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, no strings attached.
- Acapulco. Enjoy a free appetizer when you signup for their eClub.
- Andy’s Frozen Custard. Register your rewards card on their app for a free cone.
- Arby’s. Sign up for their deals program and get a free classic roast beef sandwich with purchase plus $5 Off A $20+ order every weekend.
- Auntie Anne’s. Download the Pretzel Perks app to earn points toward free pretzels.
- 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.
- Black Angus Steakhouse. Join the Prime Club to earn points toward free food.
- BJ’s Restaurants. Register for their Premier Rewards Plus program and get a free Pizookie on your birthday; plus, earn points toward free food.
- Bojangles. Join the Bojangles e-club for a free half gallon of iced tea and a free Bo-Berry Biscuit with purchase every year on your birthday.
- Bruegger’s Bagels. Subscribe to the Bruegger’s Bagels Inner Circle and get a free bagel with cream cheese.
- Buca di Beppo. Sign up with its eClub and get a $10 gift.
- Cafe Express. Join their eClub for a free dessert.
- California Pizza Kitchen. Register for CPK Rewards and get a free small plate, free dessert on your birthday plus a $5 bonus reward for your next visit. You also earn rewards toward future dining.
- Cold Stone Creamery. Get buy one, get one free creation when you join their eClub.
- Denny’s. Get 20% off your next order when you join Denny’s Rewards.
- 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 birthday gift and reward points.
- Hooters. Get an appetizer on them 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.
- 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.
- Maggiano’s Little Italy. $10 off your bill if you join its e-Club.
- 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, and earn points with each purchase.
- 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.
- Pizza Inn. Get the Pizza Inn app, and within 24 hours you’ll be rewarded with a free medium chocolate chip pizzert. Plus rewards, birthday treat, and more.
- Popeyes. Every customer who registers for their rewards program will receive a welcome gift of a FREE apple pie, regular side or small drink.
- Rubio’s. Sign up at Rubio’s Beach Club for $5 off your order.
- Ruby Tuesday. Sign up for their emails for $5 off when you join and your choice of a free burger or free garden bar entrée one your birthday.
- Sbarro. Get a free XL NY slice with the purchase of a beverage when you join The Slice Society.
- Smokey Bones. Join The Bones Club and get $10 off your next order of $25 or more.
- Sonny’s BBQ. They’ll give you a welcome gift of $5 off a $25 order when you join their ‘Q Crew. Plus, a birthday reward and more.
- Steak ‘n Shake. Get a free milkshake for signing up for their rewards club.
- Taco John’s. Download the Taco John’s app to get free Potato Olés for 30 days.
- TGI Fridays. Fridays Rewards members receive a free appetizer.
- 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.
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:
- Answer a few questions for Smashburger and score an order of Smashfries.
- Tell Burger King how it’s doing for a free Whopper if you buy a drink and fries.
- Fazoli’s dishes up a bowl of spaghetti marinara for survey takers.
- Check the top of your McDonald’s receipt for a survey code. Use it, and you’ll get another code for a buy one get one free quarter pounder. Also check their app for local, daily and weekly coupons and other deals.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Chipotle. Join Chipotle Rewards, and you’ll get 10 points per $1 spent.
- Domino’s. With Piece of the Pie Rewards, you’ll earn 10 points with every order. 60 points will get you a free pizza. The app will also get you exclusive members-only promotions and offers.
- Firehouse Subs. Download the Firehouse app or join their Firehouse Rewards program online. Enjoy a free large drink purchase when you sign up, and a free medium sub on your birthday. Each purchase will earn you points toward free subs and meal upgrades.
- 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 you a free birthday sub, as well as other special promotions.
- Menchie’s. Sign up for Menchie’s My Smileage 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.
- 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 eight boneless wings, 150 points for Cinnabon mini rolls, 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.
- 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.
- 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, two stars per dollar when you pay via funds added in the app, or three stars per dollar when you pay with a Starbucks Rewards Visa card. 25 stars will let you customize your drink, 50 stars will get you a free hot coffee, bakery item or hot tea, and 150 stars will get you a free handcrafted drink, hot breakfast or parfait. If you save your stars, you can redeem 200 stars for a free salad, sandwich or protein box, or use 400 stars for free select merchandise or at-home coffee.
- 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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Godiva’s club gives you a free truffle each month.
I do the utmost in free food. I do mystery shopping and for a little (or sometimes a lot – you have to learn which are best) of work, I can get free food almost daily, if not a couple of times per day. I work for 60 different companies and there are usually assignments within 5 miles of home and always within 15-20 miles.