There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Whoever said that must not live in Atlanta. In the last month alone, we’ve been tempted with a range of free items, including breakfast at Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s coffee, King of Pops treats, kids’ meals at Moe’s, Arby’s sandwiches, Ted’s Montana Grill cookies and appetizers at Marlow’s Tavern. (And most recently, BOGO Happy Meals.) OK, most of these aren’t literally a free lunch, though what you get from these promotions is clear.
But what do the businesses get?
“Over a long period of time, we hope to keep our customers who love our product, and win customers who weren’t familiar with it,” says Robin Lomax, the Atlanta area marketing director for Chick-fil-A, who spearheaded the chain’s Great Tea Giveaway this summer. “There is expectation that we will hopefully see increased tea sales.”
Lomax says Chick-fil-A’s sweet tea was already so popular that some customers were buying two large teas to last them the whole day at work. Introducing a larger size seemed to meet an existing need.
“Right now, a lot of our competitors don’t have a half-gallon size. We’re hoping the half-gallon size ($2.75) will help people who want to take it home or take it to work and drink it all day.”
During the recent promotion, Lomax says 84,000 free half-gallons were snapped up in less than two weeks. She says Chick-fil-A will continue to analyze sales here to decide whether to introduce the half-gallon to the rest of the country — à la the chain’s spicy chicken biscuit, which also had a promotional test run in Atlanta.
Eric Holder, owner of Atlanta Restaurant Marketing, says many recent fast-food promotions — like Chick-fil-A’s free oatmeal or McDonald’s free premium coffee — address image issues.
“This is all about trying to dissuade some of the traditional thinking of fast food,” says Holder, whose agency has more than 30 years of experience in interactive, PR and marketing. “They’re just trying to ignite and wake up another demographic they haven’t had access to.”
Introducing a product by offering it for free also has the potential to be more cost-effective than money spent through a restaurant’s advertising department. “They’re relying on word of mouth,” Holder says. “The model is not too dissimilar from the Groupon. The bottom line here is to just get people in there.”
Such promotions can shake up an audience seemingly set in its views, Holder says, especially as fast-food restaurants continue moving toward healthier options — even items like free-range beef or hormone-free chicken in the future.
“If someone had told me 20 years ago you’re going to a get a multi-grain oatmeal [at Chick-fil-A], I would have said ‘no way.’ ” Now, he says, “They’ve got an entire slate of their menu that’s for salads.”
– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter