When my wife and I moved to our new place, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by fast food. Not gonna lie, I gave into temptation immediately and downloaded 21 dining apps.
I was surprised to discover just how much free food these restaurants are giving away — right at sign-up and without having to accumulate points.
Here’s a summary of how and where to get free noms.
- Free 10-piece nugget pack at sign-up.
- Free hash browns, vanilla cone, McChicken or cheeseburger after first visit.
- BOGO or 100% free item almost every day.
- $1 large fries every day.
- 100 points per dollar spent; 1,500 points = 1 free McChicken.
Mickey D’s is the undisputed king of dining apps. I’ve never had a fast food chain throw so much free food at me that it genuinely made me wonder how they made money.
For starters, you’ll get a 10-piece nuggets just for signing up, then another round of free food after your first visit. After that, I’m not joking when I say that every single time I’ve logged in there’s been something for free.
In addition to a suite of BOGO options, there’s almost always a new coupon for a free large fries, a free double cheeseburger, free iced tea, even another free 10-piece — all with no purchase required.
On top of all the free food, McDonald’s gives you 100 points per dollar spent. The reward thresholds are a bit on the high side — 1,500 points for a $1 McChicken, 6,000 points for a Quarter Pounder — but still, I honestly forgot about my points accumulation with all the free food.
- Renewable $1 and freebie deals.
- 10 points per dollar spent; 250 points = 1 free Crispy Chicken Sandwich.
Wendy isn’t quite as generous as Ronald McDonald, but she still has the occasional sweet deal.
Download the Wendy’s Restaurant app and you’ll be treated to a rotating list of BOGOs, discounts, and the occasional freebie. Some recent highlights have been $1 Dave’s Singles all month long and free Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers all week in celebration of Burger Day (May 28th).
To emphasize that last point, most of Wendy’s best deals are renewable. I think I got five Dave’s Singles that month, each for a buck (normally around $6). Once I redeemed my free Junior Bacon Cheeseburger I was certain that was the end of it, but amazingly, it reappeared in the app 24 hours later.
3. Red Robin
- Free burger during your birthday month.
- Every 10th item free.
- $20 towards 6th visit within first 5 weeks.
Red Robin’s rewards are good enough to become a RR fan, if you’re not already.
That’s because to start you’ll get a free burger at any time during your whole birthday month. Outside of that you’ll get every 10th item free in perpetuity, which includes burgers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. On top of that, if you buy five items within your first five weeks, you’ll get $20 to apply to your sixth visit.
If all that free goodness weren’t enough, Red Robin will also surprise you with free rewards throughout the year.
And let’s not forget the best part about Red Robin in the first place: bottomless fries!
4. Jimmy John’s
- Free 8” sub after placing your first order.
- Randomized rewards after every few orders.
Jimmy John’s offers what’s essentially a BOGO for signing up. Download the Jimmy John’s app, sign up for Freaky Fast Rewards, buy a sandwich, and you’ll instantly get a reward for another free sandwich.
After that, things get a little strange. Unlike the points-based system of almost every other app, Jimmy John’s offers random rewards at random intervals. Your next reward might trigger after two, three, or five visits (the app does tell you), and it could be anything from another free sandwich to a simple bag of chips.
Either way, if you’re a JJ fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re just looking to dine on a budget, the initial BOGO is definitely worth it.
5. Caribou Coffee
- Free drink after first visit.
- Free birthday reward.
- 2 points per dollar spent; 150 points = 1 free beverage or egg sandwich.
If coffee is king to you, then you should know that Caribou Perks is way more generous than Starbucks Rewards. If you’re only going to stick to one coffee shop, it’s the way to go.
You’ll get a free drink just for signing up, a free birthday reward, and 2 points per dollar spent. Rewards start at just 25 points and include a free beverage upgrade or espresso shot. At 50 points you’ll get a free coffee or tea, and 150 nets you a free full beverage.
- Free chips and salsa or non-alcoholic beverage with each purchase over $5.
- Rotating discounts and specials.
If you’re already a Chili’s fan, you might as well score free chips and salsa with each visit.
Chili’s will also drop the occasional reward or discount into your account, regardless of your points accumulation. I hadn’t been to a Chili’s in a month, and they still randomly gave me a free appetizer-with-purchase coupon. I happily redeemed it for an $11 plate of hot wings with my bacon burger.
If there’s a Chili’s near your place, it’s worth downloading the dining app just to see what you’ll get.
7. Panera Bread
- Free treat or bagel with first purchase.
- Random rewards and surprise offers.
Panera Bread, fine purveyor of carbohydrates and cream cheese, has an instant freebie waiting inside their dining app. Download the Panera Bread app and sign up for MyPanera rewards, and you’ll get a free “treat” or bagel with your next purchase.
Plus, you’ll get $0 delivery fees for the next 30 days as long as your order total reaches $10.
Finally, if you’re a Panera fan, you’ll want to regularly check in for random freebies and surprise offers.
8. Firehouse Subs
- Free large drink at sign-up.
- 100 points per dollar spent; 6,000 points = 1 free small sub.
Firehouse Subs doesn’t just use firefighters as their unofficial mascot for branding purposes. They actually donate a portion of their proceeds to providing life-saving equipment to these brave men and women.
As for dining rewards, download the Firehouse Subs app and you’ll instantly score a free large drink with any purchase. Plus, you’ll get a free medium sub on your birthday, and a free small sub once you spend $60 (6,000 points).
- 10 points per order over $10; 60 points = 1 free medium 2-topping pizza.
It’s been 14 years since Domino’s changed its recipe and I’m still trying to convince friends it’s good now. Heck, maybe instead of hopelessly evangelizing it, I’ll just give ‘em a bite of my free pizza.
Domino’s won’t give you free food just for signing up, but you’ll get 10 points for every order you place over $10. Then, once you hit 60 points, you’ll qualify for a free two-topping medium.
In essence, that’s an unlimited buy-six-get-one-free sale, or 15% off seven pies. Not bad.
10. Taco Bell
- Free Doritos Locos Tacos at sign-up.
- Free Mountain Dew Baja Blast Freeze on your birthday.
- 10 points per dollar spent; 250 = 1 free taco.
Finally, T-Bell just barely saves itself from the Honorable Mentions by having a free sign-up bonus, no purchase required. Download the Taco Bell app and you’ll get a free Doritos Locos Tacos just for signing up.
After that, the rewards are decent — $25 worth of spending will net you your first crunchy taco reward.
Chick-fil-A’s app is slick and well-made, but in three months it’s never offered me a freebie nor even a discount. There’s a ho-hum points system, where $60 of spending earns you a sandwich, but nothing to write home about.
To their credit, Chipotle is already excellent value. Spending $8 for a pound of protein and fresh ingredients is a steal in this economy. But sadly, their points system isn’t particularly generous — you’ll need to spend $125 to earn a free burrito.
Starbucks Rewards isn’t nearly as “rewarding” as the Caribou Coffee app. Presently, there’s no freebie just for signing up and you’ll have to spend a whopping $150 to earn enough points for a free handcrafted drink.
Granted, you can double your rate of points accumulation by spending from a preloaded digital Starbucks card, but still, I was surprised by the miserliness of a company generating $31 billion in revenue.
Free food doesn’t just taste better — it’s better for the budget. Don’t leave free burgers, coffee, and tacos on the table!
Featured image: JeniFoto/Shutterstock.com