The following fast food hacks are for any drive thru addict looking to become a drive thru aficionado. We’ve unlocked the menu mysteries that will impress your late-night food run squad, the cashier, or even Ronald McDonald himself.
Whether you’re on the go or on a splurge, fast food is a saving grace. And if you know the secrets of the chains, you can get the most out of your 5 to 10 minute experience with an off-menu item or even save a few bucks.
Tips number 14 and 15 are probably the most important for getting free goodies, so stay tuned.
1. Get Two Chocolatey Drinks for the Price of One
If you don’t like chocolate, then keep scrolling while I question whether or not you have a soul.
Ever since Starbuck’s Mochas started trending, almost every fast food joint is feeding off our chocolate addiction and selling hot mochas, too.
Choose a large hot mocha or hot chocolate in the morning to wake yourself up (even if you don’t like coffee, chocolate still contains sufficient caffeine). You probably won’t be able to drink it all before it gets cold, but what does chocolate taste like chilled? Chocolate milk. Essentially, you snag two drinks at once.
2. Cold Remedy
For days you have to drag yourself to class feeling like crap, just stop off anywhere that has hot water and honey. It’s a natural, soothing immune-booster, and often these items are easily available (usually free of charge).
3. Bigger Burritos for Your Buck
This is true for Chipotle, but may work at other Chipotle-style restaurants.
Instead of ordering a burrito, order a bowl, which yields a lot more food, and then ask for a free tortilla. The bowl is also great for messy people (certainly not including me) to eat over as a spill-zone.
4. Did Someone Say Free Guac?
If you don’t mind skipping out on the meat, Chipotle will give you free guac with a veggie burrito bowl. As an added bonus, extra fajita veggies are also free.
Reverting to hack number three, you now also have the potential for a veggie burrito.
5. Burger Joints are Now Vegetarian-Friendly
McDonalds, Wendy’s, Arby’s…They all have the meats. For too long, vegetarians have missed out on food runs with their carnivorous friends.
However, where there are burgers, there is bread, cheese, and a grill. Just order a cheeseburger (heck, get the toppings if you want) without the patty. Boom. Grilled cheese. Problem solved.
#spoontip: Maximize your grilled cheese by adding fries and barbecue sauce. You can thank me later.
6. Sparkling Sherbet Float
Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, and any other place that sells ice cream needs to put this on the menu ASAP. At the soda fountain, layer the bottom of a cup (preferably large) with ice to keep the drink cold. Mix regular or strawberry lemonade, Gatorade or Powerade, or any fruit juice with Sprite, 7-Up, or Mellow Yellow. Finally, drop in the ice cream.
7. The McGangbang
For the adventurous eaters only: Order a McChicken, Big Mac, and Filet-O-Fish and stack them into one sandwich. This is a classic surf-n-turf item on McDonald’s secret menu, famous for consumption of multiple animals at once. Everyone sort of makes theirs a little differently by liberally tossing various menu items into the tower. To the beasts willing to try it, good luck fitting it all in your mouth at once.
8. Help, I’m Vegan and all my Friends are Pizza Addicts
Remain calm. As a fellow dairy-free foodie in college, I’ve run into a similar problem multiple times. Fortunately, Domino’s and Pizza Hut have vegan options. For example, you can order a meat-free option off Pizza Hut’s Thin ‘N Cripsy menu without cheese. There is no dairy in the crust nor meat in the marinara. That means no animal products, less calories, and less social anxiety.
9. The Chick-fil-A Spicy Char
Most employees will know what you’re talking about if you just ask for a “Spicy Char,” but if the cashier looks confused, it’s a simple substitution. A healthier spin off the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, it’s a Grilled Chicken sandwich with the spicy seasonings. The taste may end up a little less spicy, but it’s great for my fellow dairy free peeps (because the batter for the breaded chicken contains milk) or anyone looking for a unique, healthy option.
10. We All Scream for Free Ice Cream at Chick-fil-A
Yes, I just mentioned I was dairy-free, but free ice cream may be worth it. Chick-fil-A’s “Family Challenge” strives to reconnect families and friends at mealtime (even quick ones). By putting cell phones in a “coop” on the table while you eat, it encourages actual, face-to-face interaction. Once you finish your food, you get a free cone and become a little less introverted.
The catch is that you must actually sit inside the restaurant to eat. However, living in a fast-paced, grab-n-go society, I say it’s okay to slow down once in a while and disconnect from the screen. The Spoon University food porn can wait.
11. Add Extra Fire to Any Item at Taco Bell
Maybe you’ve eaten their spicy foods so much that you’ve acquired a natural tolerance, and you’re looking for a little more kick. You can make any food item spicier by asking for “Spicy Green ___” or “Lava ___”. They’ll add the Spicy Green or Lava sauce when making it, so there’s not need to pick apart the taco and squeeze it on separately.
12. What the Frickles
I know this works at Sonic, but I bet if you’re nice enough, any fast food joint with batter that’s used for breaded items and pickles will fry some up upon request. Fried pickles (aka Frickles) is popular finger food in the South and a twist on typical sides. I wouldn’t order it during lunch rush, but it’s worth a shot.
13. Get the Freshest Fast Food During a Frenzy
Speaking of lunch rush, although it can be annoying, it’s the best time to go for the freshest food each time. Think about it. Employees are scrambling to keep up by constantly whipping out new batches, going through each one quickly as customers swoop in.
If you’re dreading the line, remember that a good fast food restaurant is trained to serve everyone as fast as possible, even with a large crowd, and you can expect it served hot and fresh.
14. Save the Date
You mark the calendar for important events, meetings, and test dates, but have you been including days where you could be getting free food? If not, you’re truly missing out, my cheap friends. “On what?” you ask. Oh, I don’t know, how about free Krispie Kreme on National Doughnut Day, free Slurpees on 7/11, or free Ben & Jerry’s on Free Cone Day?
And the list doesn’t end there. Not only will some places offer free food for your birthday, but there are also a few opportunities for giveaways each month. Thrillest.com has an awesome list to follow.
#spoontip: Make note of frequent moochers to send a link to. Include roommates and family members as needed.
Also, don’t forget to hit up Smoothie King and Moe’s on Mondays (at participating locations) for a $5 medium smoothie or burrito.
15. The Game of Strategy
I’m not sure if this constitutes an actual “hack,” but it is most certainly an acquired skill that comes with experience. Rewards programs are NOT a waste of time nor just another way to send you junk mail. When done right, they’re valid money-savers for devoted regulars.
The algorithm depends on where you go. Some places just dish out deals on apps like Hooked, while some have specific points programs. See if you can get notifications, and actually read the emails they send, and you may find some surprising deals.
Here I’ve included a personal example: As a Gold Level member at Starbucks, I get updates for promotional Double Star offers. Now, I won’t waste $8 on a Bistro Box that I won’t eat, but I will happily try a new beverage that they’re testing when offered double stars (stars being their measure for reward points).
Every so often, they’ll offer even more stars if you make purchases multiple days in a row. I’ll make small purchases on these occasions, usually on heavy work or test weeks when I could use the extra espresso, and I’ll rack up them stars like Super Mario.
Regularly, you earn two stars for every dollar spent. Keep in mind that Starbucks offers a free food or beverage item (even if the single drink is worth up to $54) for every 125 stars.
Let’s say I get my usual (and my Grande, soy, Coffee Light Frappucino is about $5) each visit. In 25 visits, without playing with special offers, I’m looking at a free treat. I hate math, but I’m also a college girl on a budget and love me some free coffee.