'Free Food' can be very appealing ..
I work as an Engineer and make decent money. But, let me tell you a secret.. I love free food, we love free food! At cafeteria, at the meetings, in the college..
I believe that free food has the potential to invite and engage people!
I live in west Michigan and sometimes experience the slow, non-vibrant life. Last year, I came across this event organized in Grand Rapids called 'Taste of Grand Rapids'. It was a 2 day event consisting of live music and a barbecue competition. There were a number of local restaurants which participated in the event and they had brought along to the table some of their special dishes.
Crowd at Taste of Grand Rapids (Credits - Flickr (laudu))
Live music and prize ceremony
Although the event did not offer any free food, the idea that food and music can get the people out of their homes was promising enough. I think the idea could potentially apply to certain regions around the city which are considered non-vibrant and lackluster.
I understand that free food directly affects the motive of the business, but with a smart strategy (e.g. first dish on the house) local businesses can do well and meet their target customers in an effective way at such events.
(More details -