Restaurant chains get into the Olympic spirit

July 27, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

The London Summer Olympic Games, which officially kick off today, is as good excuse as any for restaurant brands to roll out themed promotions. Plenty of chains are taking advantage of the occasion with special deals or just by engaging their fans in spirited conversation.

Although not officially tied to the Olympics, Burger King was recently named the QSR Partner of USA Basketball and is featuring commemorative cups that celebrate the 20th anniversary of the USA Basketball Dream Team (available with the purchase of any large drink). The cup series highlights four of USA Basketball's memorable teams throughout the last two decades, including the 1992 Dream Team, and the teams from 1996, 2000, 2008 and this year's 2012 USA Basketball competing in the Olympic Games in London. Each of the cups will feature the unique jersey designs from one of the teams as part of the five-cup series.

The partnership includes the tagline "Your Team. Your Voice."

"We know the passion that America has for USA Basketball and are excited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team," said Alex Macedo, senior vice president, North America Marketing, Burger King Corp. "We hope everyone in America gets into the game and get to see all five cups at Burger King restaurants."

Quiznos is pushing its catering business on its Facebook page, hoping to appeal to groups watching the Olympics. The page includes a coupon for 20-percent off any catering order of $25 or more, with the message: "Getting ready to enjoy the upcoming Olympic Games? Don't forget to enjoy it with some toasty subs! Cater your big event with the gold medalist of subs."

Subway will have an Olympic connection as long as it continues to be "The official training restaurant of athletes everywhere." Subway's marketing campaign features "Famous Fan" Olympians such as Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, Laila Ali and Apolo Ohno, each of whom have been spotlighted in marketing campaigns leading up to the London Games.

Donato's Pizza today hosted "Free Pizza Friday, Olympic Style" and named three winners at random – gold, silver and bronze – to receive the offerings.

Uno Chicago Pizza Grill is pushing its online ordering for those watching the event. Its Facebook page says: "The London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony is tonight. Kick off the London Olympics 2012 by ordering all your UNO favorites online and enjoy delicious food while you watch all the pageantry."

Culver's former team member Ben Provisor is competing in the Olympics wrestling event. The brand took to its Facebook page to wish him good luck.

Godfather's is hosting its own version of the Olympic Games. According to, the 2012 Godfather's Olympics features a competition to find the system's quickest and most accurate pizza maker. The inaugural two-day event was held earlier this week with an objective of improving employee training and customer experience.

The event was timed to coincide with the Summer Olympics, as well as the roll out of the brand's 2012 operations manual. About 500 employees participated.

Einstein Bros. Bagels is hosting an Olympics-themed Facebook contest, called "I Could Have Been a Contender."

The contest encourages fans to upload current or childhood photos depicting themselves participating in various sporting events, coupled with a creative caption. Facebook fans will then vote on the best photo and caption throughout the course of the contest which runs through Aug. 12.

Caribou Coffee launched its "Bou Games" today. From now through Aug. 12, Caribou will present its official "Bou Games" card to fans who purchase an item at Caribou coffeehouses while supplies last. It can be scratched off to reveal a free medium drink, discount offers or prompt fans to "Bou hoo try again."

Caribou is also offering a special Bou Games Gold coffee, which features a sweet, full-bodied coffee, intense fruit notes, a hint of bourbon and a strong, dark chocolate finish. This limited-time-only coffee is available during the promotion period.

Some brands are simply discussing the Olympics on their Facebook pages to engage their fans, including CiCi's Pizza, Great American Cookies ("If the Olympic medals were actually made of cookies, what would be your gold, silver and bronze?"), Pizza Inn, White Castle, KFC, Rita's Italian Ice and Krystal Burger. Good Times and Pizza Fusion have added the and links to their Facebook pages, respectively.


McDonald's, the Official Restaurant of the Olympics for the ninth time, has a lot going on in London, including four temporary restaurants located within the Olympic Village. The chain first announced its London plans in July 2011, with subsequent announcements such as its new Champions of Play program for kids ages 6 to 14.

This week, McDonald's announced more initiatives for the Olympics and beyond. For the first time at the Olympic Games, McDonald's is offering Happy Meals, which include the options of a fruit or vegetable and low-fat dairy.

President and CEO Don Thompson said that customer purchases of fruits and vegetables in Happy Meals have more than quadrupled in markets that make up the majority of McDonald's business since the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.

"We're using the scope of our global reach to deliver positive messages in a way that is fun and meaningful, and we're confident we can play an appropriate role in helping address the important subject of children's well-being," said Thompson. "McDonald's has the unique ability to encourage kids to get into the routine of enjoying foods like fruits and vegetables in a way that's fun for them and convenient for parents."

A new nutrition QR code on packaging is making its debut at the McDonald's Olympic venue restaurants. It will roll out in the majority of McDonald's restaurants by the end of 2013.

"Customers recognize McDonald's as a responsible, trusted brand that stays current with their lifestyles," said Chief Brand Officer Kevin Newell. "This QR code puts the power in their hands to instantly use their mobile phone to get the nutrition facts about our quality food."

Also, McDonald's Champions of Food challenge invited kids and parents to submit their inspiring recipe for the company's commitment to global fruit and vegetable menu innovation. These competitions culminated in five finalist teams from Japan, Germany, Brazil and the U.S. participating in a cook-off at the Olympics. The winners, announced this week, were 12-year-old Sarah Ralston and her mom, Theresa Ralston from New Albany, Ohio. Sarah will have the opportunity to collaborate with McDonald's Chef Dan Coudreaut on new nutrition-minded Happy Meal choices.

The London Games will mark the first time a McDonald's Olympic Restaurant will set stage for a series of Chef Demonstrations. Led by Chef Dan, culinary experts will showcase their recipe creativity and team up with Olympic athletes, kids and parents to cook convenient recipes that families can enjoy at home.

Finally, McDonald's new multi-media website,, will feature videos of the chef demonstrations and also offer a glimpse of the Olympics through the eyes of six Olympic Champion Crew members. They represent the 2,000 restaurant employees from 42 countries. A series of YouTube videos will showcase their adventures in of London.

Photo courtesy of Rita's Italian Ice.

Read more about marketing, branding and promotions.

Topics: Coffee / Specialty Beverages , Food & Beverage , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Online / Mobile / Social , Operations Management

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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