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What To Do When Family, Friends (And Even Partners) Want To Eat For Free 

This article is from RestaurantOwner.com.

The topic of free meals came up in our Discussion Forum this past week. The operator, who is in the process of opening a new restaurant, said his partner asked him about getting his meals for free. An interesting discussion thread ensued on free meal policies for friends, relatives and part owners. 

Many of those who responded are seasoned operators with years of experience dealing with this issue. As a result most said they have policies in place that prohibit or severely limit the amount of free meals to friends, family and partners. One provides a 50% discount to relatives when they (the owner) is in the restaurant, others say they sometimes comp meals but only on special occasions. 

One member in particular had some sage advice regarding free meals - 

Since you are in a partnership, I would think the solution would be obvious. No free meals. It is easy to explain to your friends. "I would like to buy your meal but my partner might not understand." 

I rarely buy meals. My parents were some of my initial investors. They paid full price. This made it very simple for the wait staff to explain to customers hinting for free stuff. "The owner even makes his parents pay, and they got him started!" 

If you don't have iron fast rules, they will start to get bent. 

Real friends don't want their food bought. Real friends know you are in business. When I first got started I asked a friend why he didn't come eat with me. "I was afraid you would try to buy my dinner and I know you probably can't afford to do that." 

I never have understood it any way. If a guy owned a clothing store, would you expect free shirts from him? A gas station, free gas? 

Every now and then I do comp something a customer has ordered, but that is more of (a way of saying thank you) and an investment in future loyalty. 

Another member reduced his policy to a short quip - 

1st time is on me,
2nd time I split the check with thee,
3rd time you fully pay the company! 

If your friends and relatives don't understand this concept, then it's time to change your friends and relatives. You must establish this with your partner immediately. 


Jim Laube & Joe Erickson 

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