For many Americans, January means two things: shoveling snow — and shoveling through all the fast-food deals.
No month spells cheap eats like January, when customer-hungry fast-food chains often see their steepest monthly sales declines and will do just about anything to lure budget-conscious consumers back. Many folks are still smarting from spending — and eating —- too much back in December. So fast-food chains from Burger King to Pizza Hut to Subway are working overtime to coax them in the door.
"The challenge is to convince the consumer that the deal is so good that it simply cannot be passed up," says Derek Farley, president of DFPR, a restaurant specialty public relations firm, who notes that many big restaurant chains typically see sales drop about 3% in January vs. an average month. "Dining is the first and easiest thing to resist when you're being cautious with your wallet and your gut."
Among this month's deals:
• Free coffee. Through Jan. 29, Burger King is giving away a free small cup of coffee with the purchase of a breakfast sandwich.
• Pizza bargains. At Pizza Hut, any medium or large pizza ordered online is 50% off through Jan. 10 — its best-ever online deal, says Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer.
Papa John's is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a 30 cent pizza deal through Jan. 26. Folks who order any large pizza online at the regular menu price get a large one-topping pizza for 30 cents.
• All-you-can-eat. IHOP, through Feb. 9, is bringing back its "All You Can Eat" pancakes. Customers who order combos with eggs, hash browns and sausage, bacon or ham can keep requesting pancakes. "As long as you can keep eating them, we'll keep serving them," says Natalia Franco, senior vice president of marketing.
• $5 subs. All regular foot-long subs are $5 at Subway in January.
• 99 cent deals. Wendy's is selling two of its spicy sandwiches for 99 cents: Spicy Chipotle Crispy Chicken and Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger.
• $1 snacks. At most Taco Bell locations, beginning Jan. 23, all Loaded Grillers will be priced at $1 all day for a limited time, as two new flavors, Chipotle Ranch Chicken and Chili Cheese Fries, will be added.
• $5 lunch. For lunch at Dairy Queen, a cheeseburger, fries, soft drink and sundae go for $5.
• Cheap chili dogs. Participating Carl's Jr. restaurants are re-introducing Jumbo Chili Dogs at two for $3.
• Get paid to sample. From Jan. 16-19, Starbucks baristas will sample new Via Lattes and offer $1 off a handcrafted beverage for customers who participate.
But even these might not be the best fast-food deals consumers will see in 2014, says Farley. Sure, the January deals look good as a group, he says, but most chains "save their best for unplanned, desperate times."