KFC offers rain checks on coupon promoted by Oprah Winfrey

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Memo to KFC: Never underestimate the power of Oprah Winfrey.

Or the lure of a freebie.

A free grilled chicken meal promotion touted by the popular talk show host has caused such a frenzy that a few stores ran out and the Louisville-based chain is asking customers to take a rain check for the deal.

“For the last day and a half, our restaurants have just been absolutely inundated,” KFC President Roger Eaton said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just been overwhelming.”

Lines snaked outside some KFC restaurants and cars stacked up at drive-through windows as people waited to redeem the coupons available on www.oprah.com for 24 hours this week, he said. The coupons also were available until late Wednesday on www.unthinkfc.com — a KFC Web site promoting the new grilled chicken.

Restaurants summoned extra help to keep pace with the crowds, yet some customers waited up to an hour and a half as the chain gave away millions of the meals Tuesday, Wednesday and part of Thursday.

Uncomfortable with the delays, the chain decided to ask people to wait longer for the meals — but with the hope of a more peaceful setting in which to eat them. Eaton said the company will mail coupons to customers in stages and throw in a free soft drink.

“The way we’re operating at the moment isn’t giving the experience that we’d like to give them,” he said.

Comeiko Whisby went to the KFC restaurants on Mercer University Drive and Forsyth Road in Macon on Friday afternoon looking for her free chicken.

Deborah Wynn, manager of the KFC on Forsyth, apologized to Whisby as she gave her a rebate form to mail in.

Whisby said she wasn’t upset at not getting her free meal right away.

“It was free anyway,” she said.

But Whisby said she was surprised the company wasn’t better prepared for the onslaught of customers seeking the free food, especially in light of the promotion during Winfrey’s show.

Another customer at the Forsyth Road store, Dashauna Knight, said she also wasn’t too bothered by the delay.

“I’m disappointed, but I understand,” said Knight, who said she’ll mail in her rebate form. “Oh, yes, I do want that free meal.”

All rain check requests must be accompanied by an original coupon and returned to a participating KFC restaurant or postmarked by May 19, according to a company news release.

The rush began when the downloadable coupons were available on Winfrey’s Web site for 24 hours beginning Tuesday after she announced the promotion on her show. Each coupon promised two pieces of grilled chicken, two individual side orders and a biscuit.

A spokeswoman for Winfrey’s Harpo Productions in Chicago applauded the company’s decision to offer rain checks for the new meals, which KFC introduced three weeks ago as a healthier alternative to its popular staple, fried chicken.

“We feel this new plan is a great new way to accommodate the overwhelming interest,” the spokeswoman said.

Telegraph staff writer Linda Morris contributed to this report.