20 ways to get free food
When you're on a student budget, nothing will make you happier than scoring free food. It's not the easiest thing to come by, but we've got all the tips you need.
You might think getting free food is impossible. But, thankfully, it's not.
Saving money on food is great, but getting it for free is even better. There are lots of legit ways you can get free food, all of which keep well within the law.
The trick is simply knowing where to look for your free food. 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 are usually a few freebies across the apps. 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). 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. And if you use Shopmium to its full effect, you could get referral credits that'll cover the rest of the cost too. That means free food every single time.
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? Try mystery dining. All you need to do is sign up with an agency, wait for them to give you an assignment at a local restaurant or food chain and write a report on your experience.
These agencies are paid by the owners of the establishment to ensure certain standards are being met. 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 often only cover the cost of your food. Usually, you won't be paid in cash for your efforts.
But if you're in it for a free meal, what's the harm? We've got more info on becoming a mystery diner and where to sign up.
Sign up to restaurant newsletters and apps
Many restaurants and fast food joints offer something free when you download their app or sign up for their newsletter. For example, Greggs offers a free hot drink for new app users.
Other chains are a little more sporadic in their offerings. Take Subway, for instance. They regularly give Subway Rewards holders free sandwiches, cookies and other treats for all kinds of reasons (including National Sandwich Day).
McDonald's is pretty generous with its app, too. They've previously given away Cheese Dippers, fries and McMuffins to app users. We've also seen some massive discounts on other menu items. Check out our guide to getting free McDonald's for more tips.
If you like eating in a particular restaurant, see if you can get involved with their newsletter or app (using an alias email to avoid spam). Even if there aren't any freebies right now, you never know when they might decide to treat you to some free food...We know of loads of ways to get free and cheap KFC.
Get free hot drinks from coffee shops
There are so many different coffee shop chains out there. And, there are lots of great ways to get freebies from them.
Our guide to getting free coffee runs through the ways to get a free hot drink at the major chains. It includes Costa, Pret, Caffè Nero, Starbucks and more.
And don't forget to keep visiting independent coffee shops near you, too. You might find they have their own offers that could bag you some free food or drink. Plus, you'll be supporting local businesses. Win-win!
Look for food waste supermarkets
Check to see if you have any food waste supermarkets in your area (yes, they exist!).
Food waste supermarkets have deals with major supermarkets and restaurants. Any food that isn't up to their standards (but is still perfectly edible) is donated.
This stops huge amounts of food from being wasted. Plus, the products they have are amazing.
For instance, the Real Junk Food Project has warehouses and cafes popping up all over the UK. They all operate on a 'pay as you feel' policy.
This means you can either pay by donation or offer some of your time volunteering in the warehouse in return for your purchases. As long as you don't mind a bit of work, you could be in for a lot of free food.
Use zero-waste apps to find free food near you
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 an app for you and everyone else to get rid of excess food for free.
It's called Olio. 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.
In the spirit of Olio, it's also worth checking out Too Good To Go. This app lets cafes and restaurants sell excess stock at a reduced price. 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.
Sign up as a pub tester with Serve Legal and you'll be asked to visit pubs to confirm they're checking the IDs of any young people buying alcohol.
Due to the nature of the work, Serve Legal primarily look for applicants aged 18 or 19. That's because teenagers are more likely to look like they need to have their IDs checked. If you fit the bill, you could be paid anything between £4 – £40 per audit.
Get first-order discounts on takeaway apps
Loads of takeaway companies offer free food when you first sign up to their app.
For example, delivery services Deliveroo and Uber Eats both usually offer money off your first order with them. Depending on how generous they're feeling, that can sometimes mean getting a meal for free.In the mood for a takeaway? Check out our list of ways to get free Domino's.
Get free Just Eat vouchers
Although discounts on Just Eat are a little rarer than on Uber Eats and Deliveroo, there is a way for students to get free vouchers to use on the app.
Every Friday, VoucherCodes runs a student-only promotion known as FOMO Friday. During this promotion, you get a free gift voucher for spending a certain amount with that week's chosen retailer.
The gift voucher is usually worth £10 – £20, and you'll often only have to spend a maximum of £20 to get it. Usually, the qualifying spend is the same amount as the gift voucher, so it essentially cancels itself out.
Most weeks, free Amazon vouchers are on offer. However, sometimes VoucherCodes switches it up and offers Just Eat vouchers instead. Get these vouchers and you'll not only be on your way to free food, but a free takeaway at that.
Sign up for a VoucherCodes Student account and look out for the next offer.
Remember to only buy things you already want or need to hit the qualifying spend. Otherwise, you'll be wasting money just to get the voucher. Then it's not really free food at all...
Free tea and coffee while you shop
Looking for free drinks while you shop? Ikea's got that sorted. If you sign up for the IKEA Family card, you'll get unlimited free tea or filter coffee in the in-store restaurant during the week.
And if you have a MyWaitrose card, you can get free takeaway tea or coffee with any purchase at their supermarkets.
Also, check out the John Lewis loyalty card scheme. After signing up, they will send you vouchers for a free hot drink and a slice of cake at John Lewis cafes.
Get free food from your mobile network
Customers of O2, Vodafone and Three won't need us to tell them that their network offers some great deals through their Priority Moments, VeryMe and Three+ apps. They're often giving their customers free coffee, free chocolate and even free beer.
But what if you're not on any of those networks?
Once you've done that you'll have access to loads of free food. On top of that, you'll get your fair share of non-edible freebies and offers.To avoid food waste, it's best to only get food you will definitely eat. This will help you to reduce your carbon footprint.
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 without opening your wallet once. You might even have some free snacks to keep for the next day. And, to clarify, it's not just food! There are plenty of free drinks on offer too.
Read our ultimate guide to birthday freebies to find out 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 outdated. But this little trick still works.
All you need to do is find a shop stocking the product and present your coupon at the checkout. But make sure you've looked at the T&Cs to check if any chains aren't participating.
We've used coupons to get all kinds of free food in the past. These have included things like free ice cream, ready meals and dog treats. Granted, the last one isn't free food for you, but we're sure your dog will appreciate it.
Grow your own food
Having a small garden gives you the chance to grow an array of different fruit and veg. If you keep an eye on our deals page, you may be able to find some free seeds.
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 quite cheaply.
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 adventurous, you could even craft a small potato patch from a dustbin filled with compost. Did you know that if you plant a single potato in there, multiple potatoes will grow from it?
If you think you're up for the challenge, check out our guide to growing your own fruit and vegetables.
Go foraging for food
The top chefs do it, so why can't we? Foraging is something you can do 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. Luckily, other foods are easier to identify. This cheap guide to finding free food in the wild is a great starting point.
This one suits the countryside dwellers a bit better. It might not be an easy way to get free food if you live in a city like London.
Here are a few to get you started:
Wild garlic is 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 between July–December. This is when the plant is dormant.
If you've ever gone blackberry picking, 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 them.
Live by the seaside? You can also go cockle picking. 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.
While seaweed might not be at the top of everyone's list, the health benefits 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
Many cafes and restaurants will give their staff free meals during their shift. Or, you may be able to take food home if there are leftovers. It might not be the best idea to ask about this during your interview, but it would surely be a great benefit.
Becoming a delivery driver for a takeaway joint is also a good way to get freebies. You might be able to take something home with you after your shift.
Free samples of new food products
Restaurants, cafes and bars often give out samples when promoting events. 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 look out for free food.
Many brands also offer freebies online and will even cover postage costs.
We're always on the hunt for the best freebies to share with you, so check out the following:
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.Love free chicken? Check out our Nando's hacks.
Enter eating competitions
This isn't for the faint-hearted, but signing up for an eating competition can be a great way to get free food and loads of free kudos points.
Eating competitions are often held for free. Or, at least, the winner won't have to pay. That's 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. Going to the freshers' fair should be one of the first things you do when you start uni. It's the ideal place to sign up for multiple societies at once. Plus, 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 a great way to network and boost your CV, but you'll also fill your belly free of charge.
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, make sure you're there for opening day. You can pretty much guarantee there will be free food samples on offer.
Restaurant launches are great for this too. While you may not get your whole meal for free (note: you still could!), new restaurants will almost always offer a decent discount on their opening night or week.
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.