19 ways to get free food
When you're on a student budget, nothing will make your day more than scoring free food. It's not the easiest thing to come by, but we've got tips!
You might think getting your hands on free food is verging on the impossible (and maybe even the criminal), but this is where you're wrong, friends!
There are actually a whole host of legit ways you can score free food, all of which keep well within the law.
The trick is simply just to know where to look for your free grub, so we're here to tell you where to focus your hungry eyes, plus a few tricks on how to get maximum results.
How to get free food and drink
These are the best ways to get free food and drink:
Use supermarket cashback apps
Supermarket cashback apps don't always guarantee free food – but at any given time there's usually a couple of freebies across each of the apps. And even when you're only getting a discount, the savings can be substantial.
All you need to do is download the apps, view the offers and check the eligibility criteria (like which supermarkets are taking part). Then, once you've bought the product, simply scan the receipt (and sometimes the product's barcode) and voilà – you've got your cashback!
As we said, not every offer will get you 100% cashback on your food but the savings are usually at least around the 50% mark. However, if you use Shopmium to its full effect, you could get referral credits that'll cover the rest of the cost too.
Check out our guide to the best supermarket cashback apps for more details on how to get free food in your weekly shop.
Become a mystery diner
Fancy getting free food from your favourite restaurants? Well, look no further than mystery dining. All you need to do is sign up to an agency, wait for them to give you an assignment at a local restaurant or food chain and then write a report on your experience.
These agencies are paid by the owners of the establishment to ensure certain standards are being met and, in turn, the agency 'pays' you for doing all the hard work.
The reason we say "pay" with a pinch of salt (pun intended) is that agencies will only cover your grub and you won't be paid in cash for your efforts.
But if you're just in it for a free meal, what's the harm? Find out what you need to do to sign up here.
Sign up to restaurant newsletters and apps
Other chains are a little more sporadic in their offerings. Take Subway, for instance, who regularly give Subcard holders free sandwiches, cookies and other treats for all kinds of reasons (including, unsurprisingly, National Sandwich Day).
McDonald's are pretty generous with their app, too. They've previously given away Cheese Dippers, fries, McMuffins and to app users, as well as massive discounts on other menu items. Check out our guide to getting free McDonald's for more tips like this.
The lesson here is: if you like eating somewhere, see if you can get involved with their newsletter or app (using an alias email to avoid the spam). Even if there aren't any freebies right now, you never know when they might decide to treat you with some free food...
Cashback sites offering free takeaways
If you're looking to get free food online, then look no further than our deals section – we're always featuring offers for free meals just for signing up to cashback sites like Quidco and TopCashback.
When we say that we're "always featuring" these offers, we're barely exaggerating, either. Most weeks there's an opportunity for new customers to register for a free account and be rewarded with a reasonably large spend at a takeaway company.
Look for food waste supermarkets
Check to see if you have any food waste supermarkets in your area (yes, they really do exist!).
Essentially, food waste supermarkets have a deal with major supermarkets and restaurants meaning that any food that isn't up to their lofty standards – but is still perfectly edible – is donated to their warehouses.
This stops crazy amounts of food being wasted, and the products they have are amazing! See for yourself here.
The Real Junk Food Project have warehouses and cafes popping up all over the UK, all of which operate on a 'pay as you feel' policy. This means you can either pay by donation or offer some hours of your time volunteering in the warehouse in return for your purchases. So, as long as you don't mind a bit of hard graft, you could be in for a load of free food!
Use zero-waste apps for leftover food
We've all been there. You drastically overestimate just how many oranges you'll eat in a week, and all of a sudden it hits you – they're gonna go off before you get a chance to eat them.
Fortunately, precisely because we've all been there, there's now an app for you and everyone else to get rid of their excess food for free!
It's called Olio, and what's on offer will vary based on what people in your area have going, ranging from raw ingredients to leftovers from a cooked meal. Sometimes they may ask for a small donation to charity as payment, but more often than not there are freebies to be had!
And, in the spirit of Olio, it's worth checking out Too Good To Go and Karma (although this is mostly only available in London and the South East), too. These apps let cafes and restaurants sell their excess stock at a cut-price, and while you're unlikely to get anything for free, you'll almost certainly bag yourself a bargain!
Get paid to go to the pub
If eating for free isn't quite enough for you, it turns out you can even get paid to go to the pub now, too.
Sign up as a pub tester with Serve Legal and you'll be asked to visit pubs and confirm that they're checking the IDs of any young people buying alcohol.
Due to the nature of the work, Serve Legal are primarily looking for applicants aged 18 or 19 (as teenagers are more likely to look like they need to have their IDs checked). But, if you fit the bill, you could be paid £5 – £50 per audit – free drink and hopefully a tasty profit to go along with it!
Get first-order discounts on takeaway apps
Loads of takeaway companies offer free food when you first sign up to their app.
Free tea and coffee while you shop
Back in the day, it was completely free for all MyWaitrose cardholders, but Waitrose eventually changed the rules and now you have to make a purchase to get your complimentary tea or coffee.
Doing your weekly shop at Waitrose can get expensive, so we wouldn't recommend switching it up just to get a free hot drink. However, as there's no minimum spend to qualify for the offer, you can just buy the cheapest thing going (apparently if you put a very small mushroom on the scale, it'll cost 1p) and still get your tea or coffee.
And it's not just Waitrose shoppers who can get free hot drinks. Sign up for an IKEA Family card and you'll get unlimited free tea or filter coffee (unlike Waitrose, the fancy coffees aren't free here) in the in-store restaurant.
Get free food from your mobile network
Customers of O2 and Vodafone won't need us to tell them that their network hooks them up with some seriously good offers through their Priority Moments and VeryMe apps. Both are always giving their customers free coffees, free chocolate and even free beer – but what if you're not on either network?
Once you've done that you'll have access to loads of free food, as well as your fair share of non-edible freebies and offers too.
Eat out for free on your birthday
This one may only come in handy once a year, but you wouldn't believe how many restaurants and cafes offer free food on customers' birthdays.
Play it right and you can dine like royalty for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and have some cheeky free snacks to keep for the next day) without opening your wallet once. And, to clarify, it's just not food – there's plenty of free alcohol on offer too!
Check out our ultimate guide to birthday freebies for more deets on where you can get your free food, plus how to get it.
Use supermarket coupons
Using paper coupons at the supermarket may seem a bit wartime, but this little trick still has a place in modern life.
Now and again we'll feature a coupon for free food in our deals section and, more often than not, you'll either be able to print it off for yourself at home or find it in a free newspaper, like Metro.
Then all you need to do is find a shop stocking the product (after you've looked at the T&Cs to check if any chains aren't participating, of course) and present your coupon at the checkout.
We've used coupons to get all kinds of free food in the past, including ice cream, ready meals and dog treats... ok, so the last one isn't really free food for you, but we're sure your doggo will appreciate it!
Grow your own food
Having a small garden gives you the opportunity to grow an array of different fruit and veg, and free seeds often pop up on our deals page.
Allotments are great for the committed, but these can be scarce in some areas and normally involve costs (although sharing an allotment with friends or flatmates can work out pretty economical).
If you don’t have either of these things, even just a simple window box can play host to all kinds of herbs and salad greens.
And, if you're feeling super adventurous, you could even craft a small potato patch from dustbin filled with compost. Did you know that if you plant a single potato in there, multiple potatoes will grow from it? We're full of fun facts today!
Think you're up for the challenge? We've got a whole article on growing your own fruit and veg at uni!
Go foraging for food
The top chefs do it, so why can’t we? Foraging is something that can be done year-round by picking and collecting foods that are in season.
You'd need to take a wild food course to know what you’re doing when it comes to mushrooms/fungi, but others are easier to identify – and this super cheap guide to finding free food in the wild is a great starting point.
Obviously, this one suits the countryside dwellers a bit better and might not be a way to score free food if you live in a city like London – especially as we don't recommend breaking into any poor sod's allotments and nabbing all their precious veg...
Here are a few to get you started:
Highly abundant and available throughout the year, it's usually easy to find garlic as it gives off a strong aroma (of garlic, obviously). The best time to harvest wild garlic is July–December, when the plant is dormant.
If you've ever gone blackberry picking at some point in your life, you'll know that it grows just about anywhere! They can be made into crumbles, pies, added to ice cream or made into jam. And the best thing is you can freeze them until you decide exactly how you'd like 'em!
Live by the seaside? You can also go cockle picking – just check Google to find out the best spots near you. Once they're cooked and thoroughly cleaned, they can be placed in a jar of vinegar to enjoy whenever you'd like.
Seaweed might not be at the top of everyone’s list, but the health benefits that it offers are unparalleled. Boil it, steam it, make sushi with it, or fry and add it to salads and soups.
Get free staff meals at your part-time job
A lot of cafes and restaurants will give their staff free meals during their shift, and also food to go home with if there are leftovers (although it might not be the best idea to ask about this during your interview).
Free samples of new food products
Restaurants, cafes and bars often give out samples when promoting events. And, elsewhere, big brands will sometimes hire promo staff to dish out samples of new products when launching.
The trick is to head for the busiest street corners you know of (train and tube stations are normally a good bet, too) and get your freebie-dar on.
Many brands also offer freebies online and will even cover postage costs. Our deals section and freebies page invariably list great free grub, and signing up to our deals roundup, Facebook page and Telegram group will serve up some edible freebies for you every week!
Also remember that things like sugar and ketchup sachets (and even some premium condiments, like Nando's Peri-Peri sauce sachets) are free in a lot of places. That said, while there's no harm in taking a couple of extra packets when you're paying for the main item, don't go overboard!
Enter eating competitions
Not one for the faint-hearted, but signing up to an eating competition can be a great way to get some free food and loads of free kudos points.
Often (but not always) eating competitions will be held for free (or the winner won't have to worry about parting with any cash), which is all the more motivation to eat up.
Similarly, look out for restaurants that have posters promoting massive meals that they'll give to you free-of-charge if you manage to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
Meet-and-greets and networking events
If you're yet to join a university society, this could be the push you need. Societies regularly hold meet-ups for members and these tend to involve free food and even free booze!
Freshers' week is probably the best time to join a society, and going to the freshers' fair should be one of the first things you do when you start uni. As well as being the ideal place to sign up to multiple societies at once, a fair share of the stalls will be giving out free food as a way to draw people in!
As for the societies themselves, not only are they are a great way to network and boost your CV, but you'll also fill your belly free of charge. Just don't get caught shoving the buffet sandwiches into your bag.
This also applies to film screenings at your SU and art exhibition openings. Stock up on free food and have a side order of culture – what could be better?
Supermarket openings and restaurant launches
If you know of a new supermarket opening in your area (or any other food shop for that matter), make sure you’re there for opening day.
You can pretty much guarantee there will always be free samples a-plenty on offer, so make sure you show up with an appetite!
Restaurant launches are great for this kinda thing too. While you may not get your whole meal for free (note: you still could do!), new restaurants will almost always offer a decent discount on their opening night (or opening week).
And if you’re keen to milk these events for all they're worth, but scared of getting caught (although, let's be honest, who cares? Free food is free food), stick on your best disguise and do the rounds again!
Exhausted all of these hacks for getting free food? Head over to our bumper list of ways to save money on food and make sure you never pay full price for your meals.