How to Eat for Free

Is there any better flavor than the taste of free?

Everyone loves a bargain, but free is a whole other animal. Zero is not just another price. It’s an emotional hot button— push it, and we are irrationally, deliriously happy.

In pursuit of the free lunch.
People go to extremes when free dining is in the offing. Witness the tent city that sprouts in the parking lot of every new Chick-fil-A with people willing to camp out for days to be among the first 100 customers in the door, earning them a year of free chicken sandwiches; or the line that snaked around city blocks when Starbucks had its free pastry day; or the gut busting they’ll endure for a restaurant challenge of a 40 ounce porterhouse that’s free if you can finish it.

In these challenging economic times, restaurants are turning more and more to stunts and giveaways that will attract media attention and lure new customers.

Watch the calendar

Superbowl SundayDenny’s offers free game day breakfast on this de facto national holiday
Valentines Day– share some freebies with your significant other. Schlotzsky’s Deli offers free cheesecake, and Buca di Beppo will treat you to chocolate covered strawberries
February 23– celebrate National Pancake Day with a free short stack at IHOP.
March 23Starbucks’ Free Pastry Day is now an annual event.
April 26– you’ll get a free soft one with salt on National Pretzel Day, celebrated by most of the national pretzel-making chains. Curiously, Aunt Annie’s seems to have abandoned the Gregorian calendar with its insistence on marking the occasion on February 20th.
Mothers Day and Fathers Day are busting with free offers including breakfast at Ikea and fro-yo cones at TCBY.
First Friday in June- Local shops and the big chains (Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts) all celebrate National Donut Day with giveaways.
The big daddies of the free food days: your birthday and Tax Day. April 15th giveaways have grown in recent years and now include dividends from Starbucks, Boston Market, Cinnabon, and many more. Play them right and you’ll eat without cracking open your wallet on either day.

Sign up for free samples

Some companies require you to give an email address, join a fan club, answer a survey, or friend them on Facebook. Others offer free samples just for the asking. Your mailbox could soon be stuffed with Kashi bars, Hershey and Godiva chocolates, Magic spice blends, Kellogg’s cereals, Welch’s juices, and hundreds more.
Freaky Freddies, lists hundreds of current sample promotions updated.

Restaurant challenges

You can gorge yourself for free food, or maybe you’re just in it for the glory. Somewhere there’s a 15 pound burger with your name on it. Just don’t fill up on bread first!
The Coupon Sherpa lists 40 gut-busting challenges around the country.

Become a Secret Shopper

Restaurants hire secret shopping companies to evaluate their services, and the shopping companies hire shoppers to perform those evaluations. Usually you’ll be given a reimbursement for the meal plus a stipend for the effort, which involves filling out a questionnaire covering details of food and service. Secret shoppers who are over 21 by just a few years are especially in demand to evaluate restaurant and bar compliance with state liquor laws. You can sign up with multiple shopping companies and pick and choose from assignments in your local market.
Volition maintains a website that matches shoppers with shopping companies.

The old standbys

From wedding crashers to dumpster-diving freegans, there are plenty of free food options for the creative, the adventurous, the diligent, the renegade, and the desperate. Here are a few more to consider:
donate blood or plasma and get a free cookie and juice;
write an essay, create a recipe, or take a photograph for a contest or sweepstakes;
babysit at meal time;
forage.

6 Responses to How to Eat for Free

  1. You know, my only problem with these freebies what you have to do to get them. Have you ever tried to get into Denny’s on Super Bowl Sunday??? You just about have to miss the game. Somehow the $5 doesn’t seem worth it.

  2. Janice says:

    Beats babysitting at meal time!

  3. You forgot to add read bloggers who host contests to your list! LOL. I’m marking this post, too fun!

  4. A good reference post. I will be holding out for March 23 and free pastry day at SB!

  5. Just marked the post. Good news.

  6. I posted this on my facebook – if it isnt ok let me know and I will remove it – whatu2@nyc.rr.com

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