Food News

Free Food: Restaurants Are Giving Away the Goods to Boost Business

The classic culinary loss leader is a supermarket gallon of milk, which is probably why the mondegreen "loss liter" persists.

But the poor sap who settles for a sale at the dairy case isn't taking full advantage of Dallas restaurateurs' sudden inclination to discount their food. On the right night, in the right place, the going price for dinner is free.

"We're trying to get people in to have some drinks, get some traffic," explains Michele Maritato, manager of Arcodoro & Pomodoro, which last week quietly started serving free pizzas on Thursday evenings.

Pizza slices, along with peanuts and pretzels, have long been a grat snack at certain savvy bars. But Arcodoro & Pomodoro's giving away full meals.

"If it's a table, we give them a pie," Maritato says, adding that the toppings are typically chef's choice. "He will send Margherita, he will send some with shrimp, some with salami."

Maritato says only 20 frugal-minded eaters showed up for the first edition of pizza night, which the restaurant publicized through Facebook. But over at Villa-O, which last year started serving free two-course dinners on Mondays, the numbers are considerably more impressive.

"We did 372 people last night," reports Steve Occhipinti, manager of Villa-O and its sister restaurant, Trece, which also participates in the weekly promo.

According to Occhipinti, Villa-O's typical Monday take before the program was about $2,700. It now stands at $15,000.

"Half of that is comps, but it's tripled our business," says Occhipinti. "Monday's always been a slow night; now people who ordinarily wouldn't be here are buying wine and desserts."

Occhipinti concedes the reservation-only "Neighborhood Appreciation Night" draws a few freeloaders who refuse to apply the $30 they've saved on their Caesar salad and chicken parm to an appetizer or drinks.

"Some guys will order water," Occhipinti says. "We understand they can't afford to eat, so they're taking advantage of it."

Yet he adds the mooches are more than counterbalanced by the first-time Villa-O diners who willingly return when the food has a price tag, or decide to book special events at the restaurant.

"All the restaurants thought we were crazy when we did it," Occhipinti says. "It's worked very well for us."

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin

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