Restaurants often have coupons, reward points, contests and other policies in place to drive up sales and customer satisfaction. Most of the time, these initiatives yield positive results for both the restaurant and the customer, yet there is always the occasional deviant out there that finds a way to game the system. Some of the time it's a harmless way to score a little extra bonus, other times, it can cost the restaurant a lot.
We scoured Reddit to find just these incidents, showcasing the innocent, the clever, and the downright shameful ways people exploited a loophole at a restaurant. Content has been edited for clarity.
"I used to work at Papa Johns to pay my way through college. There was a contest we had in which if you got someone to 'upsize' their pizza from a medium to a large for an extra $2, you got points towards movie tickets. A large was simply $2 extra normally, anyway. Anyone who ordered a large, I simply put it down as a medium and 'upsized' it.
I won every freaking week. My coworkers did not notice this obvious loophole and it did not cost the customer any extra so I didn't have a problem with this morally gray area. Free movie tickets every week was huge in college."
"My best friend, a few years back, figured out our favorite late night pizza place had a deal in which if you referred a certain number of friends to their email loyalty program, you got a code for a free large pizza. He was a tech nerd and found a way to automatically generate email addresses for fake people. He racked up an insane amount of free pizza codes. He didn't pay for any pizza for what seemed like a year, but ordered at least three times a week and always tipped the delivery driver.
Eventually, he felt bad and told them there was a problem with their loyalty system. They told him he could order one last time. When they delivered it, the guy told him that this pizza was on the house, but he could never order from them again. The address was blacklisted.
A few years later, my friend had long moved out, but our group of friends stayed in the house. Somebody decided they wanted late night pizza and they called that same pizza place. Everything was fine until they gave the delivery address. The clerk told them they could not deliver there. The address was in their system and there was no amount of explaining that was going to change their mind. Still blacklisted."
"My favorite bar at the time was also a sort-of hybrid gas-station/bar/restaurant that sold something like 450 different brews in single bottles or four-packs or six-packs to-go. You could break six-packs, however, and pay a 50-cent 'cork fee' and drink whatever you wanted out of the can on the patio. Canned drinks were $2 and manually rung up in the register.
My favorite drink at the time was a 16-oz Imperial Red IPA, which was $15.99 for a 4-pack. I exclusively drank that, along with other fancy and rare craft brews until they abruptly stopped allowing you to break six-packs and could only drink their own drafts on site.
The cashier told me (when I walked up with that G'Knight can to drink on site) that so many people had been drinking these expensive brews in singles for the past few months that it finally triggered somebody to reevaluate the policy. He was definitely talking about me."
"At the restaurant I served at, water was free and fountain drinks were about $2. I worked the lunch shift, so most of my tables were people coming in on their lunch break so they all had separate tickets. Each person's order was a 'seat' in the ordering system.
Let's say a table of four came in and all of them ordered a soft drink. I would key in one soft drink for one seat and then waters for the rest. Then, I would change the seat the soft drink was assigned to when printing the individual tickets, or reprint the same seat if they ordered the same thing. That way, when they got their bill, it looked like they were being charged for the drink. When I closed out the tables, it only registered the cost of 1 drink, so I could pocket the rest. This was the late '90s, before everyone used debit cards, so people paid in cash most of the time.
This also worked on buffet days. Since nothing had to be sent to the kitchen, if a table of four came in and all got a buffet, I could just ring up one seat for a buffet and drink, print it off four times, and pocket the whole cost of a buffet + drink. I was literally the only server in the non-smoking side and the owner was completely computer illiterate. She would not even catch what was going on even if she would open a table and see only one buffet rang up, much less run a report to see how many buffets were sold.
At the end of the day, this was straight up theft. I was a punk 19-year-old trying to live on my own for the first time. Instead of doing the responsible thing like working more shifts or putting effort into finding a better paying job, I did this idiotic thing. I tried to justify it in my head telling myself that I did 'extra' stuff, which was actually stuff I was supposed to be doing anyway.
I quit that job a few months after they installed the computer system for an actual higher paying job. As I got older I realized what a dumb thing that was to do. I'm lucky I wasn't caught."
"My college campus had a cafe with a deli and salad bar. The deli sandwiches were way overpriced, such as $8 for a standard turkey sandwich. However, the salad bar was very reasonable. It was subsidized to promote healthy eating.
I found that the salad bar had all the same ingredients as the sandwiches. The only difference being that the meat was just shredded. The deli would sell slices of bread for $0.25 each. I would just buy the bread, load up, weigh my 'salad,' and grab some free mayo and mustard packets. Then, I would build my own sandwiches for under $2. I used that trick for my last two years."
"It was 1999 in suburban Utah. We were partying... well, like it was 1999. Weekends were constant backyard barbecues between a couple of my best friends who had adjoining backyards. Over time, the invite list kept growing. As we were between high school and starting college, we were all broke. We began by covering most of the food and people would bring their own drinks, chips, or whatever. But, with the growing list of guests, we started to get a little short on covering the hosting costs.
Until one late Thursday night as we were heading to the local Albertson's to see if we could find some meat and other things on sale in preparation for the next Friday night. We were digging through the butcher section and we found a few things on sale. We headed up to check out around midnight. The attendant was scanning our items and, as he grabbed one of the packages of meat, he stopped.
'Oh, this is expired,' he said. 'I'll get you a new one and not charge you for it.'
We questioned him and he explained that they had a 'freshness guarantee.' Anything expired would be replaced with a new item for free. We told him that it was no big deal to replace it since it was just expired by a day, but we still got a free pack of steaks. We were stoked.
The next night at the barbecue, we discussed the luck we had at the store the previous night.
'I've been thinking about this all day,' one of our friends said. 'They've got to have a bunch of expired stuff on those shelves. If we find it, won't it all be free?'
We all thought about it and agreed that he might have had a good idea there.
The next Thursday night, we showed up at the grocery store at 11:30 p.m. and started the hunt. Not only were we grabbing anything we could find that was expired, but anything that was going to expire that day... after midnight. We grabbed dozens of packages of meat, salads, day-old bread, random expensive cheeses, absolutely anything we could find. It was around 1 a.m. when we rolled up to the check out with four shopping carts full of food.
The lone checker sighed at having this much work and began to scan. As it beeped on our first item, my buddy who hatched the plan spoke up.
'Oh, that's expired so it should be free,' he said. The checker gave him a look, checked the expiration date, gave a whatever shrug, and discounted the item for free. He moved onto the next one and as soon as it beeped, my buddy said, 'That's free too.'
The kid looked up and with a completely straight face, my friend said, 'It's all free.'
The look on his face was pure panic as he grabbed the phone and called the night manager to the front over the intercom. A guy in his mid-40s showed up, already looking bothered that he got called out from the nap in his office to deal with something. The checker told him that we were claiming everything in the carts was expired and should be free. The manager started grabbing things out of the first cart and checked the expiration dates. His face was getting redder and redder with each item. Honestly, at that point, I was feeling just a little twinge of guilt.
'This is total abuse of the system!' he yelled at us.
I was ready to call it quits, but our ringleader replied, 'It's your policy.'
The manager stared at him for a minute and then lost the standoff. He started angrily scanning each item, pounding on the keyboard to discount the prices to free, and just tossing the food down the belt for the poor checker to bag. I was super uncomfortable, but my friend who hatched the plan is a soulless ginger.
'Can you please handle our food more carefully?' the soulless ginger asked the manager. 'It's for a party.'
From the look on the manager's face, I thought the guy was going to jump the counter. It took quite a while to ring up four carts worth of stuff. The total ended up being over $400 of free food. I was dying, but my buddy was loving every minute of it, even directing the kid bagging to put some items in plastic vs. paper, what should go on top because it was fragile, etc. The manager yanked the receipt off the register, threw it at my friend, and storms off back to the office. We packed up and headed out.
We threw a bomb barbecue the next night and had enough meat to freeze and use the next weekend. We decided to give it a week to cool off. Two weeks later, we headed back on a Thursday night. By that time, Albertson's quality control group had been on it though. We found maybe a handful of items that were expired. Not easily deterred, my friend suggested that we head to the next suburb over.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back to filling up shopping carts full of loot again. The same scenario played out, but this manager had more of a 'not my problem' attitude and just sent us on our way.
Weekend Number 3 rolled around and we went to Albertson's to scope things out. As we started browsing another friend asked, 'Hey, where are all the 'Freshness Guarantee' signs?'
We did not see any, so our ringleader headed to the front and asked the checker. It was gone. Our plan lasted less than a month. We had stockpiled enough food to last two months and threw some great parties. I cannot say for certain that we single-handedly broke their policy, but we like to think so."
"I used to work at a restaurant and the manager decided food costs were too high due to people snacking and stealing food. He attempted to remedy this by giving out meal vouchers if you worked a full shift.
I started to buy up vouchers that others were not using for 25% of the value. Then, I would resell the vouchers to short shift people for 50% of value. Then I started trading meals, bought with my vouchers, to the pizza place across the street that my friend worked at. I would sell the pizza for $1 a slice to everyone. I started to make about $20-30 extra per shift.
Then, the manager found out and ended it all. This only lasted a few weeks. It was also a great example of how I ruined something for everyone else."
"I had one of those club cards at a salad franchise. You accumulate points with each purchase and then you can spend points to buy food items.
I was at the cash register one day and they told me I had enough points to get a free salad. It did not seem quite right, but OK. A week later I went in again and they told me I have enough points for a free salad.
Wow. I'll take it, but hmmmm.
I checked on their website. I had an unreasonable amount of points. Every time I spent points, my total would not go down, so there was some kind of weird glitch with my card. I ate salad every day for a couple of weeks. Then, one day, the card just didn't work anymore. It was a good run while it lasted."
"The office building at which I worked during my summer internship had a cafeteria that was piloting a new self-checkout scanner. Instead of scanning barcodes, the cafeteria people put QR-code like stickers on top of the food boxes. You'd put the different food containers under the scanner and it would read the QR-pattern from above and figure out what the items were.
The catch was that if you covered up a sticker, occasionally, it wouldn't record the item. One day, I asked for a burger that was around $8 with extra sauce in a separate cup, which cost $2. While scanning, I would cover up the burger sticker and put the sauce on top of it. Thus, I tricked the machine into thinking I was only paying $2 for the whole thing. I spent a solid week paying a quarter of the price for huge burgers. I know it was wrong, but I was an intern making next to nothing, and I was hungry."
"Taco Bell used to have this coin drop game in which you would drop a quarter into a transparent box, spin the box around, and the quarter would fall down 'stairs' and if you could make it to the last stair you would win a free burrito. The spinning caused centripetal force, which would eventually pull the quarter to the edge of the fourth stair by the time you got there, causing it to fall over the edge.
However, if instead of spinning, you just played bongo drums on the top, it would vibrate enough to knock the quarter down, step after step, without the centripetal force pulling it to the edge so it would fall off.
I won a free (well, 25-cent) burrito almost every day for a week before I came in one day to find a piece of paper taped beneath the promotional banner saying, 'Must spin, no tapping.' The manager at this one location caught on to me, I guess."
"This Chick-fil-A near me had a QR code you could scan with a third party app once a day. Once you got 10 scans, you got a free sandwich. I took a picture of the code and scanned it at home every day. The owner of this third party app saw I was scanning while the store was closed and decided to call me up.
I explained what I had done and he was just relieved that I wasn't breaking into the store in the middle of the night and scanning the code that way. I chatted with him for a while and I asked for a job in helping develop his app.
He said no."
"We used to play 'server bingo' at an old chain restaurant I worked for. It was mid-November and we had a brownie dessert that was on special. It was literally our regular brownie dessert but, instead of caramel drizzle, there was raspberry drizzle and some crushed candy cane sprinkles. The rest was the same: two brownies, ice cream, whip cream.
The last square of server bingo that nobody could get was to sell 20 of these desserts. They were also the same price as the regular brownie. We were also responsible for decorating our own desserts. The kitchen would put up the brownies and the ice cream, so I would just ring in a Christmas brownie and decorate as normal if the customer didn't want the special.
I won server bingo and won a brand new Xbox 360 Slim. This was about 8 years ago when this was a wicked prize."
"When I was in high school, there was a McDonald's that my buddies and I would go to near our bus stop on the town square. One day, I noticed that there was a 'burrito' on the menu that was about a dollar and change. I only had, maybe, $3 on me, so I said 'Why not?' and ordered one.
A few minutes went by and the manager came out to apologize that they did not have the ingredients to make said 'burrito.' They allowed me to have any combo meal for the same price.
'Sweet!' I replied. 'I'll get a crispy chicken meal!'
I repeated this for the next week until they finally had the ingredients to make the burrito. It was an awful burrito."
"When I was a kid, Hostess snack cakes had this promotion in which every snack cake or fruit pie had a game piece that was always a potential winner. It had six spots to scratch off. You had to scratch off the correct three that said 'WIN.' The other three had 'XXXVOIDXXX' printed underneath the scratched-off surface.
Well, if you held the piece up to a bright light bulb you could just barely see the ones that had the X's. I ate a LOT of free fruit pies that summer."
"I was a server at a huge themed restaurant that offered a 10% discount on your bill if you had a AAA membership. One of the servers had a AAA card. Whenever a customer paid their bill in cash and then left, we would borrow her card, swipe it, get the discount off the open tab, then close it out and pocket the cash.
For example, if somebody's tab was $50 and paid with cash, you swiped the card, got $5 taken off, close out the bill, and the extra $5 from the discount would then be yours, on top of whatever tip they left."
"There is a Chinese buffet my dad and I used to eat at often. Before 3:30, it was about $8, but after 3:30, it jumped to around $14. At that point, they would bring out the frog legs and seafood and stuff.
What we did was show up at around 3:15, get a small plate, then, when the frog legs and seafood come out, we would devour them. Basically, we paid minimal price for the evening food."
"I used to work at Domino's. We had a 'Who Can Sell The Most Bread Products?' contest. This including sales on cheesy bread, garlic bread, Cinnastix, etc. I was winning by a good margin on the last day of the contest.
My co-worker was complaining about not winning, so I snuck to my car and called the store with my cellphone. She answered. I ordered 25 cheesy breads. She took the order. When I came back inside, she was jumping up and down calling me a loser and reveling in how she had just slid into first place with less than an hour left in the contest.
I asked her to read the name of the customer. It was my name spelled backwards. The prize was a $100 gas card. I split it with her anyway."