This Mom’s Been Eating Free Chick-fil-A for 3 Years. Here’s Her Guide to Scoring Freebies at Restaurant Openings

how to get free food
Mark Turnauckas under Creative Commons

When I was eight months pregnant with my first son, a reporter asked me why on earth I was camped out in front of a Chick-fil-A for its grand opening in single-digit Colorado temperatures.

My response, “Baby loves chicken!”

The real answer? “Mommy loves free food.”

Yes, You Really Can Get a Free Lunch

Although camping out during your third trimester might not be for everyone, restaurant openings are an awesome opportunity to get free food.

I’ve done three Chick-fil-A campouts — each time being one the first 100 people in the door. The result? A year of free meals: 52 coupons for meal deal #1.

Most recently, my friend Jamie and I camped out for 52 coupons for a free bagel with “shmear” from Einstein Bros. Bagels and a medium roast coffee from Caribou. Other friends of mine have scored free chicken wings for a year from Buffalo Wild Wings and a year’s worth of coffee from Scooter’s Coffee & Yogurt.

Lots of chains and local favorites offer specials or freebies at their grand openings, ranging from a single donut to a whole dinner on the house. Restaurant managers want big crowds on opening day — it’s good PR, and the news might send a TV or radio crew.  

While I’m sure there are numerous ways to find restaurant openings in your town, I’ve found these the most effective:

Check Chains’ Websites for Openings Near You

If you already know of a chain restaurant that always offers freebies for grand openings (such as those mentioned above) regularly scan their sites for future openings in your area.

Since freebies are usually at the restaurant manager’s discretion, grand openings may or may not offer anything. I’ve also heard of success stories at openings of new Bob Evans, Panda Express, Dutch Brother’s Coffee and Chili’s locations.

Listen for Restaurant-Opening Rumors

If a new restaurant is opening in your town, chances are others are already pumped.

When your friend mentions that they’re finally putting in “(blank) restaurant,” it only takes a few minutes to check the company’s website or Facebook page to see if they offer incentives to get you there at the crack of dawn.  

My friends once got me super excited about my local Trader Joe’s opening — I got up at 4 a.m. to stand in line for a free shopping bag, lei and coffee.

Keep an Eye on New Construction Signs

At any given moment in my city of Colorado Springs, somebody is building something.

When I’m stopped at a traffic signal, I glance over to see what it is — and then I pop online for more details when I get home.

How to Get Free Food at Grand Openings

I’ll pause and let you check your favorite restaurant’s website. Do they have a grand opening coming up?! Awesome!

Here are some tips to make sure you actually score the freebie.

Get There Early

Chances are, if you love Einstein Bros. and are willing to camp out for bagels, so are 500 other people in your town.

Note what time you can start lining up and seriously consider arriving early.

Some chains, such as Chick-fil-A, are so popular, they do a lottery system. As long as you’re there 24 hours early, you’ll usually be in time to get a raffle ticket to see if you can be one of the first 100 people.

At other restaurants, you might be fine getting there an hour before it opens. If you’ve never done a campout and don’t know what time to arrive, check the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Or, Google “What time should I show up for a Buffalo Wild Wings opening” and get feedback from experienced campers.

Pack for the Weather

Whether it’s going to be 7 degrees or 107, the worst thing is to be camped out on asphalt and unprepared.

If it’s going to be cold, take hand warmers; if it’s going to be hot, take a frozen bottle of water.

Take Snacks

Some restaurants will give you snacks while you wait in line, while others won’t. Take something to munch on while you wait so don’t get “hangry.”

Take a Tent

If you or your camping buddy owns a tent, take it.

As “fun” as sleeping in your lawn chair — or just sitting on the curb — sounds, by hour eight you’ll wish you could stretch out or just get away from the crowd.

Take Something to Do

If you really want to make this an economical choice, bring work or some other way to make money while you wait.

Chances are, the company’s Wi-Fi is already set up — why not take surveys, do some freelance writing, or upload items to Ebay?

Be Ready to Network

At campouts, you’re bound to meet some fascinating people you already have something in common with — a passion for free food.

Why not make some connections while you’re there?  

Be Aware of the Restroom Situation

This will be just like the road trip you took in ‘09, when your friend refused to stop to let you pee.

Keep in mind the new restaurant is not actually open yet, so the bathroom situation can be precarious. You probably don’t want to have to pee in the alley behind the dumpster.

Your Turn: Where have you scored free food? And do you have any campout tips to share?

Eva Daniel is a radio producer, and lives with her husband, two boys and puppy in Colorado Springs Co. She has a passion to save money and loves to scrimp on clothes by shopping at thrift stores so that she splurge on overpriced lattes.