The gentleman's guide to getting free food/drinks anywhere
Food is expensive. Hell, just being alive in a city is expensive. So what are you to do, as a young gentleman-about-town, when you've almost exhausted your liquid funds and need a quick bite without spending any of your hard-earned savings-account moolah? I've scrounged around for some of the best free noshes life has to offer, and compiled 26 of them here for your convenience and reference.
NOTE: I left out "mooching off your roommate" because I KNOW WHAT YOU DID, HANNA.
1. Free samples at grocery stores
Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, and Sam’s Club all give away free samples to browsing patrons. They are also easily duped by a fake mustache and outrageous accent, so you can go at least one more time depending on how good your Tom Selleck and Groucho Marx impressions are.
2. Going on a date with a rando from Tinder or OkCupid and having them buy you food
This doesn’t work for everybody -- you’ve gotta agree on the terms beforehand. But hey, some people are into non-normativity.
3. Complimentary birthday food from restaurant rewards programs
Why, yes! My name is Coincidencio Garibaldi, and today happens to be my birthday! I would like a slice of your complimentary cake, please.
4. The “good guy” discount
I heard about this from a coworker who heard about it from NPR, but apparently, if you appeal to certain cashiers and clerks by telling them that you’re “a good guy, and I know another good guy when I see one” when you’re buying their merchandise, they will occasionally give it to you for free, or at least at a discount. NOTE: Doesn’t work on bad guys.
5. Informational meetings for certain religious sects
I’m not saying you should become a Hare Krishna, but at least give it a shot. For the refreshments.
6. Free wine and cheese from art galleries
You’ve gotta dress up for this one, but since you’re a gentleman, you’ll already be oozing class, and people will find your tuxedo tee charming. Schmooze and make an offhand comment about Kandinsky’s oeuvre, and you’ll be all but encouraged to partake of their Pinot Noir and Gruyere.
7. Frozen yogurt samples at self-serve places
The sample cups they give you are small, but there’s no reason you can’t knock back shot after shot of sweet, sweet “EuroTart”.
8. Becoming a freegan
Dumpsters can be a valuable source of pizza crusts, half-eaten donuts, and raw meat. Mmm, raw meat!
9. Mall food court people hawking food from trays with toothpicks
A free meal doesn’t get more (Panda) express than this.
10. Barbershops where they give out whiskey while you get your haircut
If your barber’s an old-fashioned gent (and it’s after noon), he’ll occasionally give you a shot of whiskey to accompany your haircut. It'll probably be from his flask.
11. Street teams passing out free energy drink samples
Go to a public square or park during the daytime, and there’ll usually be some cultish, identically-clad twentysomethings urging you to try a free can of their new beverage, which is probably called either Ballz, Bawls, Bawlz, or Baal’s.
12. Performing a comedy show and totally bombing, causing people to throw tomatoes at you
It’s easier than growing your own!
15. Mustard/ketchup/mayo packets at hot dog joints and delis
Shotgun a whole armful of ketchup bad boys and you’ll get at least a day’s worth of lycopene. Your prostate will thank you.
16. Having a friend who works at a restaurant
This one requires some advance planning, and a friend who’s willing to go to extreme lengths just to get you free food before their boss notices and fires them, thus harming their employment record for the rest of their life. Sorry, Paul.
17. Becoming a mystery shopper
If you become a mystery shopper -- someone hired by a company to go on a free shopping or eating spree at their business and report on the service they received -- you can get a lot of freebies. Compensation varies, but a lot of companies use these people to improve their business, so everyone wins! Capitalism!
18. Reddit's “random acts of pizza” subreddit, where you can get free pies
If you’re legitimately down on your luck and could use a pie to get you through the day, you can appeal to the good people of r/randomactsofpizza on Reddit, and they may arrange to have a pizza sent your way.
19. Bakeries that throw away their excess baked goods at the end of the day
When bakeries have leftover baked goods from the morning’s batch, they'll either give them away for free or throw them out. In the case of the latter, see #8.
20. Your favorite restaurant on its promotional "free food" day
A lot of places do promotional giveaways of ice cream cones, appetizers, baked goods, and other stuff -- so print this out and get your fix before anyone else (you just might have to be willing to camp out in front of the store, though).
b) a wedding
What a joyous occasion... FOR MY STOMACH!
c) a bar/bat mitzvah
It's pretty much a requirement that all the adults drink a lot at these things.
d) a quinceañera
This is just fun to say.
22. Actually participating in those surveys on the bottom of your restaurant/deli receipts
Yeah, you know that extra mile of receipt paper on the bottom of your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos purchase? Chances are there’s a survey on there that could net you some sweet free merch. Just don’t get your red dust-covered fingers all over it.
23. Dive bars that have free bar snacks, like Goldfish or cheese balls
I recommend staying there all day, hogging the jukebox to play “Everybody Hurts”, and just popping these left and right.
24. "Treat of the month” programs, like the one from Godiva
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t capitalize on my “truffle of the month” membership.
25. Foraging for wild berries
NOTE: This doesn’t often work in urban settings.
26. Walking around the local park looking for cookouts
Bobby’s birthday party? Yeah, he’s great -- GIVE ME A CHEESEBURGER. Garibaldi family reunion? Nice to meet you; my name’s Coincidencio, AND I’LL BE TAKING YOUR CHEESEBURGER TODAY. Oh, hi, Aunt Margaret.
Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and was only kicked out of a business once while taking photos for this article. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.