In a 2016 article about food holidays in the U.S., Time Magazine gave a surprisingly comprehensive list of the 43 days during each calendar year in which free food is passed out to those in the know. Some are nationally celebrated events, and some are more local or regional affairs. If you are a big fan of eating free goodies, then this is the list to consider. To summarize some of the most popular days, though:
- January 19 is National Popcorn Day, and almost every movie theater hands out small bags for free!
- February 9 – National Bagel Day sees large and small vendors honoring the day with free bagel offers of all kinds, so treat yourself to breakfast, lunch and dinner bagels!
- That same day is also National Pizza Day, so you may find yourself making a tough call between a bagel or pizza at one point that day, or just going for the free carb overload and indulging in all of the free pizza offers.
- March 14 is, naturally enough, International Pi Day and it is honored with free slices of pie ranging from pizza pies to sweet desserts in a huge range of restaurants.
- March usually finds a day nominated as IHOP National Pancake Day. Though at IHOP kids eat free on a regular basis, you can actually go in and enjoy a small stack of their famous buttermilk pancakes, too. Consider donating to whatever charity is sponsoring that hour or day.
- In mid-March, keep your eyes peeled for Dairy Queen’s free cone day. This is different from National Ice Cream Day and entitles everyone to a free vanilla cone. If you have more than one DQ in your area, it can be a good day.
- April is another good day for ice cream fans because it is when all Ben & Jerry’s stores have their Free Cone Days. Even better is that they let you indulge in multiple servings entirely free of charge. So, go for seconds and thirds or just come back in later that day for another freebie.
- WaWa coffee days are also excellent options. At some point in mid-April, almost all WaWa convenience stores celebrate their customers with a free coffee day promotion entitling you to a free serving of their house java.
- In late April, another ice cream day occurs. Carvel has a free cone day (usually the last Thursday in April) and offers up free servings from 3-8PM that day.
- April 26 is National Pretzel Day and most of the mall pretzel chains give away a free pretzel to each customer.
- April 28 is Krispy Kreme’s annual buy one dozen get one dozen free promotion…seriously, what’s not to love?
- Between May 8 and May 13 is Haagen-Dazs’ turn to give away the love at their annual ice cream giveaway, and you can get a cone or a cup of your favorite luxury ice cream.
- May 28 is for the burger lovers as it is National Burger Day and a huge range of chains and local establishments have burger deals, including some free burger options.
- The first Friday of every June is National Donut Day and the big chains along with some grocery store brands and smaller local venues honor it with one free donut or even a box of packaged donuts!
- June 10 is National Iced Tea Day and if you head to Wendy’s or Starbucks, you get a free serving of this popular beverage.
- July 11 is 7-Eleven Day and this chain passes out free Slurpees all day.
- The third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day and this is the biggest ice cream giveaway of the year with chains and small shops participating.
- The third Wednesday of July is National Hot Dog Day and you can find an amazing range of promotions in convenience chains, restaurants and more.
- August 6 is National Root Beer Float Day and if you are close to any A&W restaurants, one float is on the house.
- September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day with restaurants of all kinds handing out freebies.
- September 29 is National Coffee Day and you may get the biggest caffeine jolt of your life this day as almost every chain and coffee shop is participating.
- Whether or not it falls on a Tuesday, every October 4 is National Taco Day and restaurants and chains make all kinds of freebie deals available.
- December 4 is National Cookie Day, and most bakeries pass out free, full sized cookies to patrons to celebrate the event.
That is a lot of free food to plan for each year, but that is definitely not the complete list. Keep an eye out for your favorite local restaurants as well as national chains making all kinds of deals available. Some coincide with movie or TV promotions, seasons and more.
Olive Garden’s Amazing Deals
Periodically, Olive Garden offers an amazing way for you to save money and eat for free with their “Buy One, Take One Dinner” deal. In this special, you pay the full price for a meal chosen from a pre-set menu and you pick another one to take home with you. It is a great way to get a fantastic lunch for free or for a family to dine out one night and eat just as deliciously, but for FREE, the next night. Plus, there are no dishes, pots or pans!
Their unlimited pasta deals are also an excellent way to dine for free. You may need to be a bit slick about it, but most servers are more than happy to package up your final order “to go” without any added fees. And a couple or family can really monetize this deal by having one order a salad or soup and another ordering the pasta deal, sharing it with someone else at the table. In this way, kids can often eat for free, but Olive Garden is also famous for making Kids Eat Free coupons available, too.
You Say It’s Your Birthday?
If you are not shy about your birthday, it is an amazing way to get one free meal each year. A huge range of national chains make free birthday meals (or at least desserts) available to someone dining on the big day. According to one expert in money saving tips for dining out, “Many restaurants have a birthday or anniversary club. All you have to do is sign up on the restaurant’s website, and when your birthday approaches, you receive a coupon by email for a free drink, dessert, or, possibly, entree.”
Visit the website Hey! It’s Free to find out which restaurants offer such free food options. Remember, you may find that you can eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner for free, and you might even use your freebie to order an entrée at a different spot, but be “too full” and ask them to pack it to go – netting another free meal!
You can also use birthday programs that don’t force you to dine on the day. Panera and Baskin Robbins are both great for this, honoring your birthday by loading a free nibble onto your customer loyalty card. Give it to them when you order and they’ll tell you what you were gifted for a birthday – usually it’s a bakery item or free cone.
Always Look to Groupon
Websites like Groupon or Living Social pool group resources to offer amazing deals. One of the most impressive is the Groupon “date night” package they typically offer around the holidays. This pairs two movie tickets with a $100 gift card from Restaurant.com, and often at an amazingly low price (less than $40 total). The restaurant gift card has to be printed out for a single establishment, but the balance remains even after you have dined the first time. This can mean for the price of two movie tickets and a tiny bit extra, you get a lot of free food. One caveat is that these offers typically have fast expiry dates, usually within two months of purchasing.
Don’t Overlook iDine
If you have yet to register at iDine and you want free food, you need to take action today. It is partnered with more than 11,000 restaurants. All you have to do is create an account, register the debit or credit card you will use when dining out, and then enjoy a meal at the restaurant of your choice. You get a reward for every dollar spent with 5% if you spend up to $750 a year and 10% if you spend $750 or more. If you also draft a quick review for the restaurant you visited, you can earn a 5-15% credit and accumulate cash in the form of American Express gift cards.
You can also earn more by booking your reservations at OpenTable, which also rewards you after you reach a certain number of restaurant visits each year. You get cash towards free meals for your participation, and if you pair that with iDine, you can find yourself enjoying gourmet dining at least once or twice per year entirely for free.
Always Join Loyalty Clubs
While individual or single establishment eateries don’t always have punch cards or loyalty clubs, it is still a widely used marketing tactic. You buy a coffee and bagel at your local corner shop and they punch your card. Do that 20 times and you get your “usual” for free, turn in the card and start all over. The point is – FREE food for eating food you like!
The larger national restaurants often use loyalty clubs, too. These are better than ever thanks to the world of mobile communication. After all, many will have apps and you can register your card with your phone. This automatically sends your points or rewards into the system, with no punch cards to track. The mobile system also enables vendors to send out all kinds of deals and many are for free food in one form or another.
As an example, you might get a BOGO (buy one get one free) offer or an option for free drinks, a free appetizer, and more.
Explore Discounted Gift Card Sites
While this may not qualify as a way to eat for free, it does often get you steep discounts at some of your favorite chains. Websites like Cardcash.com are ripe with opportunity after the Christmas holiday with people selling off the cards they received in return for cold hard cash.
So, if you grab yourself a $50 card for something like $40, you are getting $10 in free food and drink. It may not put tons of money in your pocket, but it is a good way to save a substantial sum at the end of the year.
Consider Work as a Mystery Shopper
No, you don’t make money as a mystery shopper by going to restaurants, but most people who get these gigs can also be reimbursed for the cost of the food. Some of the mystery shopping firms also reward you for brief reviews of the restaurants, too. So, strategize your work earning money as a mystery shopper by choosing your restaurants wisely and getting food for free!
Go Cash Back or Stay Home
If you are looking to save money eating for free, you need to use a cash back credit card. While you can find some cards that rack up the miles for your frequent flyer programs, you can also find plenty that pay from one to five percent for each dining experience. Over time, this turns into free money and that free money is converted to free food!
Don’t forget that at Texas Roadhousekids eat free, and also that at Golden Corral kids eat free as part of a family. You can also go to Denny’s toeat free during certain family oriented events. Don’t forget that many happy hour specials include plenty of free finger foods or amazing price cuts, and if you have an hour to kill at Costco, you can fill up on all of the freebies they regularly pass out during busy hours.
There are many ways to savor the delights of free food, and these are just some of the simplest and most effective.