the problem with running these kinds of discounts or specials is that it always leads to an increase in the "leaky bucket syndrome" --poor customer retention. The type of customer that these offers appeal to are not the type that remain loyal. In fact, all market research has shown, again and again, that these kinds of customers have no loyalty to brand or location, but to price, and will move on if someone else nearby has a better "deal".
If you are the only game in town, then that's even more reason not to offer this kind of special. It will do nothing to grow your customer base. It will only amount to spot increases in sales. You need to look at each offering you make as an indication of how you view, and how you want the customer base to view, your entire operation. You need to see the long term picture, and understand how this will positively or negatively affect you down the road, or even in the near term positioning of your business.
I'm not questioning your knowledge of marketing, but your position on this topic is a bit extreme.
You can offer specials and maintain a loyal customer base at the same time, if your product and service is of good quality.
I sample free beer at a local brewery on an ongoing basis. I often discover a new product of theirs that I really like. Sometimes I buy a gallon jug to take home.
Sure, a fraction of your customer base may frequent your shop just for the free samples. Some of Wal Mart's customers just go there to buy cheap after holiday specials, but that is only a part of their returning customer base.
I say, get all the returning customers you can get. Even those that you only make $1 from per week. Give them a free muffin (your cost $.25), but make $1.25 off of the large coffee you sell them. Your overhead doesn't increase by serving a few penny pinchers.
You're right, I agree that comparing a brewery to a coffee shop is like comparing apples and oranges.
A coffee shop could look cheap or desperate for sales if a special is not properly implemented. Also, as I mentioned, the product and service make all the difference.
There's a local coffee shop here that offers the bottomless cup of coffee. It's a popular hangout among the young and old. That's their everyday "special". They're not just giving something away, they're encouraging the customers to stay awhile. Watch tv, read the paper, chat w/friends, have some muffins or a sandwich while you hangout here. Some customers stay all morning and even have lunch before they leave.
I tend to agree with davidsbiscotti on this one. My coffeehouse is a small (2000 sq ft), comfortable, relaxing, tv, music, local shop. Our town has approximately 1600 people with 28,000 in outlying areas. I offer an endless cup of coffee, or same day refills. I have people that come in everyday, sit and watch the morning news, read the newspaper from cover to cover, all the while having free refills on our delicious house blend. A good portion of them stay til mid morning and take one of our now famous bagel sandwiches with them for their lunch. I say now famous because we are lucky enough to be the only ones in our area that offer our unique bagel sandwiches. People can''t get enough of them lately. And by the way david.....I am looking for a new biscotti supplier. The gal I have been with for the last 7 years moved to another state.....can you help me?