Fast food can be the bane of your wallet, not to mention your arteries. Still, however much cheaper and healthier cooking at home may be, you sometimes have no choice. It’s hardly feasible to bring a salad or sandwich along to a night on the town with your friends, a rainy day makes a lunchtime picnic in the park much less appealing, and all of us sometimes just have no energy left for anything more than visiting a drive-thru or picking up the phone.
Once you know how to get free food, your options for eating out will expand considerably even when money is tight. This is especially true if you’re willing to leave your comfort zone and try a few new restaurants. Variety is the spice of life, after all. In some cases, all you need to do to get free food is install an app or give some company your phone number and email address. Other fast-food chains don’t give you free food when you sign up but do like to hand out freebies as long as you make another purchase. Very often, you can get a free food offer on your birthday either just by showing your driver’s license or subscribing to a restaurant chain’s mailing list.
Every free food offer listed below is available as of January 13th, 2021. Some will probably expire as time goes on, so you may want to check if your favorite promotion is still valid before heading out for a bite by clicking on the link embedded in each.
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Free Food Offers Just for Downloading an App
7-Eleven’s app is not only free; installing it can net you a free drink or snack.
bd’s Mongolian Grill has an app that will alert you to a variety of special offers and earns you $5 off your first visit after installing it. This is one of the more competitive loyalty programs to get free food: aside from a free meal on your birthday, your points amount to a 10% discount if you eat there frequently, rising to 20% if you only go on Tuesdays. That’s not a bad trade for receiving the occasional ad in your inbox.
If an oven-fresh focaccia, tomato caprese, or small portion of seafood sounds like exactly the way to start off a meal, you’ll be glad to know that Bravo! Cucina Italiana is ready to give you a free appetizer just for joining their club.
Caribou Coffee will boost your caffeine levels with a free drink of any size as soon as you register and visit a store, with another coming your way after every $70 spent. You’ll also get a free snack on your birthday.
California Pizza Kitchen will gift you with a free small plate when you register on their app, a free dessert on your birthday (or an entree if you’ve already spent more than $150 with them), and everything you’d expect from a rewards program. Once you’ve accumulated a thousand dollars worth of points, they will actually give you a unique free food offer, namely a dinner for four free of charge.
Coco’s Bakery will send something sweet your way if you join their e-club and consent to receive ads from them every now and again.
Corner Bakery Cafe lets you have a $5 discount on your first purchase as a member of their rewards program, as well as a sweet snack on your birthday and rewards points you can redeem either at any of their stores or as an Amazon gift card. Remember that they also do catering orders, so this loyalty program may be worth looking into if you need to put a party together in a hurry.
Putting Del Taco’s app on your phone means getting two free tacos, plus a free milkshake on your birthday.
Dunn Brothers Coffee, instead of letting you get free food, loads $3 onto your account when you download their app. This is followed up with $5 on your birthday and another $3 for every $50 you spend, which you can use to order any menu item that looks appealing.
New members of the Earl of Sandwich e-club receive $5 off their first purchase, plus rewards points that translate into every 11th sandwich being $5 cheaper.
When you download the Famous Dave’s app, you can count on a free burger or sandwich as long as you pay for something else. In terms of rewards, you’ll get cashback to the tune of a $10 gift card for every $100 you spend.
Hard Times Cafe encourages you to join their email list with a free chili mac: spaghetti topped with chili and cheese.
Getting the La Madeleine app and spending $4 or more entitles you to a free small pastry and a slice of cake on your birthday. That’s not all, though: depending on how many times you visit them per year, this can be augmented to include a fresh loaf of bread every month as well as numerous other benefits.
Panera Bread gives you a free drink or pastry when you download their app or get a MyPanera card at the counter, as well as a free food offer at random times and a special surprise on your birthday.
If you have a hankering for tex-mex, Qdoba has what you need. This is one loyalty program worth joining if you love Qdoba’s food: the more often you order from them, the faster your rewards points start to accumulate and the sooner you’ll get free food. From time to time, you’ll also receive a reward just for installing their app; perhaps a burrito bowl or chips and three-cheese queso.
Downloading Rubio’s app nets you a $5 discount. You’ll also get free food on your birthday, special discounts, and periodic freebies. Who doesn’t love Taco Tuesdays?
Schlotzsky’s occasionally encourages people to get on their app with a free food offer like a coupon for a small sandwich. More importantly, their rewards app is one of the more attractive ones: you can add a small drink and chips to your meal once you’ve spent $37.50 or get a pizza at $75, and your points take 180 days to expire rather than the usual two months.
Downloading the Krispy Kreme app instantly scores you a free doughnut of your choice and also gives you access to unique special offers, rewards, and free confectionery. You get one free doughnut for every dozen you buy. How to get free food with no money even if you’re not a More Smiles member? Krispy Kreme actually runs giveaways at various times of the year. If you show up on Halloween wearing a costume, for instance, one free doughnut is yours to enjoy.
Taco Cabana gives you a small quesadilla on the house for activating their app. This may not seem like much, but it’s always worth it to get free food.
Which Wich makes how to get free food easy: in addition to giving you a free drink when you install their app, you’ll receive a free 7-inch sandwich on your birthday as well as for every $75 you spend there.
How to Get Free Food When You Sign up for Loyalty Programs
Putting yourself on Andy’s Frozen Custard’s mailing list allows you to try one of their desserts for free and gets another after every $50 you spend on their delectable treats.
Joining the Applebee’s loyalty program will cause them to mail you a coupon for an appetizer of up to $10 in value.
Joining the Backyard Burgers Clubhouse takes very little effort and gets you a free classic burger you may want to wash down with their famous strawberry lemonade.
If sharing dishes among several diners is your thing, you may want to sign up with Bucca di Beppo’s e-club and get a $10 gift card automatically. There isn’t much in the way of rewards on your ongoing spending, though.
Chili’s reward program members get free chips and salsa every time they sit down in the restaurant and spend only $5 on something else. Depending on your personal preferences and which promotions are running at any given time, you may also receive free desserts, kids’ meals, and so forth. In addition, you’ll be guaranteed a free dessert if you go to Chili’s on your birthday and can enjoy the restaurant wi-fi free of charge 365 days a year.
If you’re unsure how to get free food of the comfortable, home-style variety, try out the Cotton Patch Cafe’s member’s club. You’ll receive a free appetizer just by joining, a dessert on the house when it’s your birthday, and also a free main course on the anniversary of you joining their loyalty program.
If you’re a fan of brewing your own specialty teas from scratch, you’ll want to take a closer look at David’s Teas’ Frequent Steeper program. For every hundred dollars you spend with them, you get a 2-ounce bag of premium loose-leaf tea, allowing you to try new and exciting flavors.
Elephant Bar will bring you an appetizer on the house once you register for their rewards program.
You can get a free stack of fluffy, buttery, syrupy pancakes from IHOP when you sign up, every year on the same day thereafter, and on your birthday. Once a year, they also celebrate National Pancake Day by giving away free pancakes in return for an optional donation to medical charities.
If beer and snacks are your favorite way to relax, Gordon Biersch will help you out with a $10 credit on your store card to redeem for free food when you sign up and visit them once. This also means getting invited to special events and receiving $10 worth of food and drink vouchers for every hundred dollars you spend with them.
If you enjoy a place that’s a little more upscale (and quirky) than the average diner, Houlihan’s is the restaurant you should be looking at if you have a birthday coming up. Not only do you get a free entrée on your birthday, just signing up results in a $10 discount in addition to other special offers.
Joe’s Crab Shack will compensate you for your personal details with a free appetizer: garlicky mussels or Voodoo chicken fingers, anyone?
Fried chicken is rarely exceptional, but it also never disappoints. Joining Raising Cane’s Caniac Club requires you to physically visit one of their stores but comes with a satisfying amount of free food when you sign up: a box combo normally costing about seven dollars. The only real drawback is that it can take as long as two days for your membership to be processed, so this is of little use if you want to know how to get free food with no money and immediately. If you have kids and want to teach them about money and business skills, you may also want to check out Raising Cane’s Lemonade Day program.
LaMar’s Donuts is generous enough to reward you with a free coffee and doughnut for sharing your email address and phone number. Afterward, you’ll continue to get free food: a dozen doughnuts gratis after every 11 dozen you buy, every 6th coffee free, plus a free doughnut if you come in on your birthday.
Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que offers you a coupon for $10 off orders of $30 or more when you opt into text advertisements. Vegetarians may want to look elsewhere instead, though.
In return for your email address and birthday, The Melting Pot will delight you with six chocolate-covered strawberries.
Mi Abuelo’s sign-up and birthday bonuses change all the time but often include free appetizers or entrées. You’ll also get special offers and freebies at certain reward points milestones like $100, $300, and $500 spent at Mi Abuelo’s.
Moe’s Southwest Grill’s free food offer includes a free cup of queso when you share your contact details with them and also a complimentary burrito on every birthday. You’ll then receive rewards points towards future orders as well as for referring your spicy-food-loving friends to Moe’s rewards program. Also, don’t forget about their meal kits if you prefer to relax at home rather than trudging to a restaurant.
Red Mango offers a healthier alternative to dessert as well as free food: you’ll receive $2 worth of rewards points just for signing up, $5 on your birthday, and additional points with every purchase.
Stepping into a Rock Bottom Brewery as a newly minted member means that you can get free food to the tune of $10, with another $10 gift card headed your way after every $100 you spend on beer, burgers, and Bavarian pretzels.
Signing up for a “bronze” membership with Uncle Julio’s Mexican entitles you to free guacamole when dining out. Spending $250 at this restaurant within a year means getting a $25 credit, as well as an additional $25 for your birthday, and the rewards keep increasing from there.
TGI Fridays will serve you a free dessert if you eat there on your birthday, plus free chips and salsa at any time. Signing up for their rewards program also means a free appetizer. You have a range of choices when it comes to cashing in your rewards points: you can get a free non-alcoholic drink once you’ve spent $30 in-store or by ordering online through their app, a burger or sandwich after every $100, and so on.
Three ounces of frozen yogurt is just enough for a light snack and is what Yogurtland will present to you when you register with their loyalty program and again when your birthday comes around. Spending just $30 on fro-yo within a year increases your birthday portion to 5 oz, which becomes a full sixteen-ounce tub if you eat $120 worth in a year.
How to Get Free Food with Certain Purchases
Arby’s would love for you to try one of their sandwiches. Once you register on their website, buying one leads to getting free soda and fries to accompany it.
Black Angus will actually give you a free steak dinner on your first birthday after joining their loyalty program; you will also receive a free dessert to use when you choose. There is only one catch: to get that free steak, you have to order another entrée.
Cold Stone Creamery’s introductory offer includes a buy one, get one free coupon you can use on nearly any of their products, plus another for your birthday, plus a rewards program that earns you $5 after every $50 you spend.
Dunkin Donuts will provide you with a free drink such as an iced latte or hot chocolate once you reach 200 points, translating to about $40 spent, as well as on your birthday. So, indulge your sweet tooth or become an office hero by bringing in pastries once in a while.
Jimmy John’s is willing to let you have a free side dish with every sandwich you order online or through their app, plus a free 8” sandwich if the order is your first as a loyalty club member.
Assuming you’re a member of their e-club, Longhorn Steakhouse will throw in a free appetizer when you order an entrée, easily saving you $10 or so.
On the Border will happily serve you a complimentary bowl of queso the next time you order an entree – you need only join their Club Cantina, which is a good source for special promotions in any case.
Popeye’s includes a free chicken sandwich on all orders of $10 and up when you use their app for the first time.
Steak ‘n Shake is currently handing out free fries at their drive-thrus, with no minimum order size. You can also get drinks and milkshakes for half price during certain times of day.
It’s also worth keeping track of which restaurants offer free kids’ meals. Many have realized that charging $5 for a small bowlful of mac and cheese or a handful of fish sticks is worth less to them than getting kids to drag their whole families along to their favorite eatery.
Finally, hang on to your food receipts. Many of the loyalty programs mentioned above allow you to claim points for these, even if they date from before the time you joined the program. The receipt also sometimes serves as a coupon for your next visit, though this is usually in the fine print at the bottom. In addition, if the receipt invites you to check out a website or Facebook page, do so: you can often get access to special promotions or free appetizers and drinks in this way. Sometimes, you’ll need to fill out a short survey to qualify, but this is time well spent.
Other Places to Watch for Suggestions on How to Get Free Food
Some survey websites pay you in restaurant gift cards for completing their questionnaires; since participating eateries use this as a way to draw in more customers, these are often for higher amounts than simple cash payouts.
You can also periodically visit sites like CouponCabin, FreeStuffFinder, Offers.com, RetailMeNot, and Groupon to see which deals are available to get free food. These change pretty frequently; luckily, you can often set up email or cellphone alerts to be notified about any you may be interested in.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for free events where food is served, too: college functions, business seminars, and charity get-togethers being some examples. If all else fails, there’s always the sampling counters at your local supermarket.
How to Get Free Food with No Money: Emergency Measures
Most of this article has been about ways to get free food when you’re already paying for part of the meal, or snagging fairly minor freebies at restaurants you’re likely to visit in the near future. At least a few people reading this will, however, be in real financial distress and need more than a free sundae to get by.
Having a couple of lean months is nothing to be ashamed of; everybody should really go through an experience like that in order to learn the real value of money. You’ll find that there are actually a number of options at your disposal; all you need to do is learn how to get free food.
Freeganism has nothing to do with eschewing meat; instead, it’s all about how to get free food with no money by going through the trash of supermarkets and restaurants. Some people actually get the majority of their food this way: you’d be amazed at how much stuff is thrown away as “expired” when it’s still perfectly good to eat. Note that, in most states, this is perfectly legal – but trespassing to get to a business’s dumpster is not.
If this still seems a little shady to you, you can also try joining a gardening community. People who grow fruit and vegetables often harvest more than they can use and enjoy donating what’s left over to those who need to get free food. Community-supported agricultural cooperatives also sometimes offer freebies to those who need it, perhaps as a reward for doing volunteer work for the cooperative or elsewhere. Instead of or in addition to this, you can also see if there’s a food bank in your area. Many of these serve as clearing houses for other charities and don’t hand out food directly to members of the public, but they will at least be able to tell you where to go.
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“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” we’re told. This may be true in a philosophical sense – companies that show you how to get free food are of course hoping to recruit you as a paying customer, after all. Still, as the list of free food offers above shows, you can indeed get a meal or at least a light snack without paying.
Remember, however, that any restaurant’s free food offer is really intended to make you spend more money with them in the long run. Keep an eye out for this: a $10 pizza at half off still costs you $5, which you may need for something else.
Part of how to get free food is avoiding traps like these. Receiving a freebie when you sign up doesn’t mean that you’ve agreed to spend more later. In fact, you should see any free offer as a choice, not an obligation. If you’re watching your calorie intake, for instance, a free slice of cheesecake isn’t actually doing you any favors.
That having been said, happy dining! If you know how to get free food from restaurants other than those we mentioned, please leave some details in the comments – it only takes a few seconds and may make somebody’s day.