Free for all


POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taco del Mar, Cinnabon and P.F. Chang's China Bistro are among the restaurants in Hawaii that will offer freebies or discounts today — Tax Day.

Taxpayers, scofflaws and others wanting a free taco from Taco del Mar must first visit its Web site to get a “;Free Taco 1099 Coupon,”; seen at right, to print and redeem at one of seven locations statewide.

“;Hopefully we'll get a lot of exposure,”; said Ken Nascimento, the company's master developer for Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.

He was working to find out how many coupons were printed in Hawaii in order to alert franchisees, who were already stocking and staffing for a busy day.

The Pearlridge store opens early next week, the Maui Mall location is listed as “;coming soon”; on the Web site, and additional locations are planned.

“;We're still growing in a bad economy,”; Nascimento said.

“;Tax Day Bites,”; reads the headline on the Cinnabon Web site, a winking reference to public sentiment about taxes, but also the name of a free sweet treat available from 5 to 8 p.m. today.

Cinnabon's Hawaii stores are at Ala Moana Center, Kahala Mall and Prince Kuhio Mall in Hilo. The Windward Mall store is closed for food-court renovation.

P.F. Chang's is discounting customer checks for the occasion.

Lunch, dinner, drinks — “;15 percent off everything,”; said Sherri Rigg, marketing director. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Not every restaurant does or should engage in freebies or discounts, depending on its image or brand.

“;We stay away from that,”; said Glenn Chu, chef-owner of Indigo restaurant, in a recent interview.

Indigo does participate in a mileage program, “;because I like to get miles when I go out to eat,”; he said.

In a March commentary on free food promotions by Denny's, Quizno's, IHOP, Jack-in-the-Box, Arby's and other restaurants, Kenneth Hein wrote in Brandweek magazine, “;So what's wrong with handing a guy a free sandwich? Let me count the ways.”;

Hein said the novelty has worn off to the point that customers expect freebies, and that aside from a one-day traffic bump, benefits are few.

“;When your customers have showed up just for the giveaway, it's hard to engender a true brand experience that'll make a lasting impression or deliver a quality message for the products,”; he wrote.

Hein quoted Andy Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, as saying “;99-cent value menus and food giveaways are bad for business.”;

CKE's brands include Carl's Jr. and Hardees, which, according to Brandweek, have the second-best margins in the industry behind McDonald's.

McDonald's has a dollar menu, “;TheBuzz”; might add.

Denny's has seen a lasting benefit to its Super Bowl free Grand Slam promotion, said Rick Holloway, company business leader in Hawaii.

“;The mail and e-mail and phone calls afterward were just really — touched us,”; he said. Cash-strapped people who hadn't been able to take their families out “;for a while”; appreciated the opportunity to go out for a meal together.

A recent buy-one-get-one promotion was also well received, though in smaller numbers.

Prior to the giveaway Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli said 93 percent of U.S. adults had visited a Denny's and 50 percent never returned. While a new set of numbers is not available, in Hawaii “;we are positive in customer counts and sales,”; Holloway said. “;We've seen a lot of them come back again and again.”;

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).