The very idea of restaurant T-shirts has taken up too much of my thinking time in the last five years or so, and my hope is that laying out my thinking about something that has actually become a bit of a problem for me will put it all to rest. Stay with me on this even if you think this is a silly matter, because it may remind you of some other equally silly matter that’s been bugging you that you would like to resolve as well.


Some businesses give away T-shirts as part of their advertising budgets, but not restaurants. Why? (Source.)

Some businesses give away T-shirts as part of their advertising budgets, but not restaurants. Why? (Source.)


If memory serves me correctly, I bought my first T-shirt from a restaurant about a dozen years ago and since then have purchased five others. In every case I was moved to buy a T-shirt after having a particularly good meal, something that at the time seemed exceptional for its goodness, quirkiness, or some other combination of qualities that I wanted to be reminded of each time I put on the particular T-shirt.

Here are the restaurant T-shirts I have purchased:

  • Hash House A Go Go in San Diego, my first restaurant T-shirt
  • Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana, Illinois
  • Wolfy’s Hot Dogs in Chicago
  • Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina
  • Corky’s Barbecue in Memphis
  • Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters in Brooklyn

Just listing these restaurants that impressed me enough to buy the T-shirt now bothers me, beyond the fact that I paid a total of about one hundred bucks for them. I’ll get to that shortly.

The first obvious thing about the list is that none of the T-shirts were bought in Austin, where we have lived for well over a decade now, even though we have local restaurants every bit as good as the ones represented by the T-shirts I have bought in other memorable places. The main reason for this is that I don’t need reminders of restaurants where I live as much as I want reminders of enjoyable places farther from home.

The other obvious thing is that I have never bought a T-shirt from a restaurant in a foreign country. The reason for this is that to wear such a shirt back home would somehow seem like bragging about international travel. I don’t want to come across that way.

Swearing Off Buying Any More Restaurant T-Shirts 

What has come to bother me about the idea of restaurant T-shirts was triggered by a joking remark I made once to a waiter at a Corky’s Barbecue branch that we visited in Jackson, Tennessee, about five years ago. We planned the stop before we left home because we first ate at Corky’s over a decade ago and it was so delicious that I bought a Corky’s T-shirt. Well, on that more recent stop, I wore my Corky’s T-shirt there for lunch. 

One problem with my joking remarks is that over the years, people—sometimes even those who know me well—don’t grasp my intent and think I’m quite serious. This is just one of the characteristics of my weird sense of humor.

When the young waiter asked for our order, Ellen ordered first. When it was my turn, I said, “Please notice my Corky’s T-shirt that I’ve had several years. It’s one of my favorites and I have worn it many places in several states. Since I have done so much free advertising for Corky’s with this shirt, do I get a free lunch today?”

The waiter looked at me, stunned into silence, apparently waiting for my order. So I ordered. Then he said, I thought joking back, “I’ll have to ask the manager about whether you can get a free lunch.” So I smiled and said, “Thanks for checking!”

A few minutes passed. The waiter returned and said to me with great sincerity, “The manager wants to know if you’re serious about the free lunch.”

 Realizing my intended joking remark was perceived as a serious question, a switch flipped in my mind. I had paid about $15 for that T-shirt, basically paying for advertising that Corky’s benefited from whenever I wore it. But I paid for it, for a form of their advertising. Something seemed backwards about this but it was a passing thought. However, that thought has recurred with increasing frequency in more recent years.

Why should customers pay for restaurant T-shirts? Shouldn’t they be free to any customer who is willing to wear one? After all, each time it is worn, the restaurant benefits by having their name paraded around in front of the public.

So, by publicly stating it here, I have sworn off buying any more restaurant T-shirts. I don’t like being an advertising billboard for any commercial business when I have to pay fifteen or twenty bucks for the opportunity.

 I feel I was gullible on this because I liked the food at those places. Heck, I enjoy the food at many more places whether they sell T-shirts or not.

From this day forward, if any restaurant would like me to wear their T-shirt, first I have to really like the food and the mood that goes with a place. Secondly, they will have to give me the T-shirt free of charge.

That’s my new rule. Clarified in my mind, settled, no longer mulled over by me now or in the future. I’m so glad I wrote this. I feel better now. 

Testing the Idea of Free T-Shirts

Less than forty-eight hours after posting this story, Ellen and I were having lunch at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in Columbus, Ohio. Near the end of our meal, when our waiter asked us if we needed anything more, I told him I really liked his T-Shirt with the Schmidt’s logo on the back. Then I told him about this blog post and that I had decided to no longer buy restaurant T-shirts. If they would like me to wear one of their T-shirts around the country, they would have to give it to me. 

When I explained my new reasoning, he said he understood why I feel the way I do about restaurant T-shirts. After dessert of a sumptuous cream puff about the size of a softball, we paid our tab and proceeded to leave. Our waiter tapped me on the shoulder and handed me Ellen’s red umbrella. 

Then he said, “What size T-shirt do you wear?” I said an extra large. So he then thrust a folded black T-shirt into my hand and said, “You got it!” 

So I will not only wear that Schmidt’s Sausage Haus T-shirt proudly, but it is my first free restaurant T-shirt. I’m really proud of that. 


My first free restaurant T-shirt from Schmidt's Sausage Haus, Columbus, Ohio, draped over the steering wheel after a superb lunch there on June 8, 2014.

My first free restaurant T-shirt, from Schmidt’s Sausage Haus, Columbus, Ohio, draped over the steering wheel after a superb lunch there on June 8, 2014.


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Restaurant Blind Spot

Craving That Would Not Go Away

Breakfast with Newbies