Discounts, free offers drive restaurant traffic
Discounting meals and offering free food are some of the ways restaurant operators are trying to boost business in this challenging economy.
Recent restaurant promotions unheard of before this year include a "buy one entrée, get one entrée free" offer at T.G.I. Friday's, which operates more than 1,000 restaurants in 60 countries. Friday's menu includes a wide selection of seafood items.
"We understand consumers are looking for value now more than ever," said Andrew Jordan, senior VP of marketing for Friday's.
In the National Restaurant Association's 2009 forecast, 75 percent of consumers surveyed in 2008 said they would patronize full-service restaurants more frequently if the restaurants offered discounts for frequent dining, and 69 percent said they would go to quick-service restaurants more often if they offered discounts.
"Restaurants are incorporating a lot of new and innovative marketing strategies to draw customers in their doors. Some value specials include prix fixe menus, discounts, coupons and frequent dinner promotions," said NRA spokeswoman Maureen Ryan.
The NRA recommends offering discounts and offers to attract new guests who hopefully become loyal customers.
Quick-service eateries are also promoting discount offers. For example, Grandy's Restaurants, a 68-unit Dallas-based chain operated by Souper Salad, last week launched an Spicy Popcorn Shrimp meal including 1/2 pounds of popcorn shrimp, two sides and a roll for $4.99.
Meanwhile, select Denny's and IHOP locations offered breakfast free for one day in February. Hard Times Café, a 17-unit chain, recently offered free chili for National Chili Day.
Restaurant operators are also offering discounts around creative events such as "Restaurant Weeks" for certain areas or cities.
For example, Newport Beach, Calif.'s annual Restaurant Week in late January contributed $5.3 million in restaurant sales to the area in 2008. Newport Beach's Restaurant Week features specials at participating restaurants, such as a $35-per-person, three-course dinner at The Bungalow. The average meal at the upscale eatery, which features salmon, shrimp scampi and other entrées, typically costs $45 to $50 per person.