Election year politics are exhausting to begin with, but this year's record-setting ad barrage has likely contributed to even more voter fatigue. Restaurant chains, however, are using the cyclical occasion to beef up their promotional calendars.
Here are some examples of creative marketing campaigns ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential vote:
Tim Hortons Café & Bake Shop will give its guests a free donut when they purchase any beverage and show their "I Voted" sticker at participating U.S. restaurants on Election Day. In addition, team members will surprise voters with free donuts, muffins and coffee outside select polling stations in Ohio, Michigan and Buffalo, N.Y.
The onsite team members will ask voters if they prefer a coffee and donut, or a latte and muffin as their morning breakfast choice. The team will share the results on Tim Hortons U.S. Facebook page throughout Election Day.
"Casting your vote in any election is important and we want voters to know that we appreciate their participation," said Mike Meilleur, executive vice president, Tim Hortons, U.S. "If you show up to the polls and vote this Election Day, we're more than happy to reward you with a free treat."
East Coast fast casual chain California Tortilla is also hosting an "I Voted" promotion. On Election Day, all customers wearing an "I Voted" sticker or saying "VOTE" will receive a free taco – no purchase is required.
The chain is also set to release the results of its Presidential Burrito Bowl voting on Nov. 5. Since August, customers have dined on special burrito bowls inspired by President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen's latest digital campaign features a series of videos titled "Vote Handcrafted," and depicts "Handcrafted Debates" between candidate "Handcrafted Tender" and his "freezer-to-fryer chicken-strip opponent." Additionally, a "Get out the Vote" Facebook app was been created for fans to share/like the debate videos for the chance to win one of hundreds of weekly prizes such as free chicken coupons or T-shirts. The grand prize winner will receive a trip to New Orleans.
Zpizza kicked off its campaign in October, featuring an election theme touting founder Sid Fanarof as a "presidential candidate" representing the "Pizza Party." For the promotion, zpizza fans have the opportunity to become a zTribe member and win free giveaways each week.
The "Sid For Prez" campaign runs through Election Day. On that day, zTribe members will receive an exclusive offer of pizza slices for $1.25 each. Also, by using their smartphones, customers can scan the QR code found on zpizza's in-store marketing materials to be directed to the website's online entry form for a chance to win free pizza for a year, gift cards and zpizza merchandise.
Pizza Hut's campaign shifted after what Forbes called an "outrage" over its original idea that encouraged an audience member to ask a pizza toppings-related question at a presidential debate. Pizza Hut continued with part of the "Pizza Party" campaign nonetheless, and is offering a grand prize winner free pizza for life. Additionally, those who sign up to join the Pizza Party will receive free Stuffed Pizza Rollers with their next online order.
Domino's Pizza is hosting "Voter Bootcamp" at voterbootcamp.com in which Facebook fans are able to "practice for Election Day by voting on some other important issues," such as thin crust vs. hand tossed; hamburger vs. hot dog; curly fries vs. onion rings; T-Rex vs. Pterodactyl; take out vs. delivery; jeans vs. sweatpants and more. Fans also have the chance to submit "write-in" candidates and speeches for the chance to win prizes.
White Castle is also encouraging its Facebook fans to exercise their right to vote between the new sweet potato waffle fries or the crinkle cut french fries in exchange for a free small order.
And in an effort to encourage Americans to vote and to showcase its new Market Bowls, Boston Market recently hosted the 2012 Bowl Poll. The online poll asked the public to side with either the "Left Wing" Market Bowl or the "Right Wing" Market Bowl based on their favorite fowl: Turkey or chicken. A national Boston Market offer for everyone who voted will be announced along with the winning protein on Nov. 7.
If restaurant consumers are in any position to forecast the outcome of the election based on their purchases, it's still too close to call.
LaMar's Donuts just completed its 2012 Presidential Donut Poll in which customers were able to select from two limited-edition donuts on sale during the election season: the "Dough-Bama," a donkey-shaped donut with blue sugar frosting, or the elephant-shaped "Mitt Yumney" donut with red sugar.
By a score of 50.2 percent of sales to 49.8 percent, the Mitt Yumney was declared this year's winner.
On Nov. 6, LaMar's Donuts in Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; and Overland Park, Kan., will give away a free donut to each customer wearing an "I Voted" button or sticker.
Finally, Smashburger conducted a survey of more than 2,000 consumers asking which presidential candidate they'd like to have a burger with. Nearly 3 in 5, or 59 percent, of U.S. adults said they would most like to eat a hamburger with President Barack Obama.
Conversely, two in five, or 41 percent, want to grab a burger with Governor Mitt Romney. The online survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Smashburger.
Photo provided by The League of Women Voters of California.
Read more about marketing and promotions.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.