How to Enjoy and Behave at an “Eat Free” Promotion

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.

Some of the people waiting outside at the Myrtle Beach Red Robin.

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.

We got what we came for. This was my burger and fries from last night. I would say it was worth the wait.

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.

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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.

Treat Your Waiter Right

I have wanted to write this post for quite a while now but this past weekend really motivated me to write it tonight.

Last Saturday I was at a popular Italian restaurant in Spokane. The place was packed, every single seat was taken. At a table right by us sat a group of around eight people, six males and two females. Because they were so loud, I got to hear much of the interaction between them and their server. These people were beyond rude as they never once said “please” or “thank you”, constantly ordered out of turn, complained about prices, and demanded a new bread basket every five minutes. I became embarrassed myself when the food handling staff came out with their entrees and as half the table yaked on their cell phones and the other half just didn’t care, the poor servers had to ask over and over who had ordered what. This is how it went: “Okay guys, chicken parmigiana….who had the chicken parmigiana?…..Chicken parmigiana?….who here ordered the chicken pamigiana?….Chicken parmigiana going once, going twice….” Again, it was just an eight person table. There was not a communication barrier, the table was just acting rude. As each ordered entrée went through this painful process, I had to use all my restraint not to say anything. Our tab came and we paid so I did not see the further shenanigans that I know occurred after we left.
That night I got to hang out with my friend who is one of the top servers at the busiest Red Robin in the state of Washington. Having just got off of a shift, she told me about a few of the tables she had that night that exemplified classlessness. Much of what she told me sounded familiar to a lot of the other stories I hear about customers from my other friends who hold waitressing jobs. This type of behavior from customers is inexcusable.
Serving is a tough job. Restaurants are very stressful places to work at with lots going on, lots to keep track of, and lots of people to accommodate. Many servers are tremendously overworked and dealing with much more than what they should. It is also a type of profession where when one thing goes wrong, several other things pile on top of it. Mistakes are magnified and great work is often overlooked. Many times us customers don’t realize what servers are up against when we sit down at that booth or table.
I never understood how people can treat their server with anything less than respect. An automatic sense of appreciation and gratitude should immediately be bestowed on the individual who is taking care of you for the evening. Your server is providing you a special service, show them the consideration and thoughtfulness they deserve for waiting on you hand and foot.
I form impressions and judgments on people based on how they treat three different groups: the elderly, children, and servers. When I go out to dinner with a girl, I watch very closely on how she treats the server. Nothing turns me off faster than when a girl shows the waiter/waitress little or no manners. Don’t  act like you are above or better than the person waiting on you. They are your server, not your servant. The moment someone belittles or looks down on a server I get very embarrassed and want to disassociate myself from that person. I will usually cover myself by mouthing “I’m sorry” to the server and then going out of my way to be extra nice to him/her for the duration of the meal, ending in an even bigger tip than normal. For the hard work and valuable service that a waiter provides, there is absolutely no excuse to not treat him/her with the utmost respect. Conversely, when someone I am with makes the job easy on the server, they immediately further my interest in them.
We need to treat servers right. We need to do our part to make their job easy on them. People with low self-esteem feel that they have every right to run their waiter through the gauntlet and make their life hell. Don’t portray yourself as a low-life. Going out to eat should be a fun experience. Nothing sucks fun out of an experience more than when others bring down the people who are trying to do their best to provide you with a quality evening.
Finally, be sure to tip well. When in doubt, remember it is much better to be remembered as someone who tips too much as opposed to someone who tips too little. Servers work for tips, they depend on the generosity of customers. Always keep in mind the context of which the server waited on your table. If he/she was a little slow getting to your table by all means look around at the restaurant and if it is packed show a little mercy and still reward that server with a decent tip. When the meal is done, the customer gets the honor of leaving the lasting impression. Why not make it a good one? Show the server that you valued him/her. It is worth the extra $10. Don’t Blink.
Two other posts dealing with serving: