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Macaroni Grill’s half-off wine promotion

Screenshot - 06132013 - 07:31:09 AMOr, how not to publicize something good that you’re doing for wine and your customers. Which makes me wonder: Does anyone in the popularly-priced restaurant business care about wine at all? And what does that attitude say about getting Americans to think of wine as something to drink every day?

Because this was supposed to be a glowing post about how smart and clever the new owners of the Romano’s Macaroni Grill Italian chain are. This summer, the company is selling wine at its some 200 stores in 36 states for half price. Given the restaurant business’ track record for wine pricing, this is not unlike giving free dinners to customers for no particular reason at all.

And the wine list isn’t bad. Yes, there is a lot of the usual junk but also Villa Maria, Emiliana, and 14 Hands (at half-price $13.50, practically retail) – and the Prunotto Barbaresco is a steal at half-price $33.

So you’d think the bosses at Ignite Restaurant Group would be eager and enthusiastic to talk about this, right? And you’d be wrong. More, after the jump:

They declined a phone interview, which is never a good sign. Why someone didn’t want to spend 15 minutes answering softball questions – “This is such a great idea. What made you think of it?” – speaks to how little so many in post-modern American business know about marketing and public relations.

What was worse, though, is that they offered to do an email interview. Why worse? Because an email interview gives them the opportunity to answer questions in marketingspeak, which no one else understands and doesn’t answer the questions. Plus, they think this lets them control the interview, which is one of the goals of post-modern marketing. That neither is effective in getting their message across doesn’t seem to bother them.

I sent three simple questions, hoping for a direct, positive answer to one and maybe getting something I could use to write this post. Instead, this was typical of the answers:

Ignite Restaurant Group acquired Romano's Macaroni Grill on April 9th. At such an exciting time for our company, we wanted to “toast” our guests. At Macaroni Grill, you can find Opera singers serenading a table or a range of delicious entrees to make every day feel like a celebration. Now that we’re offering Summer Uncorked, we hope our guests see the opportunity to find delight in every day.

I’ll give them this: Someone had to try very hard to write something that awful.

So we don’t know why they cut wine prices and why they did it now. We don’t know how much wine they expect to sell compared to full-price, or if there is a chance that lower wine prices this summer could lead to lower wine prices later on. We don’t know how important they think wine is to their customers or to their bottom line. We don’t know if this is part of a program to make the chain more wine friendly, in the way Olive Garden is. All we know is that someone at Ignite likes bad puns.

Contrast this with an interview I did with a marketing official for Constellation Brands, the multi-national wine company, for a trade magazine article. The official returned my call, answered all my questions, including those about sales figures, and was the exact opposite of the people at Ignite.

This doesn’t change how happy I am that someone is doing something about restaurant wine prices. It just points out how cynical they are when they do it. And why it’s so hard to expect their attitude to ever change.

One Response to Macaroni Grill’s half-off wine promotion

  1. first.vine@verizon.net' Tom says:

    Just getting around to reading this. Many states have prohibitions against restaurants and bars advertising wine specials, even suggesting happy-hour pricing as part of advertising. A restaurant manager in Virginia told me that he’s not allowed to post happy hour info on twitter in VA because it encourages drinking. No problem within the place itself, just not for the outside worlds.
    This isn’t to say that Romano’s isn’t inept, but that there may be more going on.

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