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Election Day whets appetites in Tampa Bay area

Nothing says America like voting and eating. Throw in a deal, and you get the overwhelming turnout seen Tuesday by a number of local businesses.

Voters flocked to area restaurants offering free doughnuts, coffee, chicken, beer, pizza and ice cream.

Some Chick-fil-As had so many patrons that they ran out of chicken.

"We did not realize that the demand was going to be this big," said Jane Melton, area marketing director. "It's a good problem to have."

The company, and plenty others nationwide, scrapped plans to offer its giveaway only to people wearing "I Voted" stickers after learning the promotion might violate federal election laws that prohibit payment or gifts in return for voting.

That meant even nonvoters got free Starbucks coffee, Ben and Jerry's ice cream and Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches if they asked. Hence, the chicken shortage. Some patrons left with a free drink, brownie or coupon instead, Melton said.

Nothing tastes better than free. At Krispy Kreme on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa — where the complimentary sugary goodness came either glazed or with red, white and blue sprinkles — one woman told a clerk she hadn't had a doughnut in 15 years.

Guests chowed on the free "Celebrate America Meal" — chicken tenders, fries and soda, naturally — at Shane's Rib Shack on Neptune Street in South Tampa, filling a dining room where nearly everyone seemed to sport an "I Voted" sticker.

A television set tuned to CNN aired a report about freebies offered to voters across the country. (Sex toys, anyone? Only if you voted in New York, Los Angeles or Seattle.)

Tuesday evening, the tiki bar hopped at Fish Tales Seafood House in St. Petersburg, thanks to the 16-ounce Presidente beer giveaway. Servers didn't discriminate against the stickerless.

"I won't fight anybody over a sticker, I'll tell you that," said server Blake Tucker.

Tonight, a voting sticker translates to a $2 discount at the Improv in Tampa. Depending on the election outcome and your political persuasion, you might need a cheap laugh.

Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Election Day whets appetites in Tampa Bay area 11/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 9:07pm]
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