Last night, I found myself at Red Robin. Coinciding with the end of the school year, the popular burger chain offered a national promotion that invited teachers and educators to eat free. Heck, even I was included simply because I work at a university. Those with a valid school/college identification card could choose from one of Red Robin’s tavern burgers (bottomless fries included).
But before we could eat one fry or simply lift our burgers out of the baskets, we had to wait. When we arrived at our Myrtle Beach Red Robin, people were spilling outside the front entrance. The secret was out among teachers in our area! We waited patiently (except for Sloan) for over an hour before we were seated.
Not that we didn’t expect it. “Eat Free” promotions are notorious for packing restaurants to the brim and sending lines out to the parking lot. A common trick in the industry, restaurants hope positive PR and customers spending a lot of money on “extras” not covered in the promotion will offset the cost of free food.
It is easy to become cynical. As customers, we might declare that the time spent to get seated isn’t worth the free food. Some might even do math to back it up, arguing that the cost of their time doesn’t compensate for a free $6.99 hamburger. Others just hate the chaotic scene that these promotions produce.
But if you are able to “stomach” these eat free promotions, I came up with 10 tips (in no particular order) on what to keep in mind and how to behave.
1. Arrive during a non-meal time – Beat the rush and arrive at 10:30 a.m. or 3 p.m. Otherwise, you can wait 75 minutes like us.
2. Know the promotion – Before arriving at the restaurant, and definitely before ordering, know exactly what the business is offering for free.
3. Be nice to the hostess – No one is more stressed out than the person up front putting people on the list and seating them. Try to refrain from bothering them too much and don’t lose your cool if it is taking a little longer than expected.
4. Social media appreciation – A great way to thank the restaurant for your free dinner is to give a shout out on social media. Don’t kid yourself, another big reason these promotions exist is the likelihood of positive organic digital engagement from customers.
5. Tip your server appropriately – Most will take this into account, but tip your server based on what the bill would be if you had paid full price.
6. Keep modifications to a minimum – If you are getting a free dinner, refrain from making it tough on the restaurant staff by requesting various modifications to your order (i.e. Could you please hold the pickles, add BBQ sauce, toast the bun, and bring me some Sriracha on the side?).
7. Don’t take advantage of bottomless items – Last night, our server kept bringing us out extra plates of french fries. When she brought out the final helping, Sid and I questioned whether we should ask for a to-go box. We decided against it.
8. Prepare for the wait – If you are going during a busy time, brace yourself for the wait. Last night, we observed people sitting in lawn chairs as they waited in the parking lot.
9. Don’t linger – After you have finished your meal, pay the tab and leave. Let the staff prepare your table for the other people who have waited a long time.
10. Lower your expectations – Realize that your free food item might not be the exact same quality it would be if you were paying full price on a night when the restaurant wasn’t slammed. Don’t let it get to you.
Thank you to Red Robin for a delicious meal last night. We appreciate the fact that you value our educators. Now, when is the day I can get a free pizza from Papa John’s? Don’t Blink.