Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? Not Columbia's Tin Roof on Senate Street.
This week, the Vista restaurant is serving free entrees from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – among the tactics Columbia restaurants are employing to attract diners during the slowly rising economy.
Despite the economy, "people are still coming out," Tin Roof general manager and part-owner Amy Petersen said. "We hope that people who come out on the weekends may take us up on a free lunch."
Restaurant industry sales are expected to grow this year for the first time in three years, according to a Feb. 1 National Restaurant Association report. But economic improvement won't happen overnight.
"Consumers are looking for restaurants differently than they did two to three years ago, with the economy changes," says Tom Sponseller, president of the S.C. Hospitality Association. "And restaurants are responding to that."
There are deals all over town, like $15 bottles of wine during lunch at Mr. Friendly's or Cellar on Greene's $19 three-course dinner.
"We might go somewhere just to go, but we'll make it a weekly thing if there's a special," said Brittany Skiles, who came to the Tin Roof for lunch.
"We do Moe Mondays," she said, referring to the $5 chips and salsa, burrito and drink deal at Moe's Southwest Grill.
"Pawleys Front Porch has been having half-off burgers on Tuesdays. We used to do Village Idiot's dollar slice on Mondays," she said.
Thirsty Fellow, on Gadsden Street, offers $3 pints of beer every day and $11 for a pizza and two salads during the week. Part owner Terry Davis says business has been increasing steadily since the restaurant opened in late 2009.
Websites like FindMeSpecials.com and Groupon.com promote weekly and daily specials that help consumers spend less and promote new business for restaurants.
Back at the Tin Roof, the free lunch deal meant at least one new customer.
"We decided to come here for the free food and to get a good deal," first-time Tin diner David Low said as he stood in line outside the restaurant, waiting for it to open.