How to Go Out to Eat for Free

No money? No problem.

Going out to eat is probably the most common way to hang out with your friends, but it can get expensive. Even going to relatively inexpensive places adds up, and can easily drain your bank account. As someone who is terrible at sticking to a budget, I can’t even count how many times I have ditched my friends because I don’t have the funds to go to a restaurant. This week, while my bank account rested at a solid -$0.13, I decided that there has to be an emergency solution to get free food or drinks (other than tap water) at restaurants so I could still have fun socializing with my friends. After doing some in-depth research on fast food reward systems, I set out with a friend (Izzy Custer) to see just how much food we could get without paying a single dime, and let me tell you, the results are impressive. Despite the nasty looks given to us by the employees, it was totally worth it.

1. Panera Bread → Because of its close proximity to school, Panera is a very common after/before school hangout. In general, joining their rewards system helps you earn points that can be redeemed for discounts off of random items from the menu, which can sometimes be useful. By simply joining the program by downloading the app, you get a free pastry of $3.50 value that you can redeem without purchase.


2. McDonald’s → I personally hate everything about McDonald’s, but upon discovering that I could receive a free medium fry for just downloading the McDonald’s app and making an account, I had to test it. After doing that, I was disappointed to see that the only reward I received was for a $1 large fry. I noticed that they also had many other rewards you could redeem for discounts, which is helpful if you go to McDonald’s often. Because I was trying to save time, I mobile ordered and discovered that the employees were unaware that you could even place a mobile order at McDonald’s. After a long wait, I received my fries (which were not worth the $1). Although it wasn’t entirely free, it was cheaper than the usual price which I guess is a win.

3. Moe’s → The Moe’s app is the holy grail, period. I got the app, put in my email and phone number, and was instantly sent an email for a free cup of queso which I mobile ordered right away. Like always, queso from Moe’s never ceases to amaze me but tastes even better when it’s free. In the wise words of Izzy Custer “the flavor is immaculate”. Also, you get points for every dollar you spend which can be redeemed for a $10 credit when you get a certain amount, being a great added bonus. In addition, Moe’s sends you a reward for a free burrito of your birthday. PRO TIP: Mobile order your free queso to avoid a salty look from the cashier when you don’t end up paying for anything

The flavor is immaculate

— Izzy Custer


4. Chick-fil-a → Although you no longer get free items for becoming a member, I would like to say thank you to whoever invented the Chick-fil-a one program. Scanning the app at each purchase gives you 10 points for every dollar spent, and free items can be redeemed when you reach 150 points which is very easy to do. I have let my points accumulate for the past 3 years and just now started redeeming them for entire meals for absolutely no cost. On top of that, managers at local Chick-fil-a’s randomly send you free rewards for items just because they feel like it, and you receive a free cookie on your birthday.

5. Starbucks → I have been a member of their rewards program for years and always look forward to celebrating my birthday with a free drink of any size. 

6. iHOP → All I had to do was enter my email address and birthday and they instantly sent me a free reward for a stack of pancakes. They also send you one for your birthday and the anniversary of joining the rewards program. The generosity is greatly appreciated.

7. Krispy Kreme → I can’t confirm this because every time I tried to join the app it glitched, but Krispy Kreme claims that if you join the rewards program you automatically get a free doughnut.

In conclusion, being broke does not mean you can’t go out to eat. Before you order, do some research to make sure you aren’t missing out on the amazing perks from simply entering your email(s). Other places with rewards systems/birthday clubs that we did not try include: Wendy’s, Applebees, Chili’s, 711, Baskin Robbins, Sonic, Denny’s, Jersey Mikes, Olive Garden, and more.