Do you want fries with that? Beware the french fry giveaway

Monday marked National French Fry Day, one of the more popular of the arbitrary food holidays celebrated annually. (It was followed by National Grand Marnier Day on Tuesday and National Tapioca Pudding Day Wednesday – who knew?)

While most of these foodie festivals pass by without much fanfare, Americans’ particular love for the deep-fried potato drives many restaurants to mark the occasion, typically by offering free fries on the holiday.

While such a reward is likely to drive visits, restaurants should be prepared to see a drop in overall check size. When a medium-sized fast casual chain used free fries as a reward during a We Miss You campaign, they saw a 3.55% lift in visits, but a 1.34% drop in spend.

Certainly, this is not a one-to-one comparison. The reward in the We Miss You campaign was good for two weeks, not a single day; and it was specifically targeted at guest who hadn’t visited in 90 days. Still, that particular campaign did not drive enough unique visits to outweigh the drop in spend per guest. Similar trends have been documented at other brands, too.

There are two potential solutions for restaurants who want to celebrate burgers’ best friends without cannibalizing their sales:

  1. Discount a large French fry instead of giving away a small. This has the potential to encourage guests to purchase a bigger size, potentially changing their behavior moving forward.
  2. Use an existing points-based loyalty program instead of giving away free items. Fries, or meals with fries, could be worth double rewards points on National French Fry Day to drive traffic, minimize cannibalism, and still pay homage to everybody’s favorite starch.

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