An increasing number of restaurateurs are looking to boost sagging sales with value-minded deals to lure customers back into their restaurants. A particularly successful strategy has been employed by the Laguna Grille in Long Island, NY: a “Bailout Program,” which randomly awards free meals to a table per shift.
The ensuing buzz packed his two locations on a recent weekend and generated some great PR in the local press. Not only do customers feel that you are commiserating with them about the hard economic times, free meal promos also build brand recognition and loyalty, which in turn can boost word-of-mouth marketing.
Denny’s Restaurants has embraced this hot marketing technique fully. On Super Bowl Sunday the chain announced it would offer a free Grand Slam breakfast to customers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, February 3. Denny’s market share has been slipping in the face of intense competition from fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King and breakfast-only chains like IHOP.
The Denny’s gambit was a complete success. 2 million customers showed up for their free Grand Slam, and sales have ticked upward since the promotion. It was so successful that Denny’s followed up recently with another promotion that gave away a Grand Slam for every one purchased.
There are many ways to creatively apply a free meal campaign to your own restaurant, whether you’re a small independent operator or a mid or large sized chain:
- Encourage customers to sign up for your email list and randomly select a monthly winner from new signups to receive a free meal
- Follow Laguna Grille’s example and randomly give away a free meal per shift
- Give away a free entrée or appetizer in exchange for filling out an online or paper survey and providing an email address
- Hold “happy hour” specials featuring a buy one, get one free entrée, appetizer, or drink
- Have customers bring in a down economy related item like a pink slip, stimulus check, or foreclosure notice to receive a free meal
The best way to leverage a free meal offering is to gather some information from your customer while they take advantage of it. The more you know about your customer, the better you can target them for repeat business in the future. And the more you build your base, the more likely you are to survive hard times.