Darin and Dream Dinners Under the Lights

Hitting the road to rally the troops, quell fears of lawsuit mania, spread the word of marketing genius and lay the foundation so everyone can once again make money in this fantastic industry, Darin and the rest of the Dream Dinners roadies hit the road and headed out into the countryside to visit all their fans. So how did Darin and the gang fair? Was their inspiration, perspiration or plain frustration? Will all of this be followed up with even more litigation?

Hip boots at the ready! Let’s have all the details! :)

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173 Responses to “Darin and Dream Dinners Under the Lights”

  • Struggling Dreamer:

    Wow. What an insightful article… Tuckerbox: You’re absolutely right. She is self-righteous and condescending to an absurd extreme. I wonder if she even realizes or cares.

    Her response to the question about stores folding OFFENDS ME BEYOND WORDS. Truly.

    How DARE her acuse these decent families – who have now lost everything – of NOT CARING ENOUGH FOR THEIR COMMUNITIES?! These are people who donate significant proceeds, time, etc Children’s Hospitals, and many other charities. How DARE her acuse them of poor quality or customer service?! That’s 180 degree opposite from what I’ve seen from 2 of the 3 closures I know FIRST-HAND!! Is she lying or clueless? Either is inexcusable!

    How could she DARE say that to the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER of ALL places?!… We all know that she oversold THAT territory – BURYING her #1 store in the system???! That is absolutley REVOLTING!

  • onthego:

    This post is for Zees-From everything I have read here,it seems that no one is 1.Making a profit
    2.Paying themselves.
    Most are able to pay their bills, but even some of you can’t even to that.
    Stephanie and ilk can say what say whatever they want to shame current store owners & blame the failure on the owners. We all know it’s crap, but here are some observations.
    Zors still get a paycheck every pay period in the case of DD they get it whether you can afford it or not.
    Royalties for those of you who are not making a profit is just a practice of YOU paying YOUR ZOR out of YOUR pocket to support THEIR lifestyle.
    How many businesses do you know of who stay in business if they are not making money-Being able to draw a paycheck or making profit to put back into the business?
    Now here is the interesting thought, IF Zors were NOT getting royalties from Zees how long would they stay in business?
    Answer-not long, why are they still going? Because they are ego-maniacs who think they can take your money with impunity and you don’t have a choice or recourse. That my friends is a kind of extortion.
    They also still beleive that they can continue to sell the dream to other suckers…..thus giving them cash infusion to bank their lifestyles.
    Are they making the money they used to? No, but why would any of the Zor owners go out and get a real job when all they have to do is collect money off of your backs??
    Folks lets face it Zors are a pyramid scheme with the bottom doing all the work and the top makes all the money.
    Would you stay at a job in the real world that wasn’t paying you?
    I know I wouldn’t. What does it benefit YOU to work for free?
    This is a business and you should be making money. I know someone who is two years into her business and she is satisfied breaking even, but not being able to draw a paycheck. I’m sorry folks but that defies all business sense.
    You are paying for a website, that’s it. Do you get any real benefit from the advertising fund you pay into every month? Then on top of that you’re required to pay for more advertising locally???
    Talk about a ponzi scheme!
    For Zors to talk to any publication and blame owners for the failure of a model they “created” is unconscionable. To say they know how to run a business and then watch while stores close one after another, to tell owners not to post on a public forum because it will hurt the sale, just WHO are these people concerned with? YOU? I think not and if you aren’t as mad as hell by now then I will be appropriately pissed off for you.
    TO paint a rosey picture of this industry is criminal, it is only being done by Zors so that they can sell more of this falied concept to others or arrange for a buyout for their brand to someone else.
    Anyone who bought a franchise from one of these people has no recourse and they all know it. Second mortgage your home and if you don’t you don’t have enough committment to your business? Read between the line is “that means I lose the free money from you”
    I’m sorry I sound jaded, but it saddens me to see families destroyed and then I hear Zors whining because they can’t buy a new prada purse.
    Give me a break, wake up people!! Get out get out get out!

  • FoolMeOnce:

    Dear onthego,

    Believe me, I would get out if I could, but until I can I’m going to have to drink some Kool-Aid and hope that one of their new initiatives works.

    I will say that Darin does communicate, which is a plus and at least he has shaken things up over there.

  • StepOnMe and Titanic have a lot of nerve to scam people like that. I remember when I worked there. If you told crap to the franchisers that actually was true, you would recieve a phone call saying if you said anymore, it was your ass. I hope nobody ever gets scammed again. It is just horrible that that is happenening.

  • I know what you mean.

  • Living the Nightmare:

    Okay workedthereandregretit and formerinsider…. would you be willing to help out the people in the lawsuit?

    email me at nightmare.living@yahoo.com

    We may need your help.

  • In the thick of it:

    Darin does communicate but do you really listen to what he says? He sees $300 (72 servings) in the very near future, meaning summer. Will that price increase work in your market? Did you notice how he slipped it in and tossed it aside? He could not have said it with anymore of a oh by the way attitude. $300 average order is a pretty big deal.

    He told us and then moved quickly on to another subject so that we couldn’t process and question that information. Be wary-he likes to hear himself talk.

  • onthego:

    Hmm so do I is that a bad thing?

  • In the thick of it:

    only if what you say twists the truth and continues to place on blame owners. Stephanie isn’t the only one who is saying it is our fault. At my regional Darin spent every other minute saying it was the fault of the owner. That article could just have easily had a picture of Darin instead of Stephanie.

  • onthego:

    My market never would have withstood a $300 ticket price. We opened with $199 dollar ticket price and closed 16 months later at $199/12 ticket price. We had hoped to use our side dishes and desserts to boost our per ticket price, and that worked until everyone wanted their entrees to include a veggie or a starch….we still had signature side dishes that we made instore. BUt once HO told us to start providing starch and or veggie it shot that add on market all to hell.
    How can you market a product for that cost when women still have to go to the store for essentials? At that price you will either be reduced to a one dish wonder customer or they quit coming all together

  • guestfromDDhell:

    Why is it, that I come to a BLOG to find out what is going on at Dream Dinners.

    I did over hear Darin say something about food cost being about $300….but I thought it was reference of 12 entrees.

    Again, I am living in HELL!

    I need to get out, just feeling stuck.

  • FoolMeOnce:

    Trying to stay positive!

    Do I believe him? Well, I want to, but it is hard when I have 8 cases of melamine stacked in my store. Where’s my big pink rubberbands when I need them? OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! Oh yeah, I broke them all years ago snapping myself silly. Now weren’t those worth the price of your plane ticket to the convention? I have to hand it to that motivational speaker, she knew we were going to need a whole bag of them.

  • FormerInsider:

    guestfromDDhell, It is a pitiful situation that you have to read a BLOG to find out what’s going on at DD, but so typical of their style: NO COMMUNICATION, about
    ANYTHING, to ANYBODY. It doesn’t matter who you are or aren’t. Everything was a big huge secret at Home Office. Although Toxic Tina did get quite a thrill out of hitting the “send” button when sending a nasty e-mail to the Zees, blaming them for all the failure of everything. That’s about the only kind of communication she knows: Let me humiliate you, let me fire you, let me tell you what a shitty job you did, even though there were no expectations laid out (she seems to think people are mind readers, and when they don’t read her mind correctly, she berates them), let me stomp on your self-worth and self-esteem. She must have low self-esteem to pick others apart the way she does. Poor thing. Well, a shopping trip and some alcohol will cure that. Oh yeah, and her hobby: acting. She’s VERRRRY good. “I’m humbled that you want to share in our dream” complete with the fake crying at the Thursday night BBQ at the Dream House. NAUSEATING!!!!! The truth is, she really wants nothing to do with any ZEE, old or new. She would, however, dance around when another franchise purchase check came in.

  • Sarah Rivers:

    Oh, my dear FoolMeOnce… you’ve made me laugh. I also snapped myself silly during DD convention week (their one and only, I’m guessing) and nearly lost a limb snapping myself when I closed both my stores (OUCH) then filed for personal bankruptcy (snap OUCH) then got sued every which way from Sunday (snap OUCH) then chose NOT to join the blame someone else lawsuit (snap OUCH) then recently read the interview with the great holier than us all goddess of meal prep (snap OUCH) spout off about how I didn’t work hard enough (snap OUCH).

    But thank you for reminding me, FoolMeOnce, that I don’t have to endure the snaps anymore.

    Happily Dreamless,
    Sarah Rivers (my real name)
    Owner (my real former occupation)
    Dream Dinners Raleigh, NC (my real franchise)
    Dream Dinners Cary, NC (my real franchise)

  • interested bystander:

    I have to make mention of a form letter I received from Dream Dinners corporate today. I am a former employee of a MAK (not a DD-really, it’s the truth) and have had great interest in what you all have to say. Five different meal assembly kitchens opened in my community within a year’s time and all have gone out of business (1 after 8 months, 1 after 12 months, 1 after 2 months and the most recent after 18 months). one remains open. We are a community with approximately 200,000 residents. Our Dream Dinners went out of business because they were leasing space in a brand new building that was accidentally piping in reclaimed water to all occupants of the building(big mistake by the water company) . The bad publicity was too much for the owners to overcome-and they closed after 13 months- about 3 months after the news broke. I had been there as a customer prior to getting a job at another franchise, so I remain on the big customer mailing list in the sky. It is comical to me that they list this store as “temporarily closed” as a cell phone store is now in the DD space, and the DD team want to pretend like all is well and that I am going to drive 25 minutes to another location.

    Here is a quote from the letter for the Customer Appreciation event:

    Hi Friends!
    “Can you believe it? We’re are celebrating our sixth year here at Dream Dinners! And what a ride it has been–from a simple time saving-idea for making our own family meals easy and convenient to serving over 9.7 million of our wonderful Dream Dinner meals at over 200 store locations over the country. We could have never know back then how our idea would catch on and how many people would benefit from it. And since there is no way we could have done it without you, we want to say a big thank you with this special appreciation offer our most valued guests.” 25$ off a 199$ or more or a free dessert if you register for a session.

    Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna
    “Founders and Inventors of the Meal Assembly Industry” -Wow, did they really “invent” this???? Who knew??? I sure didn’t.

    Yes, what a ride it has been, I have seen good people who loved to cook and wanted to own a small business have their lives devastated by the purchase of these franchises. Virtually all say it took twice as much money to get their doors open than was projected by the salesman who sold them the franchise. When it was made known other competitors would be opening down the street the same salesman kept assuring them that there would be plenty of business for all. Watching good people lose so much financially and emotionally is very sad……. Maybe Tina and Stephanie can “invent” a way for that not to happen! Believe me it will take more than that ridiculous letter sent to someone that doesn’t even have a DD in her area anymore to save the others .

    Also, Tina and Stephanie do you still have 200 stores? Judging from our neck of the woods and comments on this blog-the answer would be no. Could have the common decency to remove all of the closed locations off of the DD website? Leaving them there is in poor taste and dishonest.

    After reading all you have had to say over the past months on this blog, I just had to comment. To anyone thinking of opening one of these businesses, read all of these comments closely. Someone here commented to go work in one or more. That is great advice. To all of the others who are trying to make a go of it, may all good things happen for you. I am sure that you are like the owners I knew here, just trying to do a good thing and make a living for yourself.

    Thanks for letting me vent…………………

  • guest:

    Ah – the one in Chula Vista? That was so sad. I didn’t know it put them out of business.

  • Go west:

    That was the luckiest thing that could have happened. From reading the news articles (just Google and you will find some), it sounds like the county basically accepted the blame and probably had to buy them out. After all, who would be able to overcome that bad press?

    In hindsight, I would say that god smiled on them.

  • I remember reading that article awhile ago, it was quite the blunder. I’m pretty sure it was the city who hooked things up wrong and caused all the problems and it put several stores out of business for awhile. Of course, when food is involved there is really no way to come back from that one. That’s a darn shame for them, but hopefully since it was clearly the city’s fault they were able to be compensated and if so, I would have to agree, that is good for them.

  • interested bystander:

    You are probably right………

  • Stephanie and Tina make many claims about the things they’ve invented, how everyone who owns a franchise is part of their family and how they are doing the Lord’s work by opening these franchises and helping busy families put food on the table.

    About the only thing that seems to be accurate is that Dream Dinners has taken its owners for a ride for the past couple of years and the owners have certainly helped to buy houses, cars, trips, vacations and who knows what else. That would be great except for the number of people who have lost their homes, had to sell their cars, can’t go on trips or vacations and haven’t seen their families in months because they are working 60 hours a week to pay their tariffs to the Queen.

    How many stores does DD still have open? Almost impossible to tell these days. They still list stores which have been closed for months as “temporarily closed”. Even that Charlotte store mentioned in the article is listed that way. It’s a pretty funny, albeit sad state of affairs that a cell phone store has taken up residence in the former DD location. Perhaps you should go in there, test on of their phones to call HQ and inform them of the new surroundings.

  • interested bystander:

    Thanks for all of the articles that are posted relevant to this industry. They are so interesting to read. I am absolutely shocked that any owners would be accused of not working hard enough to make the business successful. I saw firsthand, the money spent on print advertising and radio ads-which really did not do much to help business. We saw a handful of coupons redeemed out of the print ads. Also, the 60 hour work weeks, trips to local stores to find cheaper or “not available through Sysco” ingredients, the infamous “Sysco Agreement” for supposed better pricing. The constant flow of tastings and food giveaways to try to lure in business. It was a constant cycle of spending to try to bring in customers. I can see why owners respond so bitterly on this blog to anyone who insinuates that they haven’t done all they can to make a successful business.

    It would be funny to call HQ from the cell phone store and ask them what happened to the Chicken Mirabella? It should be there according to their site, or coming back soon……………..

  • Bystander: You bring up a good point. Most owners have probably given away more food to organizations in the one or two year they’ve been open than the franchisor will give away in a life time. They spend day and night working on marketing out of their own pocket and they are the ones pounding the pavement everyday “spreading the word” so the franchisor can make money. So you can see why they react with such distress when someone has the audacity to tell them they haven’t done enough.

  • ChefGeorge:

    Indeed we too gave away the farm to sell a couple chickens…cows on a good day. Somebody else posted “when was the last time you saw a restaurant give away free meals, wine, back massages, balloons, etc.?” STU Zors as well as many others promote give aways for sessions. You should not have to constantly give stuff away to get people to walk in the door!! It really says something about the basics of the model that you have to constantly incent people to remember you!

    We found those people who were really interested came in/back regardless of any give away or coupons. They were sold on the concept…period and we catered to them…personally not financially. Our experience was also that new customers who wanted to try it did so…but our feeling was they would have done so regardless of any give away or incentive. I’m sure we got a few more to try us because of the initial incentive, but in general I really think folks either were or were not interested.

    The one exception was our 10% rebooking discount….that prompted people to sign up for next month (or the following) who would not have done so otherwise and it got around the out of sight out of mind problem. However, new folks typically needed to try the food before they were willing to commit again. That is where the food sold the concept or it didn’t.

    We found the same to be true of free meal assembly. For those people who were interested, it didn’t make a difference…and yet MAK stores to continue to offer free assembly on a regular basis. Even if it does prompt a few more folks to come in, it ain’t the answer! At the end of the day, you’ve made a couple more bucks but still not paid yourself and probably not even the landlord.

    What’s next? Free chewing with every 6 meals?

  • Jennifer:

    Those of you that closed — were you protected in any way by filing as an LLC or a corporation from any of your debts? I’m aware that the SBA backed loan you took out would have attached your house and any other collateral, but what about the credit cards in the name of the business?

    Does anyone have a checklist of how to close, what pitfalls to avoid, and what theories exist for suing the zors?

    Thanks upfront for any info you have,

    Owned by a Zor…

  • Go west:

    I’m no expert in these matters, but my understanding of corporate structures and types of corporations tells me that if you want to use a corporation to protect you, it has to be fairly complicated. Translation: Expensive. Attorneys talk about “piercing the corporate shell” when they go after the people behind a business. With LLC’s and the like, they are cheap, easy, and fast to establish. Accordingly, they offer little protection to the owner; really more of an organizational tool to help you separate your personal finances from business. In my state, you can look up an LLC online and find out who the actual person behind the name is. Not much protection there.

    Once you get into “S” corporations and things like that, you can probably get some protection, but it comes at a price. I don’t think many franchisees figured they needed the legal protection of a complex corporation to run their own business. After all, when you start out, you are sure you will succeed. Otherwise, why would you start?!!! 😉

  • independent owner:

    Chef George said: “You should not have to constantly give stuff away to get people to walk in the door!!….. We found those people who were really interested came in/back regardless of any give away or coupons.”

    So true.

    I’ve seen so may MAKs with $10-$15 off coupons in local papers or Valpak or whatever. Although they expire within a month or so, you can always count on seeing another coupon soon after, so why would you ever sign up without a coupon?

    We occasionally get calls from customers asking if we will match a competitor’s (money-losing) offer. Although we hate to have to tell anyone no, we do just that. If we can’t make a reasonable return, we can’t do it. It’s that simple.

    There is a cute gift store near our shop. One day I received a 50% off-any-item coupon from them. I went in and picked up a gift I needed at half price. Just last week, I received another email coupon for 50% off. It expired before I could use it, but if I’d had the time and needed something I would have used it.

    It’s likely that if they have something I’d like to purchase in the future, I’ll wait to see if I get another coupon. I’m being trained by this store do just that as I now feel that ‘full price’ is too much. And that is fine as long as the store is OK with receiving 50% of their price on an item, or as long as the customers tend to purchase enough full-price items to offset this discount.

  • Waking Up:


    We consulted with a lawyer and were still responsible for most of our debts despite being an LLC. Some of our creditors agreed to a partial settlement however.

    Keep the lines of communication open with your creditors and tell them you are trying your best to solve things. We found they respond to that attitude, and we had peace of mind when we could talk to them directly. We even talked regularly with our SBA loan officer. Just having an actual person to talk to was even some sort of a relief in a weird way.

    I wish you success with whatever avenue you choose.

  • sam:

    Jennifer, one of my many “Are you kidding me?” moments came when I realized that the $10,000+ in legal fees that I spent to incorporate to “protect me and my personal assets” means nothing in the end because of those pesky personal guarantees. Nobody lends money to a startup business without a personal guarantee, so in my case that means I am on the hook to SBA, the landlord, a line of credit, multiple credit cards and it is looking increasingly like the only way out is personal bankruptcy. I am lucky in one respect in that the SBA for whatever reason did not put a lien on my house. I have had multiple conversations with attorneys (it took several before I found one who wasn’t just “intrigued” with the complexities of my situation). This is absolutely not an area where you want to be someone’s “interesting case” because it is different from all the other “I lost my job, here are my debts, here are my assets” bankruptcies that they are handling day in and day out.

    I don’t know yet all the practicalities of closing the business, but I am starting to plan for it in consultation with the attorney and the CPA’s. I know that I want to get everything out of here that is mine (cookbooks, certain dishes, equipment, etc.) as soon as possible in the event that once the landlord gets winds of things he doesn’t lock me out.

    As everyone who has gone through or is going through this has said in this forum, it is gut wrenching. When you have done the right thing all your life, never been a slacker, never shirked your responsibilities, succeeded at what you attempted, paid your bills, were a model citizen and now you have to let people down (employees, customers, creditors, investors)…devastating.

    I do know this, the most important thing to pay is anything to do with payroll and taxes. Do not get behind with those obligations. And keep your books straight. And keep your personal and business finances completely separate. And if you put personal money in the business, make sure there is a “note” payable to you from the business.

    Good luck!

  • ChefGeorge:

    Our experience (we were set up as and S Corp) is that the business card debt goes away as well as the personal debt once you file. The monies from the sale of the assets go to the bank first for the SBA loan and then any remaining creditors are advised there is nothing left. Since you are filing personal bankruptcy, they can’t come after you, even though you may have other personal guarantees…such as on the credit cards. Be sure to get an attorney with experience in bankruptcy’s due to a business venture gone bad. When we told our attorney the type of business we had, he said “oh yes, I’m working on three others right now!” Well how special is that?! :)

    Yes bankruptcy is gut wrenching as we always had stellar credit and there is the stigma to filing. However, you have to keep everything in perspective as you go through this. What are really the most important things in life….keep your focus and priorities straight and you’ll be OK….but you do have to swallow hard.

  • dinnerzen:

    To the comments about coupons and free food…I don’t quite get why people think so negatively of these things. EVERY store in our shopping center offers coupons, discounts and deals. EVERY restaurant in our shopping center provides a coupon of some sort in their local advertising. The restaurant down the way that is ALWAYS busy sends out bimontly email coupons to their email distro list. They offer a free personal pizza ($10 value) just for signing up for their email list.

    The grocery store has weekly specials- buy one get one free. The burrito place that just opened up around the street gave away a free burrito to everyone who stopped by that day. There was a line out the door before they opened. They have coupons, discounts and promos everywhere. The most popular local run chain of higher end restaurants in the area ALWAYS provide coupons. At events they have a wheel you can spin to win a prize- the minimum prize is $5 off at any of their restaurants.

    We’re not running Ruth’s Chris operations so why would folks think MAKs should be exempt from discounts, promotions and coupons? They are as much a cost of marketing as a rack or business card. Properly pricing your product in anticipation of coupons is key.

    In our first 6 months we offered 10% off pre-bookings (over a certain value). We switched to $10 off in the latter half of the year with no visible impact on our end of the month rush to order. In our first year, all of my marketing materials included a coupon for 50% off our new customer 2 meal sample pack. This produces a customer acquisition cost of around $23 plus the medium in which we provided the coupon. I have a means for tracking the ROI on my ads. So, say it was double that. $50 isn’t a terrible price to pay to acquire a new customer. That said, I’m now shifting my coupons over to $10 off the new customer pack. Part of the reason I chose to do that is because I give EVERY non profit or school that asks a gift certificate. I provide a $25 gift certificate for every 100 people at their event. The not-so-fine print says that it can only be redeemed on in store assembly sessions and our cheapest package is $46. So, I’m at least covering food costs plus a little. I want the non profit GCs to appear to hold more value.

    Our montly tastings cost about $500 in retail value of food (so 1/3 of that in actual costs). I have a reasonable stream of new people interested and a standard set of regulars who come in, try the entrees and then place their orders. We usually average 60-70 people. They also sit down and hang out and talk with each other, other customers, new customers, etc. I also have almost all of my staff work these tastings and make them eat the food too. I see that as much as the cost of keeping my current customers happy as a tool for attracting new people. I could do a MUCH better and consistent job marketing the samplings as an open house opportunity.

    Discounts, coupons, sales and promotions that I can tell are a way of life in retail and in food service.

  • Exhausted Independent:

    dinnerzen – I don’t think coupons and discounts are ALWAYS bad…. I just think we have to be smart about them. I do not believe in giving something for nothing. So, I do not do any version of Sneak Peaks or anything where customers can come in and get something for free without ever purchasing anything. I think a tasting is totally different and would fall under the category of smart marketing. If I understand you correctly, each potential customer is just getting a taste of some of the meals… not free meals to take and try at home, correct?

    I do think you also have to be careful about how many coupons you have out there because you can condition customers to only come if they have a coupon…. which I guess is fine if you have that built into your pricing structure to still be profitable even after all of the coupons. I do not have that built into my price structure. I think it also tends to attract the cheap whiney customers- sorry to offend coupon clippers- hey- I use them sometimes too! =)

  • independent owner:

    I agree that promotions, coupons, etc are a way of life for many companies in retail and in casual/fast food service. Some are more prone to it, others less and, as noted by dinnerzen, good companies set their pricing structure for the discounting they plan to do. The risk there is to appear overpriced to customers who don’t know that couponing is standard.

    If a business routinely offers coupons, the discount price *is* the price of their service/product. How businesses price and promote is a personal decision. Every store is different in how they do this and also in how they present themselves to their customer base. There are some businesses I can count on for coupons/discounts/give-aways and others that I can’t – this is also used as a way to position the business. I shop differently at businesses I know always discount/coupon than I do at ones that I know never (or seldom) do.

    So far, we have not done new customer discounts, free meals to private party organizers, coupons in Valpak, free assembly, etc. It doesn’t mean we’re better or worse than anyone else or that we won’t do it at some point in the future.

    We provide a value-oriented service and, as such, there is a price for that. A reasonable price – one that provides value to the customer and profit to the company. It’s mutually beneficial. Our philosophy has been to extend that reasonable price to everyone at all times, no coupon needed.

    We do have a customer loyalty program and reward our regulars who purchase sessions regularly. If there’s money to give, we give it to those who support us month after month. That means the new customers receive it too if they find our service to be of value to them and become regulars.

    I think tastings are a great idea. A lot of work, I would imagine, but a great idea. We’ve never done that, but are kicking around the idea. We are also kicking around the idea of offering a discounted assembly price over the summer, but I have some real concerns as to if that will have a long-term negative impact and am unsure if we’ll do that or not. Once given, discounts are hard to take back – so, again, it has to provide value to the customer and profit to the company – with discount and all.

    New customer discounts – if you don’t mind my asking, what’s the retention on those? Do all of your first-time customers get a discount (is it automatic) or is it coupon-based and if a customer isn’t aware of it, they pay full price? Do customers then pay full price after that first time, or are they able to use coupons on a regular basis?

  • dinnerzen:

    I will say that people who ask for coupons that can barely hold their finger up for all the carats (and not the kind you eat) are a tiny bit annoying to me. And yes, I agree that once you open up to the coupon mentality they want and expect coupons.

    Re: the tasting it is a lot of work. We generally prepare 3 full size meals of 8 different entrees and/or any new side dish. We have chafers we set up for serving. It is literally a sample size piece- pork chop cut into 4 or 5 slices and then cut in half. I have seen store that charge for the tasting and then give a discount if folks place an order. That’s certainly one way to go and discourages people from dropping in and availing themself. It wasn’t the route we chose. We may slack off on the tastings as summertime approaches b/c I think attendance will drop off but then again, that might be the best time to do it. I would suggest calling it an open house- I found that for our anniversary referencing it in that fashion seemed to draw more newbies in than calling it a tasting or a sampling- which passerbys didn’t seem to grasp. We do ask our current customers to RSVP via an online survey tool, so we have some sense of attendance (and can scale back food if necessary). What we don’t cook off (if attendance is slack) we can usually sell as fresh entrees.

    I started with the “reasonable” price concept, but heard over and over and over from people who said your competitor does it, so why don’t you. I even asked during one of our monthly surveys if people would prefer reasonable price and no coupon or higher price but coupon options. A slim majority said they like the incentives. I also found coupons to be one of the most tangible methods of tracking ROI for ads and marketing purposes.

    As for the new customer coupons…we don’t routinely offer those, we use them when I run ads, so somebody has to have an ad in hand when they place their order. I don’t have figures in front of me, but I generally preview every order confirmation as it comes in and find that about 60% of people signing up for the new customer pack have a coupon of some sort. As for retention, there is no measurable difference between retention of customers who use coupons and those who don’t. However, retention seems to be a bit higher for customers who come in independently (coupon or otherwise) than those customers who come as part of a party. That was pretty darn surprising to me. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE parties for the bulk business they bring in one sitting, but so many of those guests come simply because their friend wanted them too, and oftentimes they don’t really have a clue as to what they’ve gotten themselves into.

    As for ongoing coupons…we provide a discount of $10 if people sign up before the start of the month. We generally release the menu and calendar around the 15th of the month and put the coupon out in our e-news at that time. I’ve tried to get more organized and do it sooner, but frankly, from a cash flow perspective the timing seems to work out pretty well. We have a slew of orders on the last two days of the month. Rents due by the 5th (and, uh, I send via online bill pay ON the 5th). Right or wrong, in my head it keeps me from feeling like I get too far ahead of myself on the revenue side.

    I was planning to try switching to a free half size meal and/or side dish/dessert instead of $10. Instead of going cold turkey this month, I offered $10 off, a free half size meal OR free scones. Scones=$16, half size meal= $13. NO takers on the scones or half size meals yet. They all opted for the $10. Not sure if they would have signed up ANYWAY if they $10 option wasn’t there, but it was sort of surprising to see what direction they took.


  • Sous:

    Any feedback on customer retention / frequent buyer programs? We are looking to start one in and can’t figure out the “right” amount to create incentive.


  • Still Hopeful:

    We offer non-DD desserts that are a relatively low priced for us to our guests that attend three months and then a different more gourmet dessert at 6 months. We have only been open 8 months but once we get to 12 those guests will receive an Apron with his or her name on it hanging in a special are of the store with a V.I.P. sign on it. We make a big deal over the desserts and wait until the middle of the session. Before we give it to the guest. They get pretty excited over it and aother guests take notice as well. We are stuggling like every other meal assembly business but alot of the issues we have tried to overcome are through attitude. If we get excited about an offer or idea our guests often do too. If you like the dessert idea ask your food distibuter if they have any ideas for desserts. We did and our Sysco rep found us some great options. Good Luck!

  • Registered Dietitian:

    I attended the Washington State Dietetics Association annual confrerence today. This is two day educational conference for registered dietitians. Imagine my surprise at the one hour “educational” seminar presented by two owners of a Dream Dinner franchise. Their angle was that RD’s could refer their patients to a meal assembly store (possibly a ……. Dream Dinners store?) so they would have access to healthy, convenient meals, etc. Oh, and also bring the whole famiy together for some bonding over dinner, because studies have shown that teenagers who eat dinner with their families are less likely to do drugs or have sex. I kid you not!

    I left the room after a half hour of this blatant, self-serving, thinly diguised advertising. I am flabbergasted that the conference organizers allowed these two women (who just happened to be dietitians) to use our educational meeting (which cost each attendee $195) for their advertising.

    Business must be pretty bad at Dream Dinners for Cindy and Leslie (franchisees/presenters) to resort to this tactic.

    I’m sorry to hear that many DD owners are experiencing financial problems due to poor Head Office business management. Best of luck.

  • guest:

    RD –

    Sounds like who you are referring to are DD HO people. Cindy Farricker is the Nutritionist on staff and Leslie Davis – well gosh – not sure which position she belongs to now. She was part of Food Development and then switched to the Franchise Dept. Course I can be wrong, but I think was who you saw at the conference.

  • guest2:

    Leslie Tompson is the West Seattle Store Owner, she is a
    dietitian as well.

    Leslie Davis is still part of Franchise Development. She is the one that talks ‘down at you for even concidering selling you store’ Quotes Tina saying that you need to file for bankrupies before you can sell your store.

    Yes, gotta LOVE those Leslie’s…..NOT!

  • dinnerzen:

    Received this recent invite to an open house.

    It’s actually a reasonable thing to promote meal assembly stores as healthy eating alternatives. I have quite a few customers who we have successfully helped with their special dietary needs from low sodium to low fat to allergy issues. It just so happens I’m an RN so maybe a little better schooled than the average person (not RD material mind you), and find a little pleasure in addressing these challenges.

    I think I’d be bent out of shape if I went to a nursing ed session and had to listen the entire time to someone selling me a brand (not necessarily a concept). That hand slap goes to the folks who organized the conference for not doing a better job of weeding out blatant product promos. That sort of stuff is ripe for an expo hall not ed content.


    Are you trying to lose weight or simply adopt a healthier lifestyle? Has your doctor told you that you need to change your diet? Eating healthy at home means more time at the grocery store, more time reading labels and more time chopping and slicing fresh ingredients…not to mention all the clean up!

    That’s why we created Dinners For Life. You choose the menu that meets your health goal – heart healthy, diabetic or weight loss. We take the work our of preparing healthy, home-cooked meals.

    You choose your meals from a dietician-approved monthly menu. Attend a Dream Dinners session or arrange to have your meals prepared for you to pick up. Either way, you’ll leave us with dinners you can freeze and enjoy throughout the month that will keep you and your family well-fed and on course to achieving your health goals.

    Come find out why healthier eating just got a lot easier…

    What: Join us for a mini-session! Learn about Dinners For Life, sample some entrees and make some meals, if you choose. Pay only $10 for the first small family (3-serving) dinner. Add more on at regular menu price. No minimum purchase required. You’re welcome to bring a friend!


    RSVP: To accept this invitation

    Click here to send your RSVP (or you can reply to this email).

    What’s on the Dinners For Life menu in May?

    Sweet Cider BBQ Chicken
    Thai Fusion Shrimp
    Herb Crusted Flank Steak
    Mango Glazed Indian Salmon
    Marinated Pork Roast & Apricot Sauce

    And much more! Come check it out!

  • guest:

    Now that’s a great marketing Open House invite! For those that are looking for ideas – I’d jump on that. Well worded and really draws the customer in. Nice job!

  • Heart healthy, diabetic and weight loss menu items are great, but there are only 5 items listed, the minimum order is 6. If you go to their site and bring up the nutritional information you can see the rest of the menu. There are in fact 6 which cover the heart healthy option. But again, that’s just 6 which is the highest price point. Yeah I know, I’m being picky. I guess I should be happy it’s a start.

    None of the other meals are actually market as a “diabetic” or “weight loss” meal so you need to figure that out on your own. I’m just thinking if they flagged them customers could pick and choose pretty quickly.

    It’s also interesting they state they will now make the meals for you.

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with coupons, I have mentioned several times how GoDaddy does a great job of promoting itself through the use of coupons. But they control and promote that; it’s built into the cost of the item. And they can use those coupons to showcase certain sites, drive traffic, make you watch commercials, listen to radio shows or download podcasts. (They put the coupons in the show or on the page where the download link is. I think people know if they make a few clicks a 15% coupon is waiting for them. But again, it’s built into the cost.

    The same isn’t true for meal assembly. When the meal is priced it’s to cover cost of ingredients, etc. I doubt there is the forethought to go we need to make sure we sell the meal for no less than $15, so we list it for $19 on the menu and for those that use a coupon it’s $17. No matter what, we still make X profit. Since the owners are the ones making up coupon discounts it seems they are now losing money.

    Make no mistake, I scan the Internet for coupons before I make any purchase. Even if I save $1.03 I’m pretty damn excited – saving money and the thrill of the hunt I suppose. And I bookmark the site where I found the coupon so I can check back with them later. So you can easily see how the coupon drives traffic and markets the product.

    A small coupon is a great thing for “those in the know”, won’t take away your profit and can be a huge selling point. I just don’t think that’s how the corporate kids see them.

  • sinkingDDowner:

    Wow, what a thread- this took me 15 mins. to read, but worth it! Our heads have been so buried in the cloud of dreams, I thought I would search for ‘help’ on-line.
    Stumbling onto this site is painful, but so, so accurate. I have been isolated, but now I see I am not alone. Thanks everyone for this site. As hard as it is to read, and shedding some tears doing so, I can’t Thank you enough.

    Where are Owners out today, have they closed?

  • mama kin:

    Wow, I operate a retail food business within a couple blocks of their Corporate headquarters. The only positive comments I can make is the owners are good to the community, they have a few good employees within the HO. Other than that, they are self serving, demanding, rude, never carry any money to pay their bills, always on a tab, or we will pay next time we are in.

    I think their concept is rediculous, Sysco for the food supplier is sub par – heck I wouldn’t use any commercial food supplier such as sysco, fsa. I only use the local independents that carry high quality food items.

    Overall, they have no assets, they lease their big beautiful HO, all have big fat gas guzzlers and nice german imports, take lavish vacations, and basically suck the profits from the business. That is what I see.

    They are housewives that cannot sell, only lie. I say back to their home kitchens and do some real cooking.

  • lost in DD-Land:

    this just burns my butter….”Taking lavish vacations (Tina to Germany) big fat gas guzzlers and nice german imports (Tina drives a Excursion/Step drives a Volvo)

    Now I see where my monthly royalities are spent, thanks for the insight!

    Being self serving, demanding, rude & never carry money to pay for bills—-Now Thats Customer Service At Its Best! Again, thanks Tina & Step.

    Please Darin, don’t tell me this is one of the 87 things (whats that called) oh yea, GETTING CUSTOMERS THROUGH MT DOOR!!??!!

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