Can You Ever Get a Truly Free Lunch?

Last week, I left the office during the lunch hour, and went to grab a quick bite to eat. I work in Chicago, so there is frequently a lot of “hustle and bustle” in the middle of the day. People in suits, business casual folks (like me), tourists – people from all walks of life are out enjoying the city. Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall in Chicago are beautiful, and I think it’s that reality plus the harsh reality about the brutal weather the rest of the year, that brings people outside.

As I walked down the street, I saw up ahead a group people in short-sleeved, collared shirts – like they were representing a company – stopping people as they walked and motioning them over to the right. This isn’t uncommon, as people in major cities and tourist areas are always trying to sell something to people passing by. In this case, however, I can see that instead of the usual quick brush off, people were stopping to pay attention.

As I got closer, I sensed a vibe of excitement from the people milling about, so I stopped to see what was going on. As it turns out, the people dressed in those short-sleeved collared shirts were pointing people to a stand that they set up, where you could get a free sandwich. I quickly figured out they were promoting a new TV show, which is to be aired nationally on a major cable network. As a part of their promotional campaign, they were stopping folks on the street and offering free sandwiches while mentioning the name of the show and when it will debut.

I was hungry, so I thought to myself: why not?

As I took the sandwich, a guy also handed me what looked like a mini DVD which promoted the show. This DVD, which is what I assumed it was, was very tightly wrapped.

Anyway, I didn’t care about show, I was just happy about the FREE LUNCH!

It was a good sandwich: BBQ pulled pork, very tasty (probably not healthy, but it was good), and filling. And FREE!

As I walked away, I took a look at the mini DVD, and got curious. So, remembering that, I saved it for later that evening, and opened it up. As I mentioned before, it was tightly wrapped, so it actually took a couple of minutes to get the thing open. Then, after looking at the DVD, I got curious about the show. I didn’t try to play the DVD, as I set it aside. What I did do, however, was go online and spend about 10 minutes looking at information on the show.

Then it hit me: I probably spent 15 or 20 minutes of my time when you add up opening and looking at the DVD, and going online out of curiosity. This was for the sandwich that would probably sell for $5 tops.

The company’s strategy worked: give me the sandwich, make me aware of the show, make me try to look up information on the show. The next would be for me to tune in, and at this point, I’m curious.

They won. No regrets at all from me, but they got what they wanted.

That sandwich wasn’t free. As my Dad always liked to tell me when I was a kid: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Thanks for that advice, Dad!


  1. says

    That is a pretty interesting observation about a “free lunch”. I would say that you’re right on it not being free because of the time you committed to the cost but it did happen at an extreme discount. I mean you weren’t using time you could have been making money that took away from work to do the research, the utility (in an economic sense) you received from getting the sandwich without parting with actual cash was pretty high, and you might have possibly found a new favorite show :) In the end are their ad dollars reaching you, probably. Did you take time you could have applied to something productive, maybe. Was it delicious and filling, yes. So maybe this wasn’t the free-est lunch but as far as free lunches and their elusive pursuit go – I’d say you made it pretty close :)

    • thewisesquirrel says

      Nunzio – I like your way of thinking here. Yes, their promotion got to me – but all things considered it wasn’t like I spent a few hours, or got roped into a time share pitch!

  2. says

    It still seems like a free lunch since if you would have been bombarded by advertising no matter where you went for lunch. A Ronald mcDonald statue, funny Jack in the Box posters, or a tv on the wall of a restaurant would have gotten you anyway, lol. At least they had the decency to “pay” you for your time. :-)

    BTW, what is the show’s name? :-)

  3. says

    Yeah, but you may have otherwise spent 15 minutes getting a lunch for yourself, so was it maybe free? :)

    Did you at least enjoy the show? Was it worth your while?

    I want a sandwich now.

    • thewisesquirrel says

      Everyday Tips – sure, one can look at opportunity cost. What would I have done with that time anyway. As for the show, I haven’t watched it – not even sure if it’s aired yet. I don’t want to spend any time watching it, but at this point I may have to check out a few minutes of it. Let’s hope that few minutes doesn’t lead to more time!

  4. says

    Since I don’t watch much TV, unless the DVD cover looked really interesting, there would be a good chance that I would have tossed it… I’m sure I would have glanced at the cover though!

    I’m not sure if that’s the nicest thing to do, but I’m not hurting anyone and I like pulled pork sandwiches :)

    Some day soon, I will have to visit Chicago again!

    • thewisesquirrel says

      Money Reasons – if you are going to visit Chicago, best to come here by the end of October! Though the holidays on Michigan Ave are a lot of fun, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. January through April – forget about it!

  5. says

    Memphis Beat is already set to record on my DVR, lol. I can tell you in a couple of weeks if it sucks or not, lol. I don’t have high hopes based on previews, but that is what my DVR is for…weeding out crap and finding me the good stuff. :-) Oh, if I haven’t mentioned it, hubby and I are tv addicts but only watch commercials during the Super Bowl, lol. Oh, and the Old Spice commercials…for some reason, hubby thinks they are hilarious…

    • thewisesquirrel says

      Superbowl commercials are when companies bring their “A” game. It’s also the Superbowl of commercials, if you look at it that way. For what those spots cost, they should!

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