Borrowing a page from the Willy Wonka playbook, Yum! Brands’ (NYSE: YUM) Taco Bell launched a campaign last week in which anyone who found one of 11 special “Everlasting Dollars” would win a lifetime of free Taco Bell.
The prize, actually a $10,000 Taco Bell gift card, would go to whoever comes into possession of a real dollar bill with a winning serial number. All told, 11 bills were scheduled to be released at the rate of one each day in 11 cities nationwide.
Los Angeles marked the start of the campaign with Chicago second followed by Nashville, Detroit, San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle, Raleigh, Miami, New York and finally Richmond.
While nobody else in the fast food space currently has a free food for life promotion, several others have gained publicity, notoriety and in one case urban myth status based on the overall theme of free fast food.
Privately owned Chick-fil-A sponsors an ongoing “First 100” campaign in which the first 100 participants at a Chick-fil-A grand opening would receive a card good for 52 Chick-fil-A sandwich meals, enough for one a week for a whole year. (Winners can cash in more than one sandwich meal at a time, but each meal cashed in reduces the number of meals left.)
The contest has evolved over the years and now features a drawing if more than 100 people show up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. on the day of the opening.
McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD)
Eighty-somethings Carl and Barbara Becker of Rixeyville, Virginia made local headlines when the two were asked to leave a McDonald’s in nearby Culpepper for staying too long. (The manager told them there was a 30-minute time limit.)
Social media quickly circulated the story, resulting in the owner of Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ in Culpeper inviting the couple to come to his restaurant and stay as long as they like. The owner also said their meals would be “on the house ... for life.”
After the story had circulated, McDonald’s corporate offered the couple two free small coffees by way of apology. Mrs. Becker sent the coupons back.
Wendy’s (NASDAQ: WEN)
A popular Internet trope making rounds said if a customer walked into a Wendy’s, said they were not from the area, were lost and had no money, the restaurant would give them a free meal.
Sadly, according to Wendy’s Twitter feed, that was not true.
@MindbIowingFact Sorry guys, this isn't true! Just an urban legend. Our employees can give you directions if you're actually lost, though.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 3, 2013
If, on the other hand, the customer happened to be a kid who was a member of Wendy’s Kid’s Club, he or she could get a free kids’ birthday meal.
Related Link: Analysts Debate About McDonald's Corporation On CNBC
Speaking of birthdays and other special occasions, a surprisingly large number of eateries offer free food at various times throughout the year.
Website Thrillist.com features a calendar listing free food days for various chains over the entire year.
In theory, at least, hungry consumers who planned well would be able to score free food at least once a month at one or more of their favorite fast food restaurants.
At the time of this writing, Jim Probasco had no position in any mentioned securities.
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