The old adage, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” still reigns true today. Someone will inevitably eat that cost at some point. The same goes for anything free that typically has a cost to it- and has made it a “four-letter word.” The marketing plans that end with the customer receiving free goods or services can actually hurt your client base in the long run.

When companies offer something free, a few things take place. This might draw in more customers, but they don’t necessarily become returning customers. This, in turn, sets a precedent for customers in the future. If it was free before, why isn’t it free now? The same applies for sales or markdowns- the customer will start to think the product is overpriced in the first place and wait until a sale.
Usually, free stuff or promotions doesn’t include your current customers. The promotion is typically going for new clients, and will leave your ongoing clients excluded from the deal, which might leave a bad taste in their mouth. Free gets forgotten- it’s an instant satisfaction that quickly fades. The free good or service that a customer received was great while it lasted- but that also quickly fades.
A way to get around all of this “four-letter word” business is to incentivise the free promotion a different way. Maybe a sale or discount is a good marketing plan for your venue right now- so make it clear when the sale starts and stops, and doesn’t happen too often where customers wait until sales happen. Think of mattress stores, car dealerships- when have you seen either advertised as not on sale? Another tactic could be a membership-based promotion. Amazon.com does this with their Prime membership- free one and two-day shipping- but you purchase a Prime membership to get this deal year round. In all, free may be a great way to onboard new clients, but might bite you in the butt if you’re not careful. Use sparingly!