One couple's quest to take advantage of every free birthday treat on offer in Australia.
It was my birthday over the weekend and I partook in my annual birthday tradition of taking advantage of the fine folks at Bondi Pizza. See, years ago I signed up for its VIP club and every year I get a voucher for a free birthday meal. The only thing more delicious than pizza is free pizza.
During lunch, I happened to mention to my partner that Finder has a list of other businesses offering free birthday perks. That offhand comment is all it took. My partner loves both a deal and a challenge, so it became her monomaniacal obsession to score all the free food we possibly could.
After conducting some research and formulating a plan, we sprang into action. Over the course of a day that saw us consume a week's worth of calories, we put various birthday offerings to the test. Here's what we found.
1. San Churro
What's on offer? Churros for two with two dipping sauces.
How do you get it? Pick up a loyalty card from a San Churro location and register it online.
How was it? Before we begin, it should be noted that San Churro's name can be roughly translated to "Saint Doughnut". WHY IS NO-ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS?
San Churro's birthday offering is incredibly generous. The dessert bar clearly understands that few of us are spending our birthday alone (or so we hope) and offers a serving for couples.
The registration process was straightforward. We just picked up a loyalty card, registered it on San Churro's website and within minutes we had our free churros. As a rule, anything deep-fried and covered in sugar and cinnamon passes muster with me. Add liquid chocolate to the mix and that makes for a very happy birthday indeed.
What's on offer? Takeaway tea.
How do you get it? Sign up for T2's Tea Society loyalty club.
How was it? T2 sets the absolute gold standard for service. The sign-up for its loyalty program was incredibly simple. I verbally gave my name and email address and showed photo ID.
Rather than merely handing us a free drink and seeing us on our way, the T2 employee took us on a taste-testing tour of the store. She had us sample four different teas, explained the flavour profiles of each and once we'd chosen a flavour, brewed a fresh pot for us. While the loyalty program offers one free takeaway tea, she poured one for my partner as well. It was a nice experience and made us feel a twinge of guilt about leaving without buying anything.
3. Muffin Break
What's on offer? Muffin of choice.
How do you get it? Download and register on Muffin Break's app.
How was it? The registration process was straightforward and the app immediately produces a voucher for a free birthday muffin, along with a free coffee for registering. The server simply scans a QR code on your phone and you're set.
Muffin Break muffins tend to be a bit dense and dry, but it's hard to complain when it's free. I still did (privately, to my partner), but then I've never been one to shy away from doing hard things. Still, the ease of registering combined with the fact that the app throws in a free coffee as well puts Muffin Break in the upper echelon of birthday offerings.
What's on offer? Any size Boost.
How do you get it? Download Boost's app and register.
How was it? Boost is the birthday incentive everyone seems to know about. While other free birthday offerings feel like legitimate life hacks, Boost has done such a good job advertising its birthday perk that it's become common knowledge. This speaks highly of Boost, but made the experience slightly less exciting. It feels better getting free stuff when you think you're being extra clever.
Nevertheless, the Boost registration process is very simple and the app's Vibe card will automatically award you a birthday beverage. You simply order and then scan the barcode. And the voucher is good for any Boost beverage of any size, so it's a very generous offering. It should be noted, though, that by this point in the day my partner and I were both feeling uncomfortably full.
What's on offer? 6-inch sub and 600ml drink.
How do you get it? Online sign-up to Subway's Eat Fresh Club.
How was it? Subway has one of the absolute best birthday offerings. Register online with the sandwich shop's loyalty scheme and you get a full meal. However, be aware that not all Subway franchises participate. We were turned away by one callous, avaricious Subway, though they were kind enough to point us to a participating restaurant nearby.
The actual incentive is good for a 6-inch sandwich and 600ml drink of your choice. Pro-tip: if you choose anything other than the pizza sub, YOU ARE A FOOL.
What's on offer? Single scoop.
How do you get it? Download and register on Gelatissimo's app.
How was it? It's hard to gauge because the sweet taste of gelato never passed our lips. We were stymied in our attempts.
When we downloaded the app, it generated a voucher for $5 off a $10 spend and for a free birthday scoop. But the store manager told us the $5 voucher had to be redeemed before the birthday voucher. It's hard to say whether this is actual company policy or merely one recalcitrant manager, but we staunchly refused to spend money. It would have violated the spirit of the day and been a cowardly acquiescence to big gelato and its nefarious schemes.
This added up to a pretty negative experience. If you're going to offer free birthday incentives, don't make spending money a prerequisite to access them.
UPDATE: After publishing this article, I was contacted by the marketing department at Gelatissimo who assured me that we should have been able to access the birthday voucher without using the $5 off voucher first. They apologised and offered to make it right. This is excellent customer service from the corporate entity, and I'm sure the message will be passed along to the store we visited.
7. Mrs. Fields
What's on offer? Choice of cookie.
How do you get it? Pick up a loyalty card at a Mrs. Fields location and register online.
How was it? Registering was simple and we had a wide variety of cookies to choose from. Of course, we're not chumps, so we went for triple chocolate. It was gooey and delicious, though by this time our pancreases were begging for a break.
8. Lord of the Fries
What's on offer? Fries and traditional dipping sauce.
How do you get it? Show a valid photo ID.
How was it? Lord of the Fries has the simplest process of any retailer we visited. Simply show a valid photo ID and some hot fries are on their way. The staff member, who also cheerily wished me a happy birthday, informed me that if I signed up for the VIP club, I'd also be entitled to a free burger. But considering we were about to snag a free burger from Hungry Jack's it was an acceptable oversight.
9. Hungry Jack's
What's on offer? Whopper.
How do you get it? Argue heatedly with the Hungry Jack's staff.
How was it? The official method for receiving your free birthday Whopper is to download and register on the Hungry Jack's app. This will generate a voucher for your birthday burger. This was not our experience.
The voucher failed to appear and we were turned away by one Hungry Jack's location where the manager explained that the app was often buggy. At the second location we tried, the staff told us the same thing, but begrudgingly relented once we argued that a buggy app was hardly the fault of the customer.
A free Whopper is a great birthday incentive, but Hungry Jack's needs to do some serious work to make its app functional. Moreover, if the app doesn't work, a valid photo ID should be more than sufficient. Businesses are certainly under no obligation to offer birthday incentives, but if they're going to make the offer it's incumbent on them to stand by it.
10. Jamaica Blue
What's on offer? Slice of cake.
How do you get it? Pick up a loyalty card from a Jamaica Blue location and register online.
How was it? Sign-up took only a couple minutes and I only had to scan the loyalty card to receive my cake. I chose the carrot slice, which was a bit crumbly and dry. But, once again, it was free. Signing up also entitles you to a free coffee, but I decided not to push my luck. Besides, by now we were slipping into the inky blackness of a food coma and we decided to follow that train to its final stop.
The Final Verdict
For both value and ease, Subway comes out on top for its birthday offering. It's easy to sign up, it immediately recognises your date of birth and issues a voucher and it offers a full meal. T2 also deserves a mention for its incredible customer service, as does Gelatissimo for offering to set right a local manager's mistake. The wooden spoon goes to Hungry Jack's. Buggy apps and unhelpful staff erode the goodwill you foster through offering birthday freebies.
Through the process we learned that there are a number of other birthday freebies on offer if you have the foresight to register ahead of time. Some restaurants offer birthday freebies so long as you sign up to the loyalty program a few weeks ahead of your birthday. That means next year is set to be an even more debaucherous food orgy.
We also learned that an adventure like ours requires time, planning, commitment and a wanton disregard for your health. And it's totally worth it. The thrill of running from place to place and scoring free food was even better than the rewards. That night as we ate a salad to regain karmic balance, I concluded that while the birthday incentives had been fun, the journey had made it my best birthday yet.
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