After four months of giving customers free birthday wings – one free chicken wing for every year of their life – Dwyer's Irish Pub has ended its popular promotion.
It wasn't the cost, even though the place was giving away roughly $400 in free chicken wings per day. It's not that the promotion became more popular than expected, even though the original announcement on Facebook had 500 comments in the first hour it was up.
What brought its demise was the bottleneck it created in the bar's tiny kitchen, which had resulted in long wait times, angry customers and stressed out staff.
"I've got four cooks literally in a closet," owner Greg Stenis said. "My kitchen is so small that, if one guy leaves the line, everybody has to leave the line so he can get out. They were getting destroyed."
The overload on the kitchen put orders behind by hours at a time. That made customers mad.
"Waitresses were getting yelled at. They were crying. I had people give me their two weeks' notice," Stenis said. "I don't want to see my servers upset. I want this to be a fun place to work."
Stenis said the customers getting the free food were often the biggest complainers – not the paying customers. Since the point behind the promotion was to bring in new customers, serving them a bad experience was counterproductive. And though the tables were a lot of work and very time-consuming, he said those who dined for free often only tipped on the small bill they paid; just a few dollars for a couple of drinks rather than the customary percentage of what the total cost of their wings would have been.
So Stenis said he had to pull the plug.
When he made the announcement on social media, some commenters assumed Stenis hadn't anticipated the large volume of wings he would have to give away. There were reports of three 60-year-old triplets coming in at once to redeem their freebies, and large groups regularly came in to celebrate octogenarian and nonagenarian birthdays.
But Stenis said those big groups and senior birthdays were the best part of the whole debacle.
There was the 84- and 81-year-old couple who shared a birthday and brought their whole family to feast on 165 wings. There was the 96-year-old whose family brought a cake to the celebration. And there was the 75-year-old woman whose daughter called the next day to say her mom hadn't smiled in 10 years the way she smiled during her birthday wing outing.
Having to end the program feels like a "personal defeat," said Stenis, writing on Facebook, 'Build-a-Bear failed, and so did I."
He should have anticipated the volume, he said, and he feels he let his staff and customers down.
"I feel bad. I planned on doing it for at least a year to give everybody their shot," he said.
In the meantime, he's thinking about replacing the free wing deal with another birthday promotion; this time something not so "elaborate."
"I guess it's back to the drawing board," he said.