Don’t be fooled — there is such a thing as a free lunch. I’ve found dozens of meals, desserts, snacks and other tasty treats that, for the most part, won’t cost you a cent at your favorite restaurants, bakeries, cafés and fast food joints.
How do I get all this free food at restaurants? I subscribe to email newsletters (like the one at Living on the Cheap!) and loyalty clubs, download apps, fill out surveys and participate in frequent buyer programs. It might take a bit of management, but the monetary rewards are worth it.
Pro tip: To keep your inbox from overflowing, create a special email account for eClubs, deals and loyalty programs. Don’t be afraid to fudge your birth date or year. That way if any company’s data is compromised, bad guys don’t get all the pieces to your personal identity.
Play it right, you could end up with free food every day of the year. Here’s what you need to know.
Sign up for freebies
Loyalty pays. Join eClubs or download apps for these popular chains and receive a tasty reward.
- Acapulco. Enjoy free chips and guacamole when you signup for their eClub. Also applies for El Torito and Chevys Fresh Mex.
- Applebee’s. Sign up for Club Applebee’s and get a free appetizer.
- Andy’s Frozen Custard. Register your rewards card on their app for a free cone.
- Baskin-Robbins. Enjoy a free regular scoop when you download their app and sign up for mobile deals.
- Beef O’Brady’s. Join Beef’s Rewards for a free shareable starter and earn points toward rewards.
- BJ’s Restaurants. Register for their Premier Rewards Plus program and get a free Pizookie on your birthday; plus, earn points toward free food.
- Bruegger’s Bagels. Subscribe to the Bruegger’s Bagels Inner Circle and get a free bagel with cream cheese (purchase required).
- Buca di Beppo. Sign up with its eClub and get a $10 gift.
- Cafe Express. Join their eClub for a free brownie or Dreambar.
- California Pizza Kitchen. Register for CPK Rewards and get a free starter.
- Chipotle. Join Chipotle Rewards and instantly get free guacamole on the side of your next order.
- Del Taco. Get 2 free tacos when you register for a Del Yeah! Rewards account.
- Einstein Bros. Bagels. Become a member of the Shmear Society and enjoy a free bagel and shmear just for signing up (with a separate purchase) plus a free egg sandwich (with purchase) on your birthday.
- Hooters. Get an appetizer on them (maximum value $8.99) when you register your Hooters app.
- IHOP. Enjoy free pancakes with your first purchase after you sign up and on your birthday when you join MyHop.
- Jimmy John’s. Signing up for Freaky Fast Rewards will get you a free sandwich after your first order.
- Krispy Kreme. Sign up for their rewards program and get a free doughnut of your choice.
- Logan’s Roadhouse. Become a Logan’s VIP and get a free birthday dessert.
- McDonald’s. Download the McDonald’s app and join the MyMcDonald’s Rewards program to get a free large fry with a minimum $1 purchase.
- Moe’s Southwest Grill. Sign up for their rewards program and get a free cup of queso. You’ll also get a free burrito on your birthday.
- Papa Gino’s. Join Papa Gino’s text club for a free small cheese pizza with the purchase of any beverage.
- Panera. Sign up for MyPanera to enjoy a free pastry, sweet treat or bagel with any purchase as well as free delivery for the first 30 days of your membership.
- Ruby Tuesday. Sign up for their Ruby Rewards program for a free dessert or Garden Bar add on (only valid for the first 30 days of your membership).
- Tijuana Flats. Download the Tijuana Flats app to enjoy a free Tijuana Trio and points towards rewards with every purchase.
- Waffle House. Join Waffle House Regulars for a free order of hashbrowns.
- Which Wich. Sign up for Vibe Club Rewards and get a free drink and a free Wich on your birthday (redeemable up to 7 days after your birthday, must make a purchase in the prior 11 months to qualify).
Take the survey
Let restaurants know what you really think for a yummy bonus. Save your receipts from restaurants and fast-food spots. Look on the bottom or back to see if you can participate in a customer satisfaction survey by phone or online. Follow the instructions and get rewarded with free food. Here are a few examples of recent promotions:
- Occasionally, Bojangles will add an opportunity at the bottom of their receipts to fill out a customer satisfaction survey in exchange for a coupon or other offer. These surveys must be filled out within two days of your visit and only one survey can be completed per household per month.
- Tell Burger King how it’s doing for a free Whopper if you buy a drink and fries.
- Every once in a while, Chick-fil-A will give you a survey link at the top of their receipts. Complete it and you’ll get a free sandwich.
- If you fill out their Guest Satisfaction Survey, Culver’s will give you a validation code for whatever offer they printed on your receipt that you can present to the cashier along with the original receipt to redeem.
- Firehouse Subs will sometimes offer an opportunity to get a free medium drink with any adult sub or salad purchase if you fill out the survey linked at the bottom of your receipt.
- Check the top of your McDonald’s receipt for a survey code. Use it, and you’ll get a validation code to redeem the offer printed at the bottom of the receipt. Also check their app for local, daily and weekly coupons and other deals.
- Tropical Smoothie Cafe will occasionally add offers at the bottom of their receipts that you can earn if you fill out their Guest Satisfaction Survey.
- If you complete the Guest Experience Survey at Zaxby’s they’ll send you a validation code to redeem the offer they printed on your receipt.
Earn points for purchases
Visiting your favorite dining spot can earn you extra freebies. Most major chain restaurants now have rewards programs where you earn a certain number of points with each dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for free menu items. We won’t cover all of the options out there, but here are a few we think are worth joining.
- Acapulco. Join their eClub and earn 10 “chips” or points for every $1 you spend (up to three transactions a day). These chips can be redeemed for a wide variety of menu items – 500 chips will earn you free queso, 1000 chips will get you a free dessert, and 2000 chips will get you a free entree. Members can also participate in verious challenges to earn more chips and are guaranteed a complimentary entree on their birthday. Also applies for El Torito and Chevys Fresh Mex.
- Auntie Anne’s. Download the Pretzel Perks app to earn points toward free pretzels. Every $1 spent will get you 10 points and, once you hit 250 points, you can redeem them for a free pretzel then and after every other subsequent 250 points. You will also get a free pretzel after you spend your first $1 and a free birthday pretzel (if you spend $10 or more every year) as well as other offers.
- Beef O’Brady’s. Join Beef’s Rewards and receive $10 off your order for every 200 points earned ($1 spent = 1 point).
- Black Angus Steakhouse. Join the Prime Club and earn 5 points with every $1 spent in Black Angus restaurants and on takeout orders, merchandise, gift cards, and Black Angus market items. 500 points will get you a free dessert, 750 points will get you a free specialty drink, 1000 points will get you $10 off your order, 1500 points will get you one free Steakhouse Starter (excluding the Wagon Wheel Sampler), and 2500 points will get you a free entree (up to a $35 value). Once you hit 2500 points, the free reward will automatically be added to your next order and your points reset to 0 so that you can earn those earlier rewards again. Members also receive double points during their birthday month, exclusive discounts, various surprise rewards, and an automatic 20% discount on your next $50+ purchase if you refer a friend through the app.
- Buffalo Wild Wings. Sign up for Blazin’ Rewards and you can get reward points with every order (100 points per every $10 spent), 6 free wings during your birthday month, and other opportunities to earn points like games and challenges throughout the year.
- California Pizza Kitchen. Registering for CPK Rewards will let you earn 1 point with every $1 spent. 75 points will get you a $5 reward and members also get a free dessert on their birthday as well as other special offers throughout the year. Their membership is also tiered and you can level up every time you hit a certain number of points. Some of the more exclusive rewards for higher tier members include double points during your birthday month, skipping the line (up to 4 people), and first access to new menu items.
- Chick-fil-A One. Download the Chick-fil-A app to join their tiered membership program. Members earn points with every purchase, and will earn more points per dollar as they reach new membership tiers. The lowest tier starts you off at 10 points per dollar. Your tier status is updated annually. You’ll get a free treat on your birthday and can receive surprise rewards from your local Chick-fil-A.
- Chili’s. Members of My Chili’s Rewards earn personalized rewards, the ability to reorder favorites in the mobile app, and free chips and salsa or a free non-alcoholic beverage with every visit if you spend a minimum of $5.
- Chipotle. Join Chipotle Rewards, and you’ll get 10 points per $1 spent, a birthday gift, extra points and achievement badges, and early access to new menu items.
- Cold Stone Creamery. Join their eClub and earn 1 point per $1 spent and a $5 reward every time you hit 50 points.
- Del Taco. Customers with a Del Yeah! Rewards account earn points on every order and participate in a tiered program where they can get better rewards as they earn more points. Some rewards include a free birthday gift, free food, and exclusive bonus offers.
- Denny’s. Get 20% off your next order when you join Denny’s Rewards as well as a free gift on your birthday and other exclusive deals. Completing monthly challenges will also give you a chance to earn more rewards.
- Domino’s. With Piece of the Pie Rewards, you’ll earn 10 points with every order and something free every two orders. 20 points will get you a free dip cup, 16-Piece Parmesan Bread Bites, or 20 oz drink; 40 points will get you free Bread Twists or Stuffed Cheesy Bread; 60 points will get you a free medium 2-Topping Pizza, Pasta, Oven-Baked Sandwich, or 3-Piece Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes. The app will also get you exclusive members-only promotions and offers and members can even retroactively claim points for qualifying orders placed in the last 30 days.
- Einstein Bros. Bagels. Becoming a member of the Shmear Society will let you get 2 points for every $1 spent (with rewards starting at 30 points earned) and you can unlock free unlimited hot or iced coffee for a month (with purchase) after one visit.
- Firehouse Subs. Download the Firehouse app or join their Firehouse Rewards program online. Enjoy a free medium sub on your birthday. Each purchase will earn you points toward free subs and meal upgrades.
- Freddy’s. Download their app and register for Freddy’s Rewards to get 10 points per every $1 spent and a birthday reward. 300 points will get you a large fry, 500 points will get you a regular shake or malt, 600 points will get you a regular Concrete, and 800 points will get you a Bacon & Cheese Double or a large order of cheese curds.
- Jersey Mike’s. Sign up for MyMike’s and earn Shore Points that can be redeemed for free subs with every sub purchase you make. You’ll earn 6 points for every regular sub you order, as well as points for other sizes, and will need 48 points for a free mini size sub, 72 points for a free regular size sub and 144 points for a free giant size sub. The program also guarantees other special promotions.
- Menchie’s. Sign up for Menchie’s mySmileage Rewards in store or online and earn one smile for every dollar spent. Every 50 smiles equals $5 in Menchie’s money. Register your card online for 25 bonus smiles, and get 10 extra smiles when you visit within seven days after registering. Members get a free $5 froyo at every 50 smiles and a free $5 froyo on their birthday.
- Panera. Sign up for MyPanera to enjoy early access to new menu items, members only challenges, a free treat on your birthday, exclusive rewards (each visit counts as a point towards a reward), and other offers.
- Pizza Hut. Their Hut Rewards program helps you earn 2 points with every dollar spent. You’ll need 75 points for breadsticks, 125 points for cheese sticks, 150 points for Cinnabon mini rolls, 175 points for an 8-piece boneless wings, 200 points for a medium two-topping pizza, and 300 points for any large pizza. They’ll also send you a special reward on your birthday.
- Popeyes. Every customer who registers for their rewards program can earn 10 points per $1 spent which they can redeem for various available menu items.
- Red Robin. Become Red Robin Royalty for perks like a free birthday burger and getting every 10th item ordered free. Visit five times in the first five weeks after you register, and they’ll give you $20 toward a sixth visit. If you’re military or a teacher, you can enjoy special surprise rewards.
- Rubio’s. Sign up at Rubio’s Beach Club for $5 off any entree with your first order, birthday surprises, 10 points for $1 spent, opportunities to earn bonus points throughout the year, and early access to new products.
- Ruby Tuesday. Their Ruby Rewards program will get you 10 points per $1 spent and points can be used towards coupons and offers for free menu items. Members also receive a free birthday gift.
- Smokey Bones. Join The Bones Club and get $10 off your next order of $25 or more. Members earn 1 point per $1 spent that can be applied to dine-in or to go food orders and non-alcoholic beverages (they cannot be combined with other promotions or daily specials).
- Starbucks. As a Starbucks Rewards member, you’ll get free food and drinks by earning stars with each purchase. You’ll get one star per dollar when you pay as you go and two stars per dollar when you pay via funds added in the app. 25 stars will let you customize your drink; 100 stars will get you a free hot or iced coffee, bakery item, packaged snack, or hot or iced tea; 200 stars will get you a free handcrafted drink, hot breakfast, or oatmeal. If you save your stars, you can redeem 300 stars for a free sandwich, bag of coffee, or protein box, or use 400 stars for free select merchandise.
- TGI Fridays. Fridays Rewards members earn points with every purchase, free chips & salsa, $3 off an appetizer when dining in the restaurant, and a birthday gift.
- Tokyo Joe’s. Get access to special deals by joining Tokyo Joe’s Addict Club. After signing up, you’ll get $5 off after your second registered purchase. Members will receive points for every purchase, and 150 points will get you a free entrée. Also enjoy a free entrée on your half birthday.
Another eClub can get you free dining at even the finest of restaurants. OpenTable is a popular, free online reservation service. Once you create an account, every time you honor an online reservation, points are awarded toward a Dining Reward credit. Most reservations net 100 points though some go as high as 1,000.
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