By Ryan Cornell
STRASBURG -- Whoever said there's no such thing as a free lunch obviously has never downloaded the Front Flip mobile app.
Front Flip, available as a free download in the Apple and Android app stores, gives users a digital scratch-off ticket for each QR code they scan at participating restaurants. After "scratching off" a ticket on their smartphones, customers who win can redeem their coupons for special discounts and free food.
Comparing itself as a high-tech and more rewarding version of the loyalty cards offered at many businesses, the app taps into the instant-gratification freebies desired by customers.
The app started in Kansas City in November 2011 and has just recently entered the fast food joints of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Restaurants that have rolled out its codes and promotions are the Arby's and Pizza Hut locations throughout the region as well as the Sonic Drive-In and KFC locations in Winchester.
Employees at the Arby's in Strasburg are excited about the new app. Assistant Manager Martha Warren said it's kept them busy.
"We've been working up a storm," she said, wearing a button promoting the app. "A lot of people have really gone on board with it."
Customers who scan the codes at Arby's have a chance to win prizes such as free fries, sodas, turnovers, shakes, sandwiches and discounts on combos.
Warren said one lucky customer was able to get an order of chicken tenders and fries for the price of two drinks, which amounts to a $4 discount.
Codes are located on table placards, stickers attached to the doors of the restaurant and on flyers given out by the cashiers.
"Whenever someone comes in, we give them one of these," she said, holding up a flyer. "And say, 'If you haven't gotten the app yet, you should really download it. You could get really good deals.'"
The store is ranked first among a handful of other Arby's in Winchester and Martinsburg in terms of customers using the app, she said.
"It makes it [eating here] a lot of fun," she said. "It brings in a lot of folks that usually wouldn't come in, which is a nice thing because sometimes people can't afford to eat out."
Racquel Lopez, shift manager at Pizza Hut in Front Royal, agrees.
"I think it's just fun to see what's going to come up," she said. "It's a toss-up, it's always something different."
Pizza Hut gives out free breadsticks, desserts or even an entire pizza to winners. She said the store joined the app last week.
"Everybody wants something for free, so I guess that's probably it," Lopez said about the app's success. "And the fact that you can use it on your phone and everybody's on their phones."
Seven other free apps worth downloading
For the sommelier-in-training: Wine enthusiasts can browse information on local vineyards and their scheduled events without leaving the comfort of their own cellar.
Virginia Travel Guide by Triposo
For the daytripper: Recommendations for sightseeing, dining, lodging and shopping, as well as an overview of each region in Virginia, make it a prime travel buddy.
For the commuter: You won't be late to work again with this app, which gives users access to estimated travel times and traffic cameras.
For the safety guru: Developed by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the app sends out local weather and public health alerts, an emergency supplies checklist and a guide on what to do in various emergencies.
Virginia State Parks Guide - Pocket Ranger
For the outdoors lover: The government shutdown might've closed your favorite spot to become one with nature, but Douthat State Park, Shenandoah River State Park and Sky Meadows State Park are still open.
Cedar Creek Battle App
For the history buff: The annual reenactment of the Civil War battle is coming up soon: Oct. 19 and Oct. 20 in Middletown. Get up to speed with the history before watching it unfold.
Virginia Trail Towns
For the backpacker: The app provides information on businesses, events and resources of each town along the Appalachian Trail, including Front Royal.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org