By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
If there's little tax relief for you on April 15, the restaurant industry is at least stepping up with comfort food.
Tax day has become a big promotional day over recent years for brands from beer to bagels. More than ever this year, restaurants hope to get some relief for themselves by doling out freebies, promotions and discounts. The industry continues to contract as more people budget by eating at home. Real sales (revenue minus price increases) are expected to fall 1% in 2009 for the $566 billion industry.
"This is the most challenging period for the restaurant industry in several decades," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services at the National Restaurant Association. "In this environment, operators really focus not only on cost management, but also stepped-up marketing and promotions in an effort to compensate for consumers' tight cash-on-hand."
Lower costs are good, but promotions and discounts get people in the door. "We have an opportunity to drive our business and see a bit of a spike," says Gregg LeBlanc, director of marketing for seafood chain McCormick & Schmick's, which is offering its seventh tax-day promotion.
Wednesday diners will get a $10.40 certificate for future use. There'll be $15 to $20 entrees discounted to $10.40. And bar patrons can choose themed drinks, such as a pint of Samuel Adams Deduction Draft.
The P.F. Chang's chain is keeping it simple with a 15% discount for folks who dine at its 193 restaurants on Wednesday.
"Given the impact this economy has had on Americans, we wanted to provide a stimulus package of our own," says Rick Tasman, chief operating officer.
Food emporiums riding tax day for the first time with freebies on Wednesday:
•ree ice cream. MaggieMoo's Ice Cream and Treatery will give away single-scoop servings to customers at 200 stores in what it calls an "e-cone-omic ice cream stimulus package."
Free sweets. Snack chain Cinnabon will give out Tax Day Bites, free bite-size cinnamon rolls usually known as Classic Bites, from 5 to 8 p.m. at its 700 outlets on tax day.
Free tacos. At its 275 restaurants in the West, Taco Del Mar will run a promotion: "Taxes Suck. Tacos Don't." People can register at the Taco Del Mar website for an e-mailed coupon for a free tax day taco.
Free gift cards. T.G.I. Friday's will give Wednesday customers $5 Bonus Bites gift cards for food and beverage purchases of $15 to $25 and $10 cards for those who spend more than $25. Members of the 1,000-outlet chain's frequent-customer program also will get double points.