Loyal diners used to be rewarded with free meals or a slice of cake on their birthdays, but now recession-hit restaurants are crafting new ways to hang on to their best customers. They are dangling free trips, a shot at buying pricey items like rare coffee beans and chances to sample new menu items ahead of the pack.
In some ways, restaurants are following the model set by the travel industry by offering an "experience" to their customers.
Club members at Outback Steakhouse, owned by OSI Restaurant Partners LLC, can earn points to win Tim McGraw memorabilia such as CDs, the country singer's namesake cologne and footballs or cowboy hats autographed by him. "My Outback Rewards" members also get automatically entered to win a free trip to Australia in September to see Mr. McGraw perform.
Red Lobster's "Fresh Catch Club" has offered chances to win a trip to coastal cities in New England and the Florida Keys.
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