A free lunch is a sales enticement that offers a meal at no cost in order to attract customers and increase revenues from other offerings. It was a tradition once common in saloons in many places in the United States, with the phrase appearing in U.S. literature from about 1870 to the 1920s. These establishments included a "free" lunch, varying from rudimentary to quite elaborate, with the purchase of at least one drink. These free lunches were typically worth far more than the price of a single drink. The saloon-keeper relied on the expectation that most customers would buy more than one drink, and that the practice would build patronage for other times of day.
Free food or drink is sometimes supplied in contemporary times, often by gambling establishments such as casinos.
The saying "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" refers to this custom, meaning that things which appear to be free are always paid for in some way.
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