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Friday, May 15, 2009

KFC Grilled Chicken Freebie Turned into an Oprah-Size Debacle

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2009 at 11:07 AM

click to enlarge The Colonel: After last week, not so smiley
  • The Colonel: After last week, not so smiley
We're sorry if you were among the millions who tried to redeem Oprah's coupon for free KFC grilled chicken last week and were greeted by long lines, or were turned away altogether. SFoodie played its own teensy part by inviting you to join the crowd (after all, as we said, free food is free food).

Even we got entangled in the hot mess. We don't have a printer (don't ask), but we enlisted friends to help us. One refused to download the software needed to print it on his (aging) office computer, another -- after reporting long delays in connecting -- printed us out a limp black-and-white number that even looked like a forbidden photocopy to us, and a third mailed us four crisp, full-color beauties.

We knew in our bones that the line-ups in the first few days would be horrendous, so we planned to go in the second week of the promotion (the coupons read Valid from May 5 to May 19). Why hurry? We don't like KFC fried, so what were the chances we'd like the grilled? Apparently, neither Oprah nor the geniuses at KFC were as prescient as we were, because, well, chaos ensued. "Millions" of coupons were downloaded (big surprise -- Oprah's daily audience is over ten million), and people got in line immediately, if not sooner.

Franchise operators were caught by surprise: They ran out of chicken. They turned away people who promptly returned and got in line the next day, only to be turned away again. KFC's distributors ran out of chicken. Some franchises refused to accept the coupons at all. As one observer wrote: "The short version: riots, racial abuse, a near complete breakdown of KFC's supply chain....". A public relations dream! (Not to mention observant Oprahphiles questioning her motives in promoting KFC, a prime PETA target -- they sponsor the Kentucky Fried Cruelty Web site --  after her show revealing battery-farm chicken practices.)

KFC soon replaced the original offer with a more complicated one: go to a KFC, and either fill out a form for a raincheck (now including a free Pepsi as reward for your pains) and turn in your original coupon, or mail them in with the form (adding 44 cents to your frustration) and wait for the new coupons to arrive by snail mail. This, we note, neatly cut out the address-less homeless who had been given the coupons by Samaritans.

Our local franchisee told us that KFC had given him less than a 48-hour heads-up about the Oprah promo: he'd never seen so many people at his outlet. He gave out more than a thousand free meals before his distributor ran out of chicken and KFC stopped the offer. 

We had $5.48 that wasn't working, so we tried the KFC grilled -- a bite of it, anyway. The flabby skin and cottony meat put us off. That didn't surprise us as much as the fact that KFC got our order wrong twice -- first they put the meal on a tray, even though we'd asked for it to go. And then when we opened up the box, we'd gotten corn on the cob instead of the coleslaw we'd asked for. (And the watery lemonade -- "contains real fruit juice," notice they don't say what kind of juice or how much -- was the most chemical-tasting thing we've had in many moons.)

SFoodie has both filled out a raincheck at KFC and mailed in coupons. Some of the thousands of commenters on Oprah's Web site are dubious they'll ever see them. As of posting, calls to Oprah and KFC president Roger Eaton (or, hell, their minions -- we're not proud) have not been returned. Stay tuned.


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Meredith Brody


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