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15 Ways to Get Free Food from Your Favorite Restaurants

There IS such a thing as a free lunch (or appetizer, or breakfast) if you know when to visit these restaurants.

Stack of pancakes with fresh blueberries, nuts and honey on white plate. Healthy breakfast food. Table top view.Vladislav Noseek/Shutterstock

Free food promotions

While it may not seem like a great business model to just hand out free food, these fan-favorite restaurants do it year after year. With birthday freebies, signing promotions, and celebrations for causes these companies care about, you can find free food at your favorite restaurants all year long. Here’s when you should swing by for free food. Before you chow down, keep in mind these secrets your fast-food worker isn’t telling you.

IhopJames R. Martin/Shutterstock

Free food at IHOP

If you’re someone with their finger on the pulse of free food deals, you might already know that you can stop by the International House of Pancakes on their designated “National Pancake Day.” The exact day is different every year—it was February 25 in 2020—but the sweet, sweet deal is the same. Starting at 7 a.m., customers can get a free short stack of pancakes purely for showing up. But that’s not the only day you can enjoy the deliciousness IHOP has to offer for free. By becoming part of the “MyHop,” IHOP’s rewards program, you’re automatically eligible for a free stack of flapjacks on your birthday and on every anniversary of the day you signed up. Love getting breakfast for free? These are the 15 hotels that offer a free hot breakfast.

Spicy Homemade Cheesey Queso Dip with Tortilla ChipsBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Free food at On the Border

You can get some complimentary cheese by signing up for the Mexican grill’s Club Cantina rewards program; signing up immediately gets you a coupon for a free bowl of queso or sopapillas. Club members also get free queso on their birthdays and on the anniversary of the day they signed up.

chipotle signKeith Srakocic/Shutterstock

Free food at Chipotle

There’s no one day where you’re guaranteed to always walk away with free Chipotle, but freebies from the Mexican grill still pop up every now and then. In June 2018, Chipotle celebrated National Nurses Day by offering buy-one-get-one entrees for anyone who displayed a nursing license. A few months earlier, in March, they offered a free burrito, taco, bowl, or salad (with an entree purchase) to any customer who came in wearing a hockey jersey. This one was in honor of “Hockey Weekend Across America.” Chipotle is known for its frequent and random freebies so keep your eyes open. Moral of the scrumptious story: Keep your eyes open for deals, because you never know what type of occasion will put the powers-that-be at Chipotle in a giving mood! Learn the 18 secrets Chipotle employees won’t tell you.

CJ GUNTHER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Free food at Au Bon Pain

C’est bon indeed! If you sign up to be part of Au Bon Pain’s eClub, the soup-and-sandwich spot will send you a coupon on the week of your birthday. Come into this French café-style chain on your big day to get a free deal. In the past, they’ve offered a salad or sandwich, but now they offer coffee and a pastry for free. Here are 12 more delicious National Food Holidays you’ll want to start celebrating every year.

Indianapolis - Circa October 2016: Arby's Retail Fast Food Location. Arby's operates over 3,300 restaurants IJonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Free food at Arby’s

Lots of restaurants offer free or discounted food on fun days, like National Food Holidays or reward program members’ birthdays. Arby’s, though, knows that there are some less-fun days on which free food would make an excellent pick-me-up. That’s why, for the past few years, the fast-food franchise has been offering free curly fries to anyone who comes in on April 15—Tax Day. The mouthwatering taste of yummy, curly goodness is sure to soften the blow of doing your taxes. During the rest of the year, you can also snag a free signature sandwich with the purchase of a soft drink by signing up for Arby’s email list. Get a look at 8 first-ever locations of your favorite fast food hot spots.

chick-fil-aJonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Free food at Chick-fil-A

America’s favorite restaurant for three years running also happens to have a free-food promo that is downright delightful. Sometime in early July, Chick-fil-A celebrates “Cow Appreciation Day” by giving a free chicken entree to any customer who shows up dressed like a cow. This udder-ly great tradition always leads to plenty of creative costumes and fun photos. So as next July approaches, keep your eyes open for the date announcement for the next Cow Appreciation Day, so you can get a tasty chicken sandwich without spending your mooooo-la. Here’s how Chick-fil-A and your other favorite fast-food chains got their names.

York, PA - December 30, 2016: Chili's bar and grill is a casual restaurant that specializes in Mexican cuisine.George Sheldon/Shutterstock

Free food at Chili’s

Chili’s reward program is something of a gift that keeps on giving; if you frequent this bar and grill, the program is totally worth it. Here’s the deal (in both senses of the word): You sign up for Chili’s Rewards, and you can get free chips and salsa, or a free soft drink, to guests who come in or order To Go at least once every 60 days! Now that’s not bad for a sign-up that takes all of five minutes.

Oswestry, Shropshire, UK, 7 July 2017. Subway fast food shop.Wozzie/Shutterstock

Free food at Subway

November 3 is National Sandwich Day, and it’s a great time to head to your local Subway. The fast-food giant offered a free sub with every purchase of a sandwich and a soft drink. And that’s not all they do. Last year, the world’s biggest fast-food chain actually matched customers’ purchases with donations to Feeding America, so why not go buy a sandwich and support a good cause?! Keep an eye out to see if they run the same promotion again this year. Maybe you’ll also be able to get some of the brand new fast food items coming to you in 2020 for free on these celebration days!

qdobaKen Wolter/Shutterstock

Free food at Qdoba

If having salsa-smelling breath on Valentine’s Day isn’t something that you’re bothered by, consider checking out this fun promo the next time February 14 rolls around. Anyone who smooches their significant other at a participating Qdoba counter will get “QDOBA for a Kiss,” or a free entree with the purchase of another entree. Don’t have a Valentine? Never fear—kissing a photo of your favorite celebrity, or even just blowing a kiss, are equally valid forms of PDA. And there’s even more to love about Qdoba’s Valentine’s Day festivities: Last year, the franchise donated a dollar to No Kid Hungry for every use of the hashtag “QDOBA for a Kiss” between February 8 and 14.

AP/Shutterstock

Free food at Ruby Tuesday

Whether you frequent this classic Americana joint for its savory burgers or its fresh Garden Bar offerings (or both!), the So Connected club has something for you. Immediately after you join this free email club, you get a coupon for a free appetizer with a purchase of an adult entree. So Connected members should also come in on their birthdays to get a free burger or garden bar entree. For more penny-pinching food tips, get a look at the eateries that offer the best deals for your money.

Paul Sakuma/AP/Shutterstock

Free food at Long John Silver’s

Ahoy, matey! To celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day, exchange some fun pirate jargon for free food. On September 19, would-be buccaneers were able to get a free fried Twinkie at Long John Silver’s if they *arrrr* willing to talk like a pirate. Check in again next year to see if they run this promotion again. Not to be outdone, Krispy Kreme has offered free donuts to celebrants of this holiday in past years. (And rumor has it that customers in pirate costumes would get a full free dozen!)

Suffolk County New York USA March 30 2018 Carvel Ice Cream Parlor StoreSusan Kehoe/Shutterstock

Free food at Carvel

You scream, I scream, we all scream for free ice cream! At Carvel every “Wednesday is Sundae.” When you buy one soft-serve ice cream sundae, Carvel will give you another one for free. Ice cream fanatics won’t want to miss this ongoing 2-for-1 deal each Wednesday. If you want to save even more money, keep an eye out for these 10 most overpriced foods you’ll find on restaurant menus

HICKORY, NC, USA-15 AUGUST 18: A Checkers Fast food restaurant, an American chain headquartered in Tampa, Florida.MilesbeforeIsleep/Shutterstock

Free food at Checkers

If you’re new to the Checkers scene, you’ve got to try their famously seasoned (and seriously addictive) cracked pepper and salted fries. By signing up for a Checkers’ Flavorhood membership, you’ll receive a coupon for a free large fry with any purchase. And as a Flavorhood member, you’ll also be the first to know about the latest promotions, coupons, and contests at Checkers.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA/USA DECEMBER 22, 2015: Johnny Rockets restaurant exterior and sign. Johnny Rockets is an American restaurant franchise.Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Free food at Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets offers a fun dine-in experience that takes you back in time with a classic 1950s diner feel. The restaurant is best known for its classic shakes and burgers, a sweet and salty combo that will have your taste buds salivating. Now you can snag yourself a free burger with your purchase of an entree or drink when you sign up for the Rocket e-club. Plus, you can even buy discounted movie tickets at select locations as a part of Johnny Rockets’ Movie Meal Deal. Here are some more tips from restaurant workers on how to save money while dining out for dinner. 

KUWAIT - DEC 8: T.G.I's Friday sign in Kuwait City. TGI Fridays is an american themed restaurant chain which is popular in arabic countries. December 8, 2014 in Kuwait, Middle EastPhilip Lange/Shutterstock

Free food at T.G.I. Fridays

Sign up for their Fridays Rewards program and you’ll get a free appetizer or dessert for simply joining including a free birthday treat with the purchase of an entrèe and more free food as you earn points. Members-only treats and getting passes to skip the line for a table are just a few other sweet perks you can get as a rewards member.  Now that you know the best spots for free food, learn the 14 secret menu items you should be ordering at your favorite restaurants.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.