The first coupon ever in circulation was produced by Coca-Cola in 1887, offering a free sample of the 1-year-old company's new soft drink. The marketing scheme worked: By 1895 the beverage had arrived in every U.S. territory; and in the early 1900s coupons were perfasive across consumer products. That's because when something is free or discounted, its perceived value tends to increase—as does the perceived generosity of the company. But there's another secret behind free and discounted marketing: It makes customers spend a lot more.
This psychology works to the advantage of restaurants across the country. Many companies offer customers a free entree, drink, or dessert on the house to celebrate a birthday, for example, which inevitably leads to the purchase of drinks and more food—and which can pull customers into establishments not normally frequented. To find out where all the free birthday treats are, Stacker scoured the websites of a variety of restaurants to find 50 that will gift patrons free goodies on their big day. To make the cut, these restaurants had to be chains with locations in numerous states around the country. But let it be known: Free is rarely actually free (except at Cracker Barrel and Denny’s). At almost every establishment in this gallery, you must sign up for a restaurant’s email newsletter or free rewards program in order to qualify for the complimentary birthday meal or snack. Do the work at least a week before your birthday; subscribe, wait, and enjoy the birthday loot.
Here are 50 restaurants where getting older means getting fuller for free.
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At the Cheesecake Factory, famously loved by NBA stars, birthdays are a big deal. If you alert your waiter beforehand, they’ll bring you a complimentary sundae with candle and even write "Happy Birthday" on your plate with a caramel or chocolate sauce.
Cracker Barrel is a one-of-a-kind chain with kitsch-heavy throwback decorum. If you happen to be at the country store restaurant, just tell your server it’s your birthday, and they’ll bring a free dessert and sing you into your new year.
Unlike other restaurants that make you sign up for a rewards program for your birthday freebie, Denny’s offers something free to every birthday patron. Go into Denny’s on your birthday, show your ID, and get a free Build Your Own Grand Slam: two pancakes, bacon, sausage, and two eggs any style.
If you join the membership club at Jimmy Buffet’s chain restaurant, you’ll get a free appetizer for signing up and a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday.
Hooters offers a free appetizer just for signing up for its HootClub. If you’re a member and go to Hooters to celebrate your big day, you’ll get 10 wings for free.
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Most famous for its Bloomin' Onion, an onion opened like a flower and then deep-fried, the Australian-themed steakhouse chain offers a free kids-size vanilla sundae to rewards members on their big day.
Sprinkles, the cupcake shop with locations in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Washington D.C., has a pretty amazing membership club. If you sign up for Sprinkles Perks, you enter a tiered membership program that includes free cupcakes every other Tuesday, a free item with every 15 purchases, and a free cupcake on your birthday.
If you sign up for DD Perks, you’ll get a free drink on your birthday. The Massachusetts-born international chain (now simply called Dunkin') is strongly linked to Boston, a town that calls it Dunks.
The ice cream giant has a Baskin-Robbins Birthday Club that offers its members—and their family and friends—perks on their birthday. On club members‘ birthdays, they receive a free 2.5-ounce scoop and $3 off a Baskin-Robbins birthday cake.
IHOP made international news and went viral when it temporarily changed its name to IHOb in June of 2018 ('b" for burgers) to promote a new line of patties. If you join the e-club, you’ll get a free stack of pancakes on your birthday, plus every anniversary of your signing up.
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Home of the ever-tempting, Never-Ending Pasta Bowl and Unlimited Soup, Salad, and Breadstick deal, the Olive Garden also has a birthday special for those who sign up for its membership program. eClub members get a free appetizer or dessert on their big day, so try your best to save some room.
If you join Club Baja, you’ll get a "special treat" for your birthday. The only caveat is that you have to sign up at least four days before checking off another year.
In order to get free food at Jersey Mike’s on your birthday, you need only to subscribe. Once you join Jersey Mike’s Email Club, you’ll be eligible for a birthday freebie: a free sub.
The Asian-style bistro specializes in American-Chinese food, but offers a wide variety of Asian-inspired dishes on its menu. Members of P.F. Chang's rewards program—a sort of frequent flyer program for the chain—offers two-for-one entrees on birthdays.
After signing up for Pinkberry’s loyalty program, you’ll start earning a free frozen yogurt after every 10 purchases. Also, on your birthday, you’ll get a free fro-yo just for getting older.
CPK, the pizza chain known for its offbeat pizza toppings, has birthday deals for kids and adults. Members of the CPK Fan Rewards get a free pizza on their birthday (and double points), and for the under-12 cohort, the CPKids Birthday Club offers its members a free meal on their big day.
Though Arby’s is most known for their roast beef and the existential dread they’ve been known to deliver, they also give free goodies for your birthday. Anyone signed up for Arby’s rewards program will get a shake on the house for their birthday.
Applebee’s has an eclectic menu, from salsa verde nachos to fish and chips to oriental chicken salad, but also a great birthday deal. If you sign up for the restaurant's Eclub, you’ll be eligible for a free dessert to celebrate getting older and a free appetizer just for signing up.
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The home of wings, beer, and sports is not a hard sell for any day. On your birthday, it’s even easier to justify. If you join the membership program, you’ll get a free snack-size portion of wings on your special day.
If you sign up for Einstein Bros. Bagels‘ Schmear Society, you get a voucher for a free egg sandwich on your birthday. Those who sign up further accrue 2 points per $1 spent, with options to redeem points for food and drinks.
Birthdays are about decadence, but for the more health-conscious readership, Jamba Juice offers a free smoothie or juice for members of its Insider Rewards club.
Wingstop is obviously known for its wings. But if you sign up to its membership club, you’ll get a free gift, plus another one just for signing up.
Bruegger’s in 2004 set the Guinness World Record for world’s largest bagel, creating an 868-pound behemoth at the New York state fair. On your birthday, they’ll give you a free regular-sized bagel with cream cheese if you sign up for their rewards program.
The family-style Italian chain restaurant is known for its large shared plates and crowded-with-photographs decorum. If you subscribe to Buca di Beppo’s online club, you get a free giant sundae on your big day and $20 off your meal ($40 minimum purchase). Plus, you get a free plate of pasta for signing up.
The pizza place most synonymous with mall food courts has a birthday freebie. Members of Sbarro's Slice Society get a birthday surprise each year and a free slice of extra-large ‘za (with the purchase of a beverage) for joining.
This chain burger joint offers bottomless fries, so come prepared. For Red Robin Royalty members, they also offer a free birthday burger for your big day.
Planet Smoothie has a slightly healthier option for your big day. They offer a free smoothie on your birthday if you sign up for their membership club.
In order to celebrate with some free food on your birthday at the chain seafood restaurant, just sign up for the Joe’s Catch newsletter. When you do, you’ll be eligible for a free appetizer on your birthday.
If you join the Big Yellow Cup Club, you’ll get free gifts for birthdays and your club anniversaries. New members also get Dickey's signature, well, big yellow cup.
Though it’s not the most conventional pairing, Del Taco offers its eClub members a free milkshake on their birthday to go along with their tacos or burritos.
Checkers (also regionally known Rally’s) is a burger joint with a birthday deal. Sign up for their Flavorhood membership to get an order of free large fries, and then another on your birthday.
Members of the My Pretzel Perks Program at Auntie Anne's get a free soft pretzel for signing up. From there, points can be redeemed for more food and all birthdays come with free treats.
Members of Chevy’s E-Club get a free appetizer for signing up (purchase of entree required). Patrons also get to wear a festive sombrero as everyone sings the special Chevy’s happy birthday song on their big day.
Dairy Queen serves burgers, salads, and chicken, but they’re best known for one thing: the Blizzard. Members of the Blizzard Fan Club, which has more than 4 million members, get a buy one get one free coupon for a Blizzard on their birthday.
Jack in the Box has leaned into its reputation as late-night inebriated food paradise. It’s gotten that rep by being flavorful, open 24 hours, and cheap. On your birthday, the munchie king offers something even cheaper than cheap: free tacos ( as long as you subscribe ahead of time).
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The nostalgic Johnny Rocket’s is a whimsical 1950s-themed diner; allegedly, the chain is closely based on the classic West Los Angeles burger joint, Apple Pan. If you join the Rocket E-Club, you get one free burger for signing up and another on your birthday (with the purchase of a drink and entree).
If you join the NoodlesREWARDS program at Noodles World Kitchen, you’ll get a special treat on your birthday. The program also comes with easy ordering, points redemptions, and special offers throughout the year.
Panera Bread is known for its sandwiches, but members of MyPanera get something sweet on their birthday. As long as you sign up ahead of time, members receive a free pastry on their big day.
Quiznos’ membership program, the Toasty Points Loyalty App, gives one gift for signing up and another on your birthday. When you download the app, grab a free 4-inch sub; when you turn a year older, a free cookie is yours.