How Domino's '30 Minutes Or Less' Guarantee Resulted In A $78 Million Lawsuit
According to a 1993 lawsuit, Domino's "30 minutes or less" guarantee has cost people their lives. In order to deliver pizzas on time, delivery drivers drove recklessly and caused dozens of accidents - and over 20 fatalities - in the 1980s. In the Domino's 30 minutes or less lawsuit, a St. Louis woman won a $78 million verdict against the company. In response, Domino's eliminated the guarantee.
Starting in 1979, Domino's promised a pizza in less than 30 minutes. The 30-minute delivery guarantee drove astonishing growth in the 1980s, with the once-small chain skyrocketing to 5,000 stores before the end of the decade. Customers loved the guarantee, even shutting off their porch lights to game the system. Concurrently, people began to complain about the accidents caused by Domino's delivery drivers.
The massive verdict against Domino's ended the 30-minute guarantee - until Domino's found other ways to market itself as the "30-minute pizza" company.
In The Mid-1970s, Domino’s Issued Their First Delivery Guarantee: 'A Half Hour Or A Half Dollar Off'
Domino's Pizza was founded in 1960 by 23-year-old Tom Monaghan in Ann Arbor, MI. By the 1970s, Monaghan had built the business into a successful franchise. He even opened a College of Pizzarology to ensure consistency.
Monaghan wanted customers to associate his pizza with convenience and speedy delivery. In the 1970s, Domino's created a delivery guarantee: “a half hour or a half dollar off.”
In 1979, Domino's Upped The Stakes To '30 Minutes, Or It's Free'
Throughout the 1970s, Domino's rapidly expanded. In 1978, the chain opened their 200th store. By 1979, the chain had 287 stores. That same year, Domino's introduced the "30 minutes or it's free" guarantee.
The guarantee positioned Domino's in a competitive market by defining Domino's as the fast delivery company. Customers were drawn to the guarantee, since they'd either get a pizza in 30 minutes or receive it for free.
The Chain's Growth Skyrocketed In The Early Years Of The Guarantee, Making It The No. 2 Pizza Chain In The World
In the 1980s, Domino's saw skyrocketing growth. It grew from 200 stores in 1978 to 5,000 by 1989. In 1985, Domino's ranked as the country's fastest-growing pizza company.
Marketing played a central role in the company's growth. In 1985, Domino's still trailed behind Pizza Hut, which had nearly twice as many stores worldwide. Domino's increased ad spending by nearly 250% in a single year, introducing a new slogan to go along with the 30-minute guarantee: "One Call Does It All."
In a two-year period, Domino's sales topped $1 billion, and they added over 1,300 new stores.
Stories Of Delivery Drivers' Reckless Actions Quickly Spread
The 30-minute delivery guarantee created a “public perception of reckless driving and irresponsibility,” according to Domino's owner Tom Monaghan.
By 1989, collisions involving Domino's drivers accounted for more than 20 fatalities. The number of lawsuits against the company steadily increased, with many claiming drivers were negligent in order to meet the 30-minute guarantee.
In response, one franchise owner hired a police officer to follow Domino's drivers to ensure they didn't break any laws.
Customers Reportedly Left Their Porch Lights Off To Get Free Deliveries
Customers responded to Domino's delivery guarantee. Advertising Age declared Domino's "among the fastest-growing money makers in the restaurant industry" in 1985. Domino's set its sights higher, expanding internationally with stores in Canada, Japan, and West Germany.
Pizza Hut wasn't the only rival Domino's targeted. In the late 1980s, Domino's aimed ads at the Latino market, copying a strategy learned from McDonald's. Monaghan said, "I want people here in the company to think of it as a war."
The 30-minute delivery guarantee was so successful that some customers tried to game the system. They'd turn off their porch lights and refuse to answer the door until the pizza was "late."
Contrary To Some Public Belief, The Free Pizza Did Not Come Out Of The Drivers' Salaries
Many Domino's customers thought delivery drivers had to pay for late pizzas, which would give them an added incentive to drive recklessly.
However, Domino's spokesperson Tim McIntyre told the The New York Times that delivery drivers were not monetarily penalized for late deliveries. Instead, any pizza that left a Domino's store more than 25 minutes after a customer placed the order was automatically marked late.