There is no such thing as a free lunch. There is, however, such a thing as a free sandwich - at least if you have a coupon.
As consumers tighten their belts, restaurant chains have begun rolling out coupons for free menu items in an attempt to lure in customers. Not only does the promise of free food appeal to that most primal of human emotions - namely, the desire to get something for nothing - but the promotions behind the offers generate publicity. And in this economy, where good will (and dollars) is in short supply, sometimes a well-executed public giveaway can be worth its weight in gold.
The downside, though, is that while a promotion may benefit the company as a whole, for its franchisees, the giveaway of product could mean a subtraction to their bottom line; which can be especially significant if that franchisee must redeem a large number of coupons.
Take Denny's and Quiznos, for example. In Denny's bought a Super Bowl ad and offered customers a free Grand Slam Breakfast one morning. That same month, Quiznos rolled out its "Million Sub Giveaway," offering one small sub to customers who signed up for a coupon on its Web site. But where Denny's overwhelmingly succeeded - bringing roughly 2 million people into its restaurants - Quiznos' promotion was met with mixed customer reviews after many franchisees altered the deal or refused the coupon altogether.
At left is a list of some restaurant chains and the freebie they were giving away, as well as a synopsis of how well each freebie was received.