There may be such a thing as a free lunch after all — at least at restaurants with their own apps.
One of the biggest perks of downloading the app for your favorite restaurant is that often you can get access to freebies — everything from a free drink or appetizer to a free entrée or dessert. You can find apps for dozens of fast-food restaurants, casual dining chains and even some local restaurants.
“You don’t have to spend a ton to earn the freebies,” says Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with comparison-shopping website DealNews. Those freebies can help you maximize your dining budget, especially as inflation has pushed up the cost of dining out by 6.5 percent in the past year.
The rewards requirements for each app are different, but expect some freebies simply for downloading certain apps. Others require you to spend a certain amount over time. And some offer extras on your birthday.
Look for a link to download an app on a restaurant’s website or check the app store on your smartphone. These apps are free, but you’ll typically need to set up a username and password to get started.
One pro tip for using restaurant apps: If you haven’t been to the restaurant recently, make sure to log in to the app and update it before you get seated at the establishment.
“You don’t want to be frantically punching at your phone or trying to remember your password when you’re ready to pay or you need to use a coupon,” says Cherie Lowe, who runs the blog site QueenOfFree.net.
Here’s a look at some popular restaurant apps for free food. All of these details are subject to frequent change and are accurate as of Sept. 15, 2023.
Reward members get a free classic roast beef sandwich when you buy a full-price menu item. You’ll find more than 3,400 restaurants in all states but Rhode Island and Vermont. Through the app you’ll get a free small fries every week and money-saving coupons, such as $3 off $10 or $5 off $20.
2. Bob Evans
Receive a free Dinner Bell plate with a meat, potato and vegetable when you spend $15 before sales tax and the discount when you download the app. The restaurant chain with more than 400 locations in 18 primarily Midwestern states also offers birthday rewards such as free hotcakes and incentives for referring friends.
Earn 100 points for every $10 you spend, plus score additional points for completing in-app tasks such as checking in at the bar or playing games. Coupons also are available in the app. Trade in points for free food. The chain with more than 1,200 locations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will give you six free wings during your birthday month.
If you make sure to visit at least every 45 days, the My Chili's Rewards app gets you free chips and salsa or a free nonalcoholic drink, as long as you spend $5. In addition, you’ll get personalized reward offers for things like free kids meals, appetizers and desserts, as well as free dessert on your birthday. App members also enjoy free in-restaurant Wi-Fi at the chain’s more than 1,200 locations in every state but Oregon.
You also might like: If you’re closer to an Applebee’s, its discounts are offered through email rather than an app. Enroll in the Club Applebee’s rewards program and you get a free appetizer with a $15 purchase. The chain has more than 1,500 restaurants in Puerto Rico and every state except Hawaii.
Enjoy free guacamole for signing up along with extra deals on your birthday at the burrito chain’s more than 3,000 restaurants located in D.C. and every state except Alaska and Hawaii. You’ll earn 10 points for every $1 you spend, which you can trade in for free food or Chipotle merchandise.