The 104-unit Pizza Patron chain has found itself at the center of another controversy as a result of a planned promotion that would offer free pizzas to customers who order in Spanish.
The Dallas-based chain, which is aimed at the Hispanic market, said that from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 5 it would offer its “Pizza Por Favor” promotion. The campaign would give every customer who ordered in Spanish at participating locations a free large pepperoni pizza, with a limit of one pizza per customer while supplies last.
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The chain announced the promotion last Monday, and by Monday night, someone had maliciously hacked into and clogged Pizza Patron's email servers and several individuals had weighed in publicly against the promotion, according to brand director Andrew Gamm. The email was restored by mid-morning Tuesday, but the controversy remained, similar to one in 2007 when the chain decided to accept paper pesos as well as U.S. dollars for payment at its locations systemwide.
Some conservative groups, such as the Conservative Caucus, have criticized Pizza Patron’s planned promotion for requiring customers to speak Spanish and not English.
“The negative reaction doesn’t make us reconsider the promotion at all,” Gamm said during a phone interview.
He noted that the majority of calls Tuesday morning into Pizza Patron’s headquarters were negative toward the promotion. “But between 60 and 70 percent of our customer are Hispanic,” he said, “and we have no hesitation, no apologies.”
While major restaurant chains have mixed English and Spanish for years, a promotion that requires customers to speak at least a few words of Spanish is new. Taco Bell, the Yum! Brands division, combined the tongues in its popular “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” chihuahua campaign from 1997 to 2001. In February, the quick-service Mexican chain adopted the slogan “Live Más,” which translates as “Live More,” as its first new slogan in 12 years.
The company said the “Pizza Por Favor” campaign is the first of three that the company is planning this year “to celebrate the brand’s Hispanic focus and honor the positive force of change immigrants have made in communities throughout America.”
Collateral materials for the promotion feature the word “pizza” spelled with a “C,” the which the company is pronouncing as “peek-ZA,” resulting in text that reads “Picza Por Favor.”
Beatrice Martinez, deputy Texas director for the League of United Latin American Citizens advocacy group, said she saw no problems with the promotion. “They are really marketing to their audience,” said Martinez, who lives in Dallas. “I don’t see it as a problem. Many words in English already come from Spanish.”
Gamm said Pizza Patron saw the “Pizza Por Favor” promotion as a way to give samples of the chain’s product and expand its customer base. “Even if you don’t know any Spanish,” he said, “we’ll give you the simple words to repeat.”
Some of the brand’s franchisees are already planning for more security presence on Tuesday, June 5, Gamm added, “but it’s more to control the expected lines than anything else.”
Pizza Patrón, founded in 1986, has units in seven states.