5 Perfectly Respectable Ways To Get A Free Meal

by Julie Rains on 11 June 2009 16 comments
Photo: Lara604

If you’re willing to be patient, gracious, and alert to opportunities, you can enjoy free meals on certain occasions. Here are ways that have worked for me.

1. Volunteer. Volunteering doesn’t guarantee a free meal but if you volunteer, you’ll often find that meals are offered during stints that span the breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Sponsoring organizations will typically let you know if a free meal is offered, either for all volunteers or those working at designated times.
 
Sponsors of sports or themed events will typically give a ticket or pass to volunteers that can be redeemed for a meal. Clean-up days or outreach blitzes often have meals as an incentive to attracting random people for single-day activities. Other groups that have deeper relationships with volunteers may host annual appreciation events, such as a thank-you breakfast, so watch for an invitation if you volunteer routinely.
 
2. Donate blood. Like volunteering, timing and alertness are crucial to getting a free meal when giving blood. Free snacks should be available at the donation centers and mobile blood drives but events hosted by community organizations may offer more support.
 
Thanks to a retired nurse and skilled consumer advocate who coordinates blood drives in my area, there are meals and homemade desserts (rather than packaged snacks only) available to donors. A good time to schedule a donation is around lunchtime (give or take an hour) so that you can eat before or after giving.
 
3. Attend a business celebration. Businesses will often host special events to show appreciation for loyal customers or commemorate some milestone, such as the opening of a new location or an anniversary. Look for flyers at your favorite merchants or ads announcing special events. The meals may be hot dogs and chips but larger scale, celebratory type events tend to be focused on building goodwill in the community and are less intimidating than private, sales-oriented dinners.
 
4. Accept an invitation. It can be perfectly okay to accept an invitation for a breakfast, brunch, luncheon, or dinner without making a contribution (though small gifts are welcome). The convention of expecting guests to contribute to hosting an event is somewhat new and nontraditional; exceptions are covered dish or potluck meals, parties planned as a group that happen to be hosted at someone else’s home, and generally accepted rules among a set of friends that everyone will bring an item. Reciprocal invitations (at a later date) are appropriate but some creativity (find frugal party ideas here) can minimize your expenses.
 
5. Be a guest speaker. If you happen to have expertise that you’d like to share, you should be able to find community groups and civic clubs that have a recurring need for guest speakers at their meetings. These meetings will often be accompanied by a meal, which should be offered to you at no charge. Bonuses are the opportunities to learn about community happenings, showcase your capabilities, and network with group members. 
 

More resources for free food:

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Guest's picture
Guest

They all sound like a big deal to go through just to get a free meal.
I mean, unless I'm homeless, is anyone really gonna bother JUST for that? Probably not.

I'll stick to my $.88 Banquet microwave meals from Walmart if I'm that down on my luck, thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

. . . especially, if you are volunteering. It's a form of barter, right? I think these are good suggestions.

Guest's picture
Della

My boyfriend and I have really gotten into joining restaurant email lists and online newsletters. Many restaurants will have promotional BOGO coupons that they mail out once a month or more. That's one free meal --assuming you are willing to pay for the second. Unfortunately most of the suggestions don't seem very realistic unless you are insanely hard on your luck right now. Good thought tho. :)

Julie Rains's picture

Some people actually enjoy volunteering with civic groups, PTA, scouts, church, and local agencies that promote causes they believe in.; may want to promote their businesses or their causes -- enjoying a free meal is not a desperate move but a way to save money by doing what you want and giving back to the community at the same time.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I agree that getting involved is good for everyone!  And if you can enjoy some fellowship with friends or colleagues over some free food, more power to you.  Thanks for the tips!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
RICKLEE

..these are excellent suggestions. Anything that gets me out of the house to participate in a worthwhile event, that comes with food, is an easy YES.

Sometimes to break up a commute home I drop by the best hotel enroute and if there's a convention of some sort with a tea station I might pick up a cup and listen to the speaker...

RICKLEE

Guest's picture

Interesting suggestions. They do seem a little time intensive though.

In the same vein. You can often score a free meal by becoming a mystery shopper. These are people who pose as customers in order to evaluate retail establishments.

If you sign up to evaluate a food establishment you'll often get the meal free as well as money for your evaluation.

Guest's picture
Joe

I'm not sure that these meals are quite "free", considering the time, service, and/or bodily fluid, you're giving up in exchange.

A better alternative could be shopping at Costco on Saturday mornings. ;)

Julie Rains's picture

I'm looking for no cash outlay -- even though the idea is similar -- you've already "paid" for something (a membership to a warehouse club or another dinner; or given your time) and then you can get a free meal.

And, while these may not fill an immediate need (which is one reason I mentioned patience), if you are thinking about helping with the community clean-up day, for example, but not sure it's worth the trouble,  you can consider getting the whole family out for a day and feeding them at the same time (not all communities offer meals but many do). It might be less expensive than many alternatives.

Guest's picture

I agree with a previous comment that most of the ways to gain the meal are through exchanging services and time.

Guest's picture
Jane Ramona

Living in a former co op turned condo, I had noticed many usable items which were placed by (and not in) the dumpster. These items were furniture, lamps,and so on. The family who lives downstairs from me needed furniture. I was able to find a solid wood table and wooden chairs. Since they did not have a diningroom set, they repayed me with their delicious homemade Asian Indian food. I have also donated usable items in good condition to local charities, which was a tax writeoff. It's the little things which count. Do random acts of kindness.

Guest's picture
RK

Agree with Jane Ramona above, random acts of kindness can yield a lot. I have a neighbor lady down the hall in my building who lives alone and is over 80 years old. She is in good enough health but of course pretty slow and has trouble doing some simple little things. When I moved into the building I was going back and forth in the hall moving boxes in and she asked me if I could move something in her apartment for her. Since then I have become her goto guy for little tasks like lifting heavy objects, helping her with her TV when she messes up some setting, etc. Probably not more than a couple times a week for like 5 minutes each time. But she constantly cooks food for me now. At least a few times a week she'll give me a dish of whatever she was cooking that day. She's a good cook and since I can't cook worth my life it's nice, otherwise I typically eat out.

Guest's picture
Amy

I run into these meal opportunities a few times a year through work and volunteer activities, but since going vegetarian I mostly find the meals awkward opportunities to go hungry in front of everyone else! If you are preparing such a meal, consider those who don't eat a "Standard American Diet." (Yes, some of us think it's pretty SAD. :)

Guest's picture
Claudia

In Toronto, there are some large supermarkets and department stores (in Housewares) that provide free cooking lessons by excellent chefs on weekdays. They cook enough to make a very small but delicious meal for everyone present, and they help people to learn to cook at home at the same time. Well worth attending if you are free during the day.

Guest's picture
Tammy

Great thoughts especially about volunteering!
I live in the south and it is now the season for neighbors to show up with cucumbers, squash and green beans and tomatoes!
Talk about FREE FOOD!!!

Great job on this post

Guest's picture
Tom White

@Author – This is a good chunk of valuable information here, thanks for the contribution.
If your still looking for a Free Meal Plan check out the http://www.FitClick.com website or find something similar by using Yahoo! Search…
They left a good impression and I thought they gave me quality service. Thanks for the great work, I appreciate it.