Free lunch was commonplace in the mid 1800s in saloons when you bought a drink. It was an enticement to come into the saloon and buy drinks. The price of food was included in the price of the drinks. The acronym TINSTAAFL coined much later to express that you do not get something for nothing! Even when things appear free, there is always a cost to the individual or society either hidden or not!
As a disclaimer, I used to give free food away at my restaurant. I would give samples of a new menu item to encourage people to try it. If they like it, they will buy the product. Many times, restaurants put items on special to make it more attractive to customers and sell more of that product. There is no secret to this, supermarkets do it too. Specials, sales and coupons are just a few. It is called marketing. It is just one way to promote a product.
You could say that the saloon keepers of long ago were just marketing their products. Their products were alcoholic drinks and the food was a form of marketing to raise their revenue. Whatever you call it, it is included in the cost of the product eventually. This ranges from scams when they ask you to pay for shipping and handling to service fees for either no service or for a formally free service. Thinking about this subject, I started to think about products that are seemingly inexpensive, but you can only get the company product.
EBooks are a great example! You have to buy their reader and you can only get their formatted eBook from them. You pay the same for any eBook, but the reader has a variety of prices. Once they have you, you are tied to them. They should really give the reader away or make it very inexpensive. They would probably have more customers. IPods only uses iTunes. Shouldn’t they either give away their product or make it less expensive. Until there is competition for the same formatted product, the company makes a higher profit margin.
What do you think about free gifts with a purchase? I remember Sports Illustrated would give away a gift with a subscription. I just received two new phones from my cell phone provider. I had to sign up for two years service and pay taxes for the “free” phones. So much for free! I pay my bills using online banking. It is free, but is it? Many banks are collecting fees for their accounts. They started online banking to reduce their expenses and I jumped on it for the convenience. I stayed because I am saving a great deal of postage it helps my cash flow.
How do you feel about free WiFi? A free service that generally has nothing to do with the restaurant or the establishment, but it is intended to keep you longer. Keeping you longer at a Starbucks, book store or restaurant may mean you will buy more. I think it is good marketing, but I do not like it that many people are just taking up tables for that additional drink or cookie. Is it worth it?
Next time you get something for free, you should think about the reason it was free. Was the free item part of marketing, promotion or advertising program? Maybe, it is just a way to hook you into a contract or buy a more expensive item? I am not suggesting that you should be skeptical of everyone’s kindness, but people do not do things for nothing. What do you think? A free lunch is never free!
Photo by: Wayda Dreamscape
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