IHOP and others target families with free meals for kids

We included “freebies” on our of “90 Things to Watch in 2009,” and indeed we’ve seen marketers of all stripes deploy the “f” word this year, from Harley-Davidson’s free-for-a-year offer to Stop & Shop’s free generic drugs promotion. The latest tactic in this category: a free kid’s meal with purchase of a regular entree.

The struggling restaurant industry is pulling out every trick in the menu, given that NPD Group reports total U.S. restaurant industry traffic declined 2.6 percent in the quarter ending in May 2009 versus the same period in 2008—the sharpest drop since 1981. “Over half of the industry’s decline this past quarter traced to fewer supper visits from parties with kids,” NPD notes. To win these diners back, IHOP is now 401919914_85cc8dc1actouting a month-long offer of free kids meals from 4-10 p.m. A few other chains are trying similar strategies—Fazoli’s is offering gratis kids meals on weekends in August; West Coast operator El Torito does it for lunch on Saturdays—but IHOP’s offer is by far the boldest.

“Free is magic,” Swarthmore psychology professor Barry Schwartz told USA Today. “It will seduce people into eating out who shouldn’t.” It can certainly help generate good will, and these offers are a good way for family-oriented chains to demonstrate empathy with parents.

Photo credit: kalandrakas

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