Birthday hacks: how to get free food in Pittsburgh

Allison Covert (left) and Emma Polen (right) enjoy their free Starbucks drinks for one of many tasty birthday treats.

Emma Polen | layout editor


Allison Covert (left) and Emma Polen (right) enjoy their free Starbucks drinks for one of many tasty birthday treats.

My birthday always seems to fall on a school day. While this is certainly an inconvenience, there is still an opportunity to make it special: Head to Market Square and reap restaurants’ free birthday rewards!

It takes just three simple steps to reap free birthday rewards all within walking distance of campus.

First, you’ve got to download the rewards apps. For the following restaurants, birthday rewards are only given at the register if the customer shows a specific code on the app or on their email.

It is also important to note that many, if not all, of these locations require rewards members to make a purchase using their app before they are allowed to gather a free birthday reward.

In other words, free food is not an attainable goal if one waits until the month of their birthday to begin signing up for rewards programs.

Once the apps are downloaded and registered, it’s time to head down to Market Square. It is a good idea to have a plan ready for all the places offering birthday rewards. For example, are you ordering ahead?

Are you heading to the free beverage places first so you have something to sip as you go?

Are you going to places offering hot food last so that it is still hot when you are ready to eat?

Do you have room in your fridge for the leftovers?

If this all seems a little overwhelming, do not fear! Next, I will share the route I took on my birthday to make it easier on anyone wanting free birthday rewards.

The Route:

First stop was Hello Bistro. After signing up for their email list last time I visited, I received a $5 off $10 purchase voucher. I ordered a shrimp salad which was $11.50 after tax.

Our second stop was Noodles & Company. They were able to look up my reward account with my phone number at the register. Then, I cashed in my free birthday treat. There are three options for the free treat, and I went with an enormous triangle hunk of rice krispie treat.

Next up was Starbucks. Ordering ahead on the app does not qualify Trenta-size beverages for the free birthday drink, but the barista will honor the reward on a Trenta if the drink is ordered in-person.

The fourth place we visited was Dunkin. Obviously, the largest size they have is the way to go. Since my roommate was with me, I handed a large cold brew without ice for her to carry back to the dorm. The coffee lasted me for a week. Free coffee…for a week!

Our last two locations consisted of hot food so that we could enjoy them hot. The first hot food birthday reward was Chipotle. The free chips and guac was applicable with a minimum purchase of $5. So I ordered a kid’s meal, $5.30 after tax, and split it with my roommate.

Finally, we stopped at Moe’s. This is always my personal favorite stop because they offer an entire free burrito on my birthday. Moe’s employees are always super nice, even during the busy dinner hour. Moe’s app also offers members a free bowl of queso and chips frequently throughout the year.

Step three: Be nice to employees.

Not every employee was super happy that I was taking up their time while the restaurant was full of actual paying customers. Just be nice to our public servants and remember to thank everyone.

At the same time, some employees might have more enthusiasm than the actual birthday customer. My Starbucks barista was excited for me as soon as she heard it was my birthday.

She was also happy to inform me that the Market Square Starbucks gets supply deliveries on Wednesdays.

If the app informs that the location is out of a certain drink, the app might not have updated yet. Just make the order once you are actually at Starbucks and chances are, they will have the ingredients for the drink.

There are a few details to keep in mind when adventuring into this busy part of the city. First of all, stick with a buddy! This is for personal safety but also for the quantity of food there will be to consume. There is no possible way a single human being can eat–and carry–all the free food available in Market Square at once.

In fact, bringing a buddy can also be a great bonding experience! I brought my roommate along on my birthday walk. She does not live close to Pittsburgh, and she lived at home last year. This was really her first experience off-campus ever! What better way to welcome a person to Duquesne than with free food from the city?

Second of all, this is not an all-inclusive list of free food opportunities in the area. If a student has a car to travefurther and faster, McKnight Road, about twenty minutes north of campus, is an almost unending course of free birthday rewards. There are also places, like Dunkin and Starbucks, with locations in other nearby areas besides Market Square.

Lastly, part of planning ahead also requires having cash on-hand. My roommate and I did spend a combined amount of $12 to reap our free food rewards.

In addition to the benefit of free food, this was a great experience to get out of my comfort zone. Checking out at all of these different places and asking nicely if they will scan your free reward gave me some anxiety initially, but something about it being my birthday gave me the extra boost of confidence needed to make my request.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! I am positive that there are restaurants I do not even know about that might be closer to your location. Just do some research, and you can end up with a truck-load of free food on your special day!