevin J. Ryan (@wheresKR) May 17, 2022
3min into @Grubhub free lunch promo, and the app is crashing. So much marketing and hype, just to fumble out the gate.
— Lee-on Pedahzur (@LeeonPedahzur) May 17, 2022
— the Next Oprah ✨ (@iampreciousnkem) May 17, 2022
One person jokingly tweeted, “Fav this tweet if you were on the nyc Grubhub battle field fighting for your free lunch” while another person wrote: “Grubhub said free lunch and all the restaurants said no”.
Fav this tweet if you were on the nyc Grubhub battle field fighting for your free lunch
— madeline (@maddi_grace1) May 17, 2022
Grubhub said free lunch and all the restaurants said no❤️
— Certified Lover Girl (@marjorieaylmer) May 17, 2022
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the food service industry, with employment falling by 35 per cent between 2019 and the end of 2020, according to the New York State Department of Labour. In March 2021, NYC had more than 40,000 food businesses employing 500,000 workers, per the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. However, full-staffed restaurant employment remains “more than 1/3 lower now than pre-pandemic.”
While many Grubhub customers reported issues with the app’s servers, others called out the company for launching a free food campaign amid a post-pandemic labour shortage that has hit the food service industry hard.
An estimated 80,000 people deliver food in NYC, as the pandemic increased the desire for no-contact food delivery through third-party companies, such as Instacart, Postmates, Grubhub. About 65,000 of these “gig workers” – independent employees – deliver for food service apps throughout the city.
“My heart goes out to every food service worker in NYC today. God knows why Grubhub decided a free lunch promo in this city would be anything short of CHAOS,” one person tweeted.
My heart goes out to every food service worker in NYC today. God knows why GrubHub decided a free lunch promo in this city would be anything short of CHAOS. Woof.
— Andrew C (@Acal) May 17, 2022
A moment of silence for those NYC front line food service workers lost today thanks to the Grubhub $15 dollar free lunch promotion
— Hank Mardukas 🌻 (@willygeorge45) May 17, 2022
“A moment of silence for those NYC front line food service workers lost today thanks to the Grubhub $15 dollar free lunch promotion,” said another user.
One food service worker claimed that their Brooklyn-based restaurant was backed up with “30 cold orders not being picked up by drivers,” and ringing phones with angry customers. Another NYC resident shared that they decided to grab lunch at a local spot instead, but it was also overwhelmed with orders from the Grubhub free lunch promo.
currently working front of house at a restaurant in brooklyn and you guys big time messed up. we have over 30 cold orders not being picked up by drivers and our phones are off the hook with angry customers. absolutely fucking over the entire NYC service industry today
— renny (@rennyconti) May 17, 2022
For everyone flipping out about the Grubhub Free Lunch promo, I decided to grab lunch at a local spot, and this staff is so insanely overwhelmed by orders. If you’re having trouble getting your promo, blame Grubhub for bad planning/communication and not your local restaurant
— Evelyn (@etrainlife) May 17, 2022
While the official Grubhub Twitter account has responded to customers who successfully ordered their free lunch, the company has yet to address the majority of claims from users reporting issues with the app.
The Independent has contacted Grubhub for comment.