Will free kids meals entice you to eat out more?

The International House of Pancakes planned to announce yesterday free kids meals 7 nights a week for the next month. (The company’s Web site is down so I can’t confirm the announcement happened as scheduled but I assume it did.) Steak and Shake has been offering free kids’ meals on the weekends. (One free kids’ meal for every $8 spent.) And my girlfriend told me just last week, that every Tuesday night they head to Chick-Fil-A because their location has free kids’ meals when adults buy a dinner. (Is that at all Chick-Fil-A’s? I can’t find that on the Web site!)

Many restaurants across the county are offering free kids meals with the hope of luring families out to eat out in this bad economy. A USA Today article had some excellent statistics on the restaurant industry and their efforts to draw diners in.

From the USA Today article:

“IHOP’s move, unprecedented by a national restaurant chain, is another signal of just how tough times are in the $566 billion restaurant industry. Restaurant operators have reported customer traffic declines for a staggering 22 consecutive months, the National Restaurant Association reports. Families are staying home: Visits from families with kids were down 5% for the year ended in June, NPD Group says.”

“Free is magic,” says Barry Schwartz, psychology professor at Swarthmore College. “It will seduce people into eating out who shouldn’t.”

“Some parents get so giddy about free kids meals that they celebrate by buying desserts or drinks and spend more than if they had paid for the kids meals, says Barry Yow, whose website MyKidsEatFree.com is tracking the trend. And, he notes, many chains don’t include drinks with the “free” meals.”

I took the kids a few weekends ago after church to the Steak and Shake. Michael was out of town, and I wanted them to have a treat. I think the meal would have been like $24 but with the deal it dropped to $16 plus tip. (Do you tip on the full amount or the discounted amount? I tipped on the full.) I had seen the deal in my AJC and that was why I decided to take them there. So in that case the free kids’ meal did sway me. (However, I did exactly what that expert in USA Today said and I ordered kiddie milk shakes, which were not part of the deal.)

I am a big IHOP fan and our family does enjoy going there so we probably would take advantage of free kids’ meals there.

So what about you: Would free kids meals encourage you to take your family out to eat? How often are you eating out? What is your motivating factor to eat out – running late to make dinner, don’t want to clean the kitchen, don’t feel like cooking, just a treat for the family?

Where would you like to see free kids meals offered? Have you ever been tricked by the drink/dessert move?

(You get two topics today. My kids were playing nicely in the basement. Please check out the topic: Are magazines misleading moms about “back to sleep”?)

36 comments Add your comment


August 18th, 2009
7:19 am

All I know is that there is Moe’s near us that gives free kids meals on Wednesday’s (with every adult purchase) and that place is packed out! So, evidently, even with the recession, parents are being somewhat frugal in trying to “entertain” their kids while watching the pocketbook, too.


August 18th, 2009
7:27 am

I absolutely patronize restaurants that give free kids meals. There are enough restaurants ITP and OTP that give free meals to kids. I have used the free kids meal incentive to try the restaurant out and if we really like it, we continue to go back. It is really worth it in today’s economy.

My son doesn’t eat kids meals anymore (he is a bottomless pit) so even the free appetizer specials are a help! The Bargain Hunter did a blog on restaurants that give specials to kids last month and there were a lot of restaurants on there that I didn’t even know about.


August 18th, 2009
8:12 am

I can only speak for myself of course, but it seems like a good deal, even though it would only work for my youngest child. My oldest needs more than a kiddie meal.

It is interesting that this blog mentions that restaurants are having a tough time. Last Friday, my husband and I had a date night and we wanted to go to a new local tapas restaurant in East Cobb called the Red Sky. We arrived at close to 9pm (we thought we’d avoid the rush) and we were told the wait was ONE HOUR AND 15 MINUTES!!!!!

I was fuming, even thogh I know it’s not anyone’s fault. I JOKED (JOKED!!) with my husband that considering we only get to go out once a quarter or so everyone should be considerate and stay home on that one night. I KNOW!!! A JOKE!!

At any rate, I guess restarants are having a hard time; that particular one sure didn’t seem to!


August 18th, 2009
8:27 am

You tip on the full amount of the bill, before the discount, or coupons, are used.

I tip my delivery guys $5.00 ALWAYS……


August 18th, 2009
8:33 am

I’m with you JJ, especially about tipping on the FULL amount BEFORE any discounts or free stuff that does not even show up on the bill – it really bugs me to go to restaurant and see people tip poorly. I know that times are tough for some, and that not every wait person does a good, and sometimes, not even an adequate, job. But we try to remember that they are working for those tips and I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, unless they are downright rude (then I get the mgr involved). And delivery guys are the most challenged re: tips, especially when the company adds on an automatic “delivery charge” that does NOT go to the delivery person!

Free | All Days Long

August 18th, 2009
9:00 am

[...] Will free kids meals entice you to eat out more? Atlanta Journal Constitution The International House of Pancakes planned to announce yesterday free kids meals 7 nights a week for the next month. (The company's Web site is down so I … See all stories on this topic [...]


August 18th, 2009
9:18 am

My wife and I have 3 girls(1,3 and 5). Our 1 year old is just eating from our plates, but the $7-$12 we save on the older two absolutly sway our eating out habits. We know where the majority of the kids-eat-free restaraunts are in our area, and those are the places we go. We learned quickly about the drink thing too, but alot of places around us are including those now too.

We don’t eat out more just because of these deals, but when we go out, these are the places we go. Folks on Tuesday, Chick-fil-a on Thursday, IHOP all week, Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesday, Birdies Wings all week.

And yes. as a former waiter, it is always nicer to be tipped on the pre-discounted bill, since you still had to serve the food. The food is free, not the service.


August 18th, 2009
9:20 am

We don’t benefit from this much, as we only have the grandchildren on weekends.. Not sure if it would help us much anyway as the girl “shares” with her Poppy and the boy eats from the adult menu..


August 18th, 2009
9:22 am

When we all go out to eat, my brother usually doesn’t order anything. His kids never finish their meals, so he does. We call him the seagull, he swoops in and eats what’s left over…..and it saves him a ton of money…..

Also, we never order sodas to drink, always water. It’s free…….and much better for you than sodas…..

New Step Mom

August 18th, 2009
9:28 am

We rarely take advantage of Kids Meals. We find that generally they are large on fried food and light on fruits and veggies. I will have to look into Moe’s on Wednesday nights, they generally have some healthy fair.

@momtoAlex&Max, We love Red Sky Bar but it is always crowded. I have learned that it usually only takes half the proposed time to get a table. The food there is really good too.

new mom

August 18th, 2009
9:47 am

Whether or not we get a free kid’s meal isn’t always our deciding factor, usually our biggest consideration is how our daughter (almost 2) will behave. Of course, some of the places that have the kid’s meal specials are usually places where we have a better chance of that happening! We just don’t take her anywhere where it takes long at all to a. get a table, and b. get our food. She only has so long she’ll sit still, and I will not let her act up in a restaurant. One time we took her to red robin, because of the kid’s meals, and it was a nightmare. I spent half the time outside with her because the food took so long to arrive.

Our favorite places (with her) are chickfila, steak n shake, doc green’s, and ihop. And there are some healthy options for her, if you look…we get her fruit at chickfila, applesauce or string cheese at steak n shake, oranges at doc green’s, and well, ihop isn’t so healthy. But she will gobble up their eggs even when she doesn’t eat them very well at home! Also, I highly recommend checking the restaurants’ websites before you go, most have the nutritional info on them. Sometimes I’m surprised to see what is actually healthier, it’s not always what you think.

One other thing we still do with her–she is really good at eating veggies, so I always bring a little baggie of peas, peas & carrots, etc. for her to ’snack’ on while we wait for her meal. They keep her happy and she gets her veggies too.


August 18th, 2009
9:56 am

I have a friend, single mom of 1 and she DEFINATELY knows where to eat what days so she is only paying for her meal.

I take advantage of it if its what we want, and if we are not eating at home that night anyway…..However, my July spending will show you its still not ‘thrifty’ to do the kid eats free thing. (we were out with my friend and her child often—and often I only had one kid too!)

As for CFA—check the one near you, its a different night at my location than your friends. The one near my office is Monday.


August 18th, 2009
10:06 am

We’ve done the IHOP free kid’s meal and found the trick to saving $$ is for all of us to drink water. 3 or 4 drinks add up fast and water is healthiest anyway.


August 18th, 2009
10:18 am

WOW – Thanks for the 411! The site http://KidsMealDeals.com is a great resource for this information. It allows search by zip code, day of week & mileage radius – TERRIFIC!


August 18th, 2009
10:20 am

JJ is right!— Even CLARK HOWARD, who admits he is frugal and then some, points out that you tip before the discounts AND that when you go out plan your tip as part of the whole expense……The waiters should not be the ones who ‘pay’ because you have $20 to out and spent $18.50 on the dinner before tip.

Little known fact…..Waitstaff have to pay taxes based on the food/alc sales…..so if you do not tip them decently, they may well have to pay more in taxes than you gave them on YOUR purchase.

anna bobanna

August 18th, 2009
10:25 am

We always look for “kids eat free”, just check around there are more than you think. Here in Canton, there is a place called KAYSONS GRILL, they an unbelievable kids menu (even a salad), i never seen such an asortment to choose from our kids love to eat there. They both are big eaters but never leave hungry. Two locations, one is free on Monday and the other is free on Tuesday. By the way I don’t own this place, just a hugh fan.


August 18th, 2009
10:34 am

yup, we go to Moes once a month on a wednesday because of the free meal. To be more frugal, we go to taco bell on other days :)


August 18th, 2009
10:48 am

We definitely look for free meal opportunities. We’ve been to Arby’s most Wednesdays this summer for their free food Wednesdays. Getting free/discounted food helps make the choice on where we go. It doesn’t usually make the decision about whether we go out or not. That’s usually made first, then we look for the deal.

Our local ChickFilA does discounted kids meals on Thursday (3 meals 0.99 cents each with an adult combo purchase). It’s not free but they have an awesome clown (Twinklz) who does the best face painting ever.

The Steak and Shake deal is the weirdest one. You have to spend a certain amount to get the free meal so it takes more figuring to know what you are getting free and what you aren’t.

I love IHOP also. I have been sad that they changed their Viva la French Toast combo (less toast, more eggs). We haven’t been back much since then because the new combo just doesn’t fill you up as much. When we do go, we try to hit it on a free kids meal night.


August 18th, 2009
10:50 am

At Old Towne Tavern in Suwanee, it’s buy one get one free pizza every Tuesday night…..

Rana Cash

August 18th, 2009
10:56 am

Kids eat free at Doc Green’s on Thursdays, and at Sweet Tomatoes in Duluth on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog, I wrote about places where kids eat free, 7 DAYS A WEEK. Different restaurant for every day of the week. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://tinyurl.com.au/x.php?1×4p

Thanks for the blog Momania. I’ll follow up on the IHOP promotion. Sounds like a great one!

Rana Cash

August 18th, 2009
11:02 am

Free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches on Sept. 7 if you wear your favorite team’s logo! No strings attached.
Atlanta Bargain Hunter


August 18th, 2009
1:00 pm

Absolutely tip BEFORE any discounts!

FCM is correct – the IRS assumes you got a tip based on your sales. So if you don’t leave a tip, the waiter still has to pay income taxes on the tip they never received. When I waited tables, I also had to pay the bartender and bus boy a % of my sales – whether I got a tip or not.


August 18th, 2009
2:16 pm

It might not make us eat out more, but when we do eat out it could sway us in that direction. Now that my son is starting to eat kids meals, then it certainly will not hurt!!!


August 18th, 2009
2:35 pm

I’d be more inclined to dine out if they offered free meals for adults, or free alcohol…….now THERE’s an incentive!!!!!


August 18th, 2009
3:03 pm

ALWAYS TIP ON THE FULL AMOUNT. I am trying to tip a buck or two over my regular amount as I know wait staff is hurting.

I am all about discounts and coupons but will NOT eat anywhere where its it KIDS ARE FREE TONIGHT. I want to enjoy my meal out and saving $7-$10 is not worth it to me. I think it is a great incentive for families and am happy that restaurants can draw customers this way. It is good for children to learn in a casual atmosphere.

Too many children do not have manners and I do not want silverware poking me in the back from kids who are standing up in the booth behind me or tripping over toys that are strewn all the way through the restaurant, even food flying in my direction.

Not sure if I mentioned this before, my sister knows someone with a large family. Whenever they eat out, the parents tell the children….
” be on your best behavior….if anyone congratulates us on how nice your manners are…we will order dessert….” What a GREAT incentive and pleasant for those who dine near that family.

I make it a point to compliment families whose children are doing a good job in the restaurant….these parents need KUDOS!

New Step Mom

August 18th, 2009
3:14 pm

MJG that “incentive” is BRILLIANT!!!!! We are working on table manners with my step daughter and at the age of 10, they are not as far along as they should be. Only having her part time, it is hard to know what is being reinforced on the other side. OOOOOHHHH, we are gonna try that one! Again, BRILLIANT!

One thing my husband and I take advantage of is the $25.00 gift certificates from restaurants.com that we purchase for no more than $2-$3/piece with the Coupon Mom codes. That does often dictate where we eat and they do the tip figuring for you (18% on the full amount). After my surgery I was unable to stand to cook for a while and now being back at work full time, I try to cook 3x/ work week and eat out the other 2 nights-this saving helps tremendously.


August 18th, 2009
3:32 pm

Oh YES…there were a few times that our kids did not behave correctly in restaurants. We signaled the wait staff and took our meal in a take out box…then had a few words with the kids. I love kids and know they are not always on their best behavior but unless parents provide the correct protocol the poor kids will never know. KIDS EAT FREE today is like WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS…not enticing for me!

OOOPS wait staff ARE hurting…sorry about the grammar above…


August 18th, 2009
3:39 pm

MJG, you are absolutely right on target…my boys knew that if they misbehaved out, restaurants, stores, ANYWHERE, there would be massive pain involved for them and if they ever acted up in a restaurant, just like you we would leave. Period. That’s part of the price you pay for raising decent, polite human beings :)


August 18th, 2009
3:44 pm

@MJG, even though we have the 2 little ones, I also cannot stand being in a restaurant with children that don’t behave..My 2 are 7 and they are for the most part very well behaved…They have been going to places like Olive Garden, Longhorn, Old Charley’s and other restaurants like this since they were about 3..They order their own food and drinks, say thank you, please and if they have any leftover food, the boy will ask for a go box..If he sees something that he wants to try, he will ask them if he can try it..

I know that these are not really super nice restaurants (for some), but at least it’s a start for them..All kids have to start somewhere and that is why we started them at such a young age..We DO NOT leave a mess when they are with us..If they make a big mess, they are made to clean it up (within reason)…


August 18th, 2009
3:50 pm

@blondehoney….I was exiting an airplane this spring and SHOCKED to see a row that had Cheerios EVERYWHERE! I had never seen so many Cheerios ( out of a box) in my life.

HELLO….if your kids leave this mess…YOU as the parent need to clean it up. I looked at the flight attendant and said “ROW 20 has more Cheerios in it than I have ever seen…” She looked puzzled and I told her that the cleaning crew needs a MAJOR heads up ASAP….be prepared.

FYI…if even 5 rows ( on one airplane) were in such a mess THE BOARDING WOULD BE DELAYED IN ORDER TO CLEAN UP…how RUDE is it for those parents to perhaps make the next flight late with the mess their children made and they did not take the time to clean it up. So unfair to the passengers!


August 18th, 2009
4:08 pm

I was on a trip where we hit a bump a fellow passenger’s big bag of potato chips went flying EVERYWHERE. He tried cleaning up by hand as best he could in the cramped little space that is an airplane cabin these days. A flight attendant told him not to worry about it and that they would take care of it when everyone deboarded, and they had space and tools to do so. So is it possible that a box of Cheerios spilled and that parents weren’t “allowing” their chidren to misbehave? On no, I forgot, in MJG’s world 99% of people are inconsiderate dolts. Airlines should be responsible for building clean-up time into their schedules, so I wouldn’t consider Cheerios to be the cause of a late flight. Everyone should do their best to be clean, but spills, sickness, etc happen on planes despite passengers’ and crews’ best efforts.


August 18th, 2009
4:32 pm


@ HB….this was more than 10 or 12 Cheerios and perhaps the airlines need you as a consultant, as you must know way more than they do about turn time etc. I am a medallion flyer and do not know enough about the specific details but do know that passengers get very testy when their flight is delayed. Cleaning time and leaving a pig pen are ( in my opinion) two different things.
A gate fee is payed for the time that planes are parked at the gate and when they extend the time, there are additional fees.

I am simply saying that I tried to give someone the HEADS UP so that a delay could be avoided….kind of like the way I WAIT in my seat when we are delayed into the gate here in Atlanta The flight attendants ask those who may be at their destination to kindly other passengers who are connecting to exit the plane first. Want to know that ratio….usually less than 15% and I see the ones who rushed off at the baggage turnstyle so perhaps they live here in Atlanta or maybe they are just checking out the baggage during their layover.

I touched a gooey apple core left in the seat pocket of my first class seat ( while pulling out the magazine) and passed it to the flight attendant, who said….”I am so sorry, people are not neat about cleaning up after themselves and it appears to be getting worse…”
Who knows maybe HB is absolutely correct and the flight attendants in first class are nuts, they probably do not know a thing about lack of manners in passengers.


August 18th, 2009
5:38 pm

Oh and one other thing, if the flight attendant told the potato chip passenger not to worry about it, he or she MAY have had a minute to call the cleaning crew and give them the heads up ( while passengers were de-planing) to bring the correct tools onto the plane to get right on the mess and clean it up in a quick and efficient manner, so that the next flight could board on time.

Has anyone EVER been seated in a booth ( at a restaurant) that was not wiped up correctly or food was still stuck to the table…not very pleasant and of course the wait staff is happy to take care of matters….if someone lets them know in a timely manner, which is what I hoped to do ( with the flight attendant) in the Cheerios story.

I know Stan, I need to just take a breath and remind myself that I am a good enough person in that those who hired me 12 years ago ( when I started my business) are still hiring me over and over again because they LIKE me and enjoy my innovative ideas.

Wow BlondeHoney and Becky agreed with me today…whooda thunk it….hahaha!


August 18th, 2009
5:46 pm

Nothing wrong with giving a heads up to the attendant. And obviously, leaving a gooey apple core in a pocket is disgusting and intentional, and SOME people are inconsiderate and rude (as I’m sure the poor flight attendant knows too well). But you don’t know that the Cheerios parents were rude or allowing their child to make a mess rather than simply having spilled a box, like the guy near me spilled a big bag of chips (also way more than 10 or 12 — it was like the bag exploded). He was embarrassed and apologized — what else would you have him do? I can’t figure out for the life of me how one would go about trying to clean up a spilled box of cereal while in flight with no minivac or broom. Last time I dropped a pen it was all I could do to reach it to pick it up in cramped quarters! So why always assume the worst about young parents? Personally, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt if there’s no clear reason to do otherwise.

And no, I don’t know more about turn around times than the airlines, but I do know that cleanliness and passenger comfort often compete with the company’s bottom line. A dear friend of mine who has been a flight attendant for years complains that the airline she works for no longer builds enough time in the schedule for them to clean and get the plane ready for the next group, even though they KNOW more time is really needed (so they’re aware and don’t need me as a consultant, but thanks for the vote of confidence), because every minute on the ground costs extra money. I also read an article a few years back ranking plane cleanliness among the airlines that said planes, in general, were dirtier than in the past because airlines were booking shorter layovers to save money. It’s gross and in large part, not the fault of passengers.


August 18th, 2009
6:06 pm

We don’t typically go for the free meals for the kids. At most restaurants, the kid menu consists of crappy, unhealthy foods. We order two adult entrees and split each one between 1 adult and 1 child, since portion sizes are so out of control these days. We always order water to drink as well. We all get so busy throughout the day, we don’t drink enough water, plus who really needs the sugar/calories in soda anyway? Add in free refills, and most people drink more calories than they eat in their meal. No wonder America has become such a fat nation, and the South with their sweet tea and fried foods helps lead the way. Of course, I am not perfect by any means, but I do make an effort to regulate what my family eats and drinks. Everything in moderation, right? :o)


August 19th, 2009
9:51 am

We have gone out for free kids meals in the past. Years ago, we’d go to Road House (steak restaurant) once or twice a month for kids free nights. But these days, money is tight and eating out in general is severely cut back. Besides that, our kids are getting to the point where ‘kids meals’ don’t do it for them anymore.