Whoever came up with the phrase, “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” had not heard of free food apps.
Everyone loves a freebie, and over the years, restaurants have capitalized on that by leveraging the power of technology and creating apps that can both give them publicity and provide loyal customers with free or discounted meals and perks. True, sometimes it’s free food in exchange for spending a lot on other meals, but you can still snag a great deal on food or get free food with a few swipes or taps on your phone.
So many dining establishments are offering free food or drinks in exchange for installing and using their apps, that it’s hard to find a restaurant chain that isn’t offering one.
The restaurant apps in particular are becoming very popular among fast-casual restaurants, says Sondra Barker, publisher of the website, CuisineandTravel.com. She cites the Luna Grill, a popular Mediterranean chain mostly located in Southern California that lets you scan your barcode and earn points.
“Every 100 points are redeemable for a $10 rewards certificate to put toward your next meal. When I pick up a Mediterranean plate for myself and my fiancé we still end up spending $40 to $50, so I average $10 back about every third visit,” Barker says. “Additionally, they give special offers for free appetizers, 20% discounts and, more recently, ‘surprise offers’ for visiting more than once in a month.”
In addition to getting you free food, these apps can also save you time; you can avoid long lines at the drive-through or your favorite coffee spot by making orders ahead of time. Many of these apps also give you points for purchases, which will earn you even more freebies.
Barker says that restaurant apps are also offering discounts for people who cut out the third-party delivery services.
“With the popularity of food delivery, many restaurants are also offering special rewards incentives to call them directly for delivery and to order take out for pickup. This provides an incentive for the customer but can also save the restaurant a 30% loss in fees,” Barker says.
So if you’re thinking that it’s been awhile since you’ve had a free lunch and you want to know how to get free food, here’s a rundown of some restaurants offering free food for downloading and using their apps. You’ll want to take note that some restaurant apps require you to make an initial purchase or register for a loyalty account to get your free food.
— Auntie Anne’s
— Burger King
— The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
— Dairy Queen
— Dunkin’ Donuts
— Jamba Juice
— Jack in the Box
— Jimmy John’s
— Krispy Kreme
— Noodles & Company
— Panera Bread
— Pizza Hut
— Taziki’s Mediterranean Café
— Steak ‘n Shake
— Taco Bell
After installing Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Perks’ mobile app, you’ll get a free pretzel with your first purchase of $1 or more. You’ll also receive points for making purchases through the app, and each time you reach 250 points, you’ll earn an additional free pretzel. Auntie Anne’s app will also alert you about surprise rewards and offers.
Downloading the Baskin-Robbins app gives you a free regular scoop of ice cream. The app will also alert you to “sweet deals,” which include discounts on select menu items.
Download the app, and you’ll get “secret deals and exclusive mobile coupons” and “save like a king,” according to their website. While your visit to Burger King probably isn’t quite comparable to an afternoon at Buckingham Palace with King Charles, starting Nov. 1, 2022, you’ll earn 10 crowns for every dollar spent through their Royalty Perks program. You can then redeem those crowns for food.
As you use the Chick-fil-A app to purchase food, you’ll earn points that you can then redeem for different rewards ranging from cookies and milkshakes to chicken sandwiches and frosted coffees.
After your first purchase with the Chipotle app, you can enjoy some chips and guacamole on the house. You’ll also earn 10 points for every $1 you spend within the app, in the restaurant or online. There are also opportunities to double your points and earn achievement badges, which can be used to get more free food and Chipotle merch.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
You’ll get 30% off your first in-store order just for downloading The Coffee Bean rewards app, plus you’ll also earn points every time you make a purchase. The app also gives users special discounts and offers (like buy one, get one free on a cappuccino).
[READ: 20 Creative Ways to Save Money.]
With Dairy Queen’s app, you’ll collect points each time you make a purchase, and you can later redeem those points on your favorite DQ items. You’ll also receive access to weekly in-app deals.
Download the Dunkin’ app and you’ll earn 10 points for every $1 spent. Rack up enough of those points, and you’ll be rewarded with a free doughnut or drink; after spending $15, you’ll be able to get your first free food item. When your birthday rolls around, you’ll also receive a special offer via the app.
Downloading the app or signing up for the online rewards program gives you half off a smoothie and half off a sandwich on your return visit. You can also earn points for more rewards as you make purchases, and you can celebrate your birthday with a free birthday smoothie.
Jack in the Box
With the Jack in the Box mobile app, you’ll score 20% off your first in-app purchase. You’ll also start racking up points that will earn you free food down the road. Users will be privy to special app-only deals.
Download the app or sign up for the rewards program online, and you’ll get your next sandwich free. With Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards, you’ll also earn points that will add up to freebies like sides or sandwiches.
When you download the Krispy Kreme app or sign up for Krispy Kreme’s rewards program online, you get a free doughnut. Each purchase earns you points toward more free Krispy Kreme treats. You’ll also stay in the know about exclusive offers and deals.
You’ll get a free order of large fries just for downloading the McDonald’s app. The freebies keep coming with points for each order, which you can redeem for more free food. Plus, the app also announces exclusive deals, such as $1 fries and 99 cent coffee.
Noodles & Company
Noodles and Company has a membership program that works in tiers. For every dollar you spend, you get eight points. Eventually when you reach 1,601 points, for every dollar you spend, you get 10 points. When you hit 6,601 points, for every dollar you spend, you get 12 points. And obviously, the more points you get, the faster you can redeem for free food. A regular entree is 1500 points; a fountain drink is 300 points. You can also get a free regular entree after your first purchase through the Noodles Reward app.
In addition to earning rewards for your purchases, Panera Bread will sporadically send some surprise offers, and you’ll get more of them if you opt in for push notifications. Plus, if you have a regular coffee habit or enjoy Panera’s Charged Lemonades and other drinks, you might be interested in Panera’s “Unlimited Sip Club” subscription ($11.99 a month), which currently offers new subscribers one month for free.
For every dollar you spend, you’ll earn two points to go toward free food and drinks. Breadsticks cost 75 points, and a medium two-topping pizza is 200 points. You can get any large pizza for 300 points, so if you spend $150, you’ll get a large pizza. If you frequent Pizza Hut often, it’s a no-brainer to get the app and accept your free food.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
This is a café mostly in the South and parts of the Midwest. You download the app or give your phone number to the cashier and sign up. For every $6 spent, you get a star. For every 25 stars, you get $10 off your next order. It may take awhile to get that reward, but if you’re eating there a lot, why not download the app or fork over your phone number to occasionally get free food?
When you sign up for the Quiznos app, you’ll get $5 off your first in-app order. You’ll also start earning points at a rate of $1 per point. For 25 points, you’ll get 15% off your check. For 50 points, you’ll score a free combo. And on your birthday, you’ll get a buy one, get one free offer on an 8-inch sub.
With the Schlotzsky’s app, you’ll earn two points for every $1 you spend. Those points add up to smaller rewards like chips and cookies to larger rewards like pizzas and sandwiches.
Ordering ahead to skip the line at your local Starbucks is one of the best perks of this app. But you can also rack up freebies by making purchases and earning stars through the app.
Steak ‘n Shake
A free milkshake is yours (if you get it after 4 p.m.) just for downloading the Steak ‘n Shake app. You’ll also earn $5 reward for every $50 you spend, plus you’ll have access to exclusive deals.
When you download the Taco Bell mobile app, you’ll get a free reward just for joining. You’ll then collect points with every purchase, which will earn you more free food.
For every $1 you spend, you’ll get 10 points, and as you accrue points, you can redeem them for free food. If you spend $15, you can get a small Frosty. Not surprisingly, the bigger the food, the more points you’ll need to collect. A Dave’s Single is 450 points. Want a free Baconator? You’ll have to accrue 700 points.
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Update 10/24/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.