Halloween, the night when kids rake-in gobs of free candy, is evolving into an occasion when parents also can walk-off with something equally enticing: free meals for the kids.
A growing parade of restaurant chains - from Olive Garden to IHop to Krispy Kreme - will offer free eats around Halloween in order to lure traffic during a seriously slow time.
Halloween evening is a time when most families eat at home. While Halloween is one of the pizza delivery industry's biggest days of the year, it's an evening when many casual dining restaurants are scraping for business.
"Restaurants are like ghost towns on Halloween," says Derek Farley, a restaurant industry PR guru. Much like Labor Day and July 4th, Halloween is a holiday that's not very restaurant-friendly, he says.
So, what's a savvy restaurant to do? Entice families by giving away the kids grub, of course. Although the specific dates, times and rules vary -- so it's best to check restaurant websites for details -- here's some of 2013's Halloween lures:
- Free kids meal with coupon. Three of Darden's most familiar chains, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse, all offer free kids meals for much of Halloween week. All require the purchase of an adult entree for each free kids meal. And all require sign-up -- and a coupon -- from the chain's website or Facebook page.
"Halloween isn't a day you're going to see a lot of kids in restaurants-they're trick or treating," notes Jay Spenchian, executive vice president of marketing at Olive Garden. "We see this as an opportunity to help drive additional traffic into the restaurant on an historically slow day."
Last year, 6,000 families came to Olive Garden with kids in costume. While still encouraging costumes, the chain dropped that requirement for the freebie this year.
- Free kids pancake. On Halloween, kids age 12 and under get a free Halloween "Scary Face" Pancake at IHOP. The pancake, with a whipped-cream smile dotted with candy corn, is one of IHOP's "most requested holiday promotions," says Natalia Franco, vice president of marketing.
- Cheaper meal with costume. On Halloween, from 4 PM to closing, Chipotle will offer its annual "Boorito" promo. All customers dressed in costumes get a $3 burrito, bowl, salad, or order of tacos. Proceeds of up to $1 million will go to charity. Over the past three years, the program has raised more than $3 million for The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, says Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer.
- Free snack with costume. Krispy Kreme may have the fewest strings of all. Just show up in the store -- adult or kid -- in any costume at participating locations on Halloween day, and walk off with a free doughnut. Ah, you might want to remove your mask before eating it.
By Bruce Horovitz