Do Free Chips and Salsa Increase Orders of High-Profit-Margin Drinks?

Could giving your diners a salty incentive in the form of free chips and salsa lead them to order more of the high-profit-margin drinks that really drive your revenue? Here’s a look at how this popular freebie may help deliver more profit for every customer served.


They allow you to upsell when customers are open to suggestion. Serving free chips and salsa soon after the customer sits down may help you sell higher-profit-margin drinks due to a basic tenet of persuasion called the present focus bias. In short, this theory says that people tend to prefer the more readily available option when given a choice. When servers “time” taking the customer’s drink order with serving free chips and salsa (and do so before the customer has begun to think about what he or she will order for an entree) the customer, according to the theory, is more likely to take the option that delivers an immediate payoff. Thanks to social exchange theory, or the tendency humans have to perform an action that re-establishes a sense of balance in a transaction, free chips and salsa may also convince the customer to splurge on a drink, based on the perceived value of the item they’ve received.


They promote thirst. Serving salty starches accomplishes a basic biological need that could lead to more drink orders: thirst. The more salt one consumes, the more the body craves water in order to flush the sodium and quench the thirst. Of course, today’s consumer won’t necessarily opt to wet their whistle with water when there’s a tastier alternative, either in the form of soda or an alcoholic beverage.


Salty chips create a feel-good reaction. Free chips and salsa can be a tasty surprise for diners, but they also produce a biological reaction that can create a pleasure-seeking state of mind that may lead to ordering drinks, if for no other reason than to keep the good mood going. Studies on the effects of salt on the body confirm that it stimulates the same feel-good neurological pathways in the brain as narcotics. Likewise, consuming fatty foods has been shown to stimulate the same effects as cocaine and heroin in the brain, in studies performed on rats.


They set a mood that promotes lingering. Chips and salsa promote themselves to a longer dining experience, which can go hand in hand with sitting back to relax and enjoy drinks. Diners eating chips and dips can also help to buy the kitchen some time with which to pace the process of taking customer orders, and preparing and delivering meals to the table.