How To Get Free Food At Your Favorite Restaurants

Want proof of humankind's primal love of free food? Try leaving a box of free donuts in your office breakroom. Or head to the grocery store and watch how quickly an unmanned tray of deli meat samples clears out. Or visit a new Chick-fil-A the night before opening day to witness the parking lot transform into a campground as locals attempt to be among the fortunate first 100 customers to win free Chick-fil-A for a year.

As any freeloader at a real estate open house will tell you in between bites of mini quiches, food somehow tastes better when it's free. We know this. Restaurants know this. And that's why food establishments across the country shell out free eats and treats in an attempt to draw diners and win customer loyalty.

You can take advantage of this tasty marketing tactic to score everything from complementary cheeseburgers to pancakes from your favorite food joints. Here's how to get free food at these restaurant chains:

IHOP

The somewhat misleadingly named International House of Pancakes has been an American institution for more than half a century. The iconic breakfast joint has locations across the US, where diner coffee flows freely and pancakes sizzle on griddles 24-7.

To score free food at IHOP, sign up for the MyHOP email list. Upon signing up, you'll receive an email coupon for a free full stack of any of their pancakes. As a member, you'll get another free stack on your birthday, and again on the anniversary of your signing up.

Keep in mind, to sign up for Pancake Revolution you'll have to provide a valid email address and your city and state. If you're not into handing out your email address, you can also visit IHOP on National Pancake Day to nab a freebie. On the "holiday," which usually falls near Fat Tuesday, you can get a free short stack of Original Buttermilk Pancakes at restaurants nationwide.

Finally, if you're a kid (or an adult who looks convincingly kid-like), you can land a free kid's meal on certain nights during kids-eat-free promotions. IHOP runs these promotions sporadically, so check the IHOP Facebook page or contact your local restaurant to see if a kids-eat-free promo is in the works.

Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo serves its Italian food "family-style," meaning most of its dishes are designed to be shared. Every appetizer, salad, pasta, pizza, entree, side, and dessert serves up to three, if you play by the rules. (That said, with the right attitude, you can definitely polish off a Colossal Brownie Sundae or Italian Sausage pizza for three by yourself. We believe in you.)

To get free food at Buca di Beppo, join their e-club. This will entitle you to a free pasta to share with one friend, two friends, or no friends, depending on how hungry you are. You get a choice of three pastas: spaghetti marinara, fettuccine Alfredo, or baked ziti.

Word on the street is you can also score a free cake from Buca di Beppo when you dine in with a party of four or more during your birthday month — although they don't mention this little perk on their website, so you'll have to check with your local restaurant. You'll have to reserve a table online first, and then show up with an I.D. that proves it is actually your birthday month and you're not just some rando who loves free cake (aka most of us).

Red Robin

From humble origins as a local watering hole by the University of Washington, Red Robin has expanded to more than 500 locations across the US and Canada. The quirky burger joint sets itself apart from the many burger establishments that flood the market with its lengthy menu of inventive burgers and creative cocktails. Consider, for example, the MadLove Burger with jalapeno relish and candied bacon, or the Blue Moon Beer Shake with orange juice and ice cream.

The good news is both you and your kids can nab free stuff at Red Robin—you just need to sign up for Red Robin Royalty. Once you've enrolled in the RR loyalty club, you'll receive a free burger from their menu of specialty burgers during your birthday month. You'll also get every 10th burger, salad, or entree for free. And if you visit a Red Robin five times within the first five weeks of enrolling in Red Robin Royalty, you'll earn $20 towards your next visit. Depending on the age of your kid, they'll get a free kid's meal or burger to celebrate their birthday, too.

Marble Slab Creamery

At Marble Slab Creamery locations across the US, you can get handcrafted, small-batch ice cream made from local dairy. Choose from dozens of flavors of homemade ice cream, sorbet, and low-fat frozen yogurt, then customize it with unlimited mix-ins. Marble Slab offers more than 65 kinds of mix-ins, including fruits, nuts, cookies, and candies.

What could be more delicious than homemade red velvet cake ice cream with fresh blueberries, toasted coconut, and Teddy Grahams? Free homemade red velvet cake ice cream with fresh blueberries, toasted coconut, and Teddy Grahams. Which is one of the many creamy custom complementary creations you could get if you were to download the Slab Happy Rewards app. When you download the app, you get a free ice cream, plus a $5-off coupon on your birthday and again on your anniversary of downloading. You'll also earn points every time you make a purchase at Marble Slab Creamery. Hit 50 points, and you'll get another $5 off coupon. 

Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme is notoriously generous with its donuts, handing the doughy wheels of glazed goodness out on "holidays" ranging from the often-celebrated National Donut Day (first Friday of June), to the the lesser-known second National Donut Day on November 5. The franchise has also been known to hand out free coffee in celebration of National Coffee Day (September 29). 

Can't wait for the next holiday? You can score a free donut on any day of the year by downloading the Krispy Kreme rewards app. You'll get a complimentary donut just for downloading the app and another one on your birthday. Throughout the year, you'll accumulate points with your Krispy Kreme purchases that you can use towards free donuts, coffee, and other beverages. Bonus: the app also comes with a nifty feature called "Hot Light", which alerts you when your local store just whipped up a fresh batch of donut. Kind of like a Bat Signal, but for donut lovers.

IKEA

"Now just hold on!" I hear you say. "You can't fool me. IKEA isn't a restaurant. It's a Swedish-based furniture store."

Right you are, reader. But as anyone who's shopped at IKEA can tell you, within every IKEA furniture store lies a Swedish-style restaurant. And within that restaurant, there are sizzling platters of freshly cooked local- and Swedish-inspired eats—including IKEA's renowned Swedish meatballs. At a mere $5.99 a plate, their signature meatballs are served with mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and allemansrätten gravy.

The way to eat free at IKEA is to be a kid and go on a Tuesday. Youngsters 12 and under get a free kid's meal on Tuesdays at participating locations. This could include their signature Swedish, chicken, or veggie meatballs, or grilled chicken with string cheese and veggies.

As a grownup, you can still get freebies at the IKEA restaurant if you sign up for their IKEA FAMILY loyalty program. Members get free UTZ-certified coffee or hot tea, in addition to discount prices on select foods at the restaurant and Swedish food market.

Denny's

A quintessential all-day-and-night American diner, Denny's has a vast menu encompassing pancakes, skillets, omelettes, burgers, and more. The restaurant's claim to fame, however, is its Grand Slam: a hearty breakfast combo first served in 1977. The Denny's Grand Slam is less of an entree and more of a feast, featuring your choice of four of basically any breakfast dish you can think of—eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, biscuits, etc.

Historically, Denny's has handed out free Grand Slams in honor of events like the Superbowl and launch of its Denny's on Demand mobile app. Now, Denny's will continue its celebratory tradition on your natal day, commemorating the occasion by awarding you a free birthday Grand Slam

For kids ages 10 and under, Denny's offers another enticing freebie. At participating restaurants, little ones get a free kid's meal with the purchase of an adult entree and beverage. The date and details may vary by location, but typically Denny's rolls out its kids eat free promotion from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, reports the Krazy Coupon Lady.

Olive Garden

America's favorite Italian-ish restaurant, Olive Garden is beloved for its unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks deal. The Mediterranean-inspired eatery has even more special offers in store for members of its email club.

Join the Olive Garden eClub, and you'll get a free appetizer or dessert with the purchase of two adult entrees, just for signing up. Take your pick from Mediterranean-inspired appetizers like Parmesan zucchini bites or desserts like the warm apple crostata.

As an eClub member, you'll also be treated to a free dessert on your birthday. In addition, you'll earn rewards every time you dine. The rewards system works like this: you earn one point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases at Olive Garden or its sister restaurants like Longhorn Steakhouse or Eddie V's Prime Seafood. Points can be redeemed for select appetizers, entrees, or deserts, or for reward certificates good for $10, $25, and $50 off your bill at participating locations.  

Johnny Rockets

If you've noticed a trend with all of these restaurant freebies, you probably can guess what you have to do to score a free burger from Johnny Rockets. (I'll give you a second to think.)

...

Did you guess, "Join their loyalty club?" Correct you are! Enrolling in the Rocket E-Club will entitle you to a free burger on sign up and again on your birthday. Note that to access both of these offers, you have to purchase an entree and a drink, so be sure to come with a friend or just extra hungry.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Johnny Rockets: the franchise serves up pure, domestic farm-raised beef burgers and hand-spun shakes and malts in retro digs. Restaurants are modeled after a classic '50s diner with modern touches like funky red chairs and industrial lighting. In addition to beef burgers, their menu includes a veggie burger, sandwiches and hot dogs, and tots topped with goodies like chili cheese and bacon.

California Pizza Kitchen

With hundreds of locations across the US, California Pizza Kitchen is yet another restaurant that coaxes customer loyalty with free food. To reap free appetizers, desserts, and other goodies inspired by California and global flavors, you need only join the CPK Rewards Club.

Once you join, you'll receive a free small plate on your next visit. You can choose from fusion plates like charred shishito peppers, Mexican street corn, or spicy buffalo cauliflower.

But wait, there's more. In honor of your birthday, you'll also get a free dessert—like the salted caramel pudding or key lime pie. And every time you dine at CPK, you'll earn one point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases. Once you hit 75 points, you'll get a $5 reward you can use towards food or non-alcoholic beverages. That means anything from hand-tossed Thai chicken pizza to oven-roasted turkey and brie sandwiches to passion fruit mango iced tea.

TGI Fridays

TGI Fridays, that high-energy American restaurant chain, remunerates its rewards club members with free food not just upon initial sign up and birthdays, but on every visit. As a member of TGI Fridays Rewards, you'll be treated free chips and salsa whenever you dine at the chain.

As with other rewards programs, you'll get an initial freebie when you first sign up, too. In the case of TGI Fridays Rewards, it'll be a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert. Select your freebie from their massive menu, which includes apps like boneless wings and warm pretzels and desserts like Tennessee whiskey cake and the Oreo madness ice cream sandwich.

You'll also earn one point for every $1 spent on food at TGI Fridays, which you can redeem for reward certificates to be used for more free food. And, of course, you'll get a free dessert on your birthday month.