20 Shameless Ways Customers Try to Get Free Food at Restaurants

The customer is always right, or so they say. But what happens when customers take advantage of that mantra to scam free food from restaurants?

In a Reddit thread, restaurant workers shared their stories of customers trying to pull one over on them to get a free meal. From fake complaints to fake VIP cards, these customers used all sorts of tactics to get something for nothing.

So, what are the cheap ways customers try to get free food? Here are 20 confessions from restaurant workers!

1. Fake Hair in Food

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A restaurant worker commented, “I had a lady come up with her meal complaining that there was a hair in it and of course, it must be one of my waitresses or from the kitchen staff. Funny thing it was blonde hair, all the waitresses, kitchen staff, and myself at the time had dark hair.”

Another added, “This happened at a restaurant my Uncle was at. Apparently, the table behind him claimed that the cook’s hair was in their food. So the manager came and they told him about the hair. So the manager went to get the cook to “explain himself”. When the cook came he was confused, because he’s bald.”

It’s a despicable tactic that puts the restaurant in a difficult position and harms the integrity of honest customers who may have genuine complaints.

What do you think about these instances of fake hair in food? Have you ever experienced or witnessed a similar situation?

2. Threatening To Leave Bad Reviews

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One Redditor said he received threats from customers, “Threaten to post a bad yelp review.”

Another worker shared a similar experience, “Demand to use more than one $30 groupon at a time. Then when you say no they write a SCATHING review about your restaurant on Facebook while sitting at the table. I’m an admin on the page. I got the notification immediately.”

It’s important for customers to provide honest feedback, but it should not be used as leverage for personal gain. What do you think about customers who use bad reviews as a bargaining chip?

3. “I Found a Hair/a Fly/Other Foreign Object in My Food”

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A person wrote about a pizza place, “Guy said that a live bee flew “out” of his food after we brought it out to him. It had literally just gone through a 500-degree oven for 10 minutes or so. Sure sir, that totally happened.”

A second person added, “Saw a women (red hair) pull out her own piece of hair and put it in the food. It wasn’t natural red it was a sh**** dye so it was like the dark red on a dr pepper can. She tried to say it was from our kitchen but, no one in our kitchen had dark hair. After that, she tried to blame it on me, except my hair is really short (high and tight). And when that backfired our manager had to her that we had watched her do it.”

And a third one shared, “Had a guy find clear glass in his food, we only used ceramic plates. Proceeded to find a broken salt shaker in the men’s bathroom.”

It’s disheartening to know about customers purposely trying to sabotage their meals just to get a free one. Restaurant workers work hard to provide quality food and service, and it’s unfair for customers to take advantage of that. What do you think about these unethical tactics used by some customers?

4. Complaining About Food Allergies

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One Reddit user said, “I once had a customer tell me she was allergic to the smell of shrimp.”

A manager of a sushi place added, “This guy comes in and orders Chicken Stir Fry and proceeds to eat 80% of the plate and then starts frraking out, like yelling uncontrollably, so I run over to the table and ask him if everything was alright. His response? I’m allergic to chicken.”

These stories highlight the absurdity of some customers’ claims in restaurants. While restaurants need to take allergies seriously, customers who claim to be allergic to things like the smell of shrimp or chicken after eating most of the dish are simply trying to take advantage of the situation.

5. Trying to Return Half-Eaten Meals

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A Subway worker commented, “I worked at subway and literally had a customer take their half-eaten sandwich to the bathroom and bring it back sopping wet (hopefully from the sink) demanding that they get another one cause it “feels’wet.”

Another person shared a recurring incident, “Ordering a steak rare and getting mad because it has pink in the middle. Eats 90% of it and refuses to pay. Happens all the time (or vice versa).”

Customers should express their concerns politely and respectfully instead of manipulating the situation. What do you think about customers who use these kinds of tactics?

6. Demanding Discounts for Minor Issues

Coupon Purchase Order Discount Concept.
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One Redditor said, “A lady came through the McDonald’s drive-thru and complained her burger didn’t have enough ketchup and she needed a new one. Came through a few minutes later saying it had too much. Came through again and said it had not enough. We had to tell her there’s nothing we can do for her.”

Customers must communicate their food preferences clearly, but using constant changes as a tactic to get a free meal or discount.. hmm.. quite disappointing!

7. Complaining About the Size of Portions

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Someone from Subway commented, “People go through a lot to get free food… Such as one guy came in after eating his entire footlong and complained that there weren’t enough jalapeños and demanded a free sandwich.”

Another person added, “Order one starter between them even though they were told it wouldn’t be enough. Complain that it wasn’t enough. Order some bread because it wasn’t enough. Have a 20 minute argument about being charged for the bread when they got their bill.”

And a McDonald’s guy shared, “I work at McDonalds and I constantly have customers telling me they didn’t receive large portions of food. It does happen occasionally, but not to the same people every time.”

8. Asking for Free Food for Their “Birthday”

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A Redditor shared their experience at an ice cream store and a hotel, “The birthday thing is crazy. I worked at an ice cream store and we would get that a lot. I work in a hotel now and literally just last week I got a call from a man asking about why he didn’t get something for free for his wife’s birthday.”

While it’s understandable to want to celebrate special occasions, expecting freebies from businesses is not always realistic or fair.

9. Pretending To Find Issues With Every Dish

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One restaurant worker said, “An entire table of entitled, young mothers, ate large meals and drinks, and after they had finished claimed all of them thought it was disgusting and demanded a refund. This happens every week.”

Another person shared, “We get people who will eat their entire meal or whatever then complain and demand another cooked a different way for free. It’s our policy that you have to send back the meal if you want a replacement.”

What’s your opinion on customers who eat their entire meal and then complain to get a free replacement or refund? Do you think it’s a valid complaint?

10. Claiming the Food Was Undercooked or Overcooked

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A person who worked at a steak house commented, “Tonight I had a large party of 11 people sit at one of my tables. They were very demanding and always needed me to bring them something. After they had all started on their meals they decided their steaks were overcooked so I had my manager go over and talk to them. They all got free steaks to take home with them on top of their steaks they ate all of at the restaurant. They didn’t even tip over the gratuity. This happens on a regular basis.”

11. Refusing To Pay for Extra Add-ons

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One Redditor wrote about the add-ons, “Over the summer I made a lot of subs. If people wanted certain toppings on the side in a separate container we’d do that for them, but this one lady beat the system. She would get a full sub, and then ask for lettuce, tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, olive oil, and a free dressing pack “on the side”. She got a decently sized free salad every time she came.”

A second person from McDonald’s shared, “Plain McDouble. Add Mac Sauce and Lettuce.” Then people get mad when we won’t let them do it. Our local franchise (22 stores) isn’t like the competing two McDonald’s franchises in the area. What’s the point of selling a Big Mac for $3.89 when people just choose a ghetto one for $1.”

A third person stated, “Instead of ordering a supreme pizza, ordered a cheese pizza with everything on the side. We don’t charge for sides, so they kinda got a supreme pizza at the price of cheese.”

12. Insisting on Free Refills

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A Reddit user said, “A man came into the fast food place I worked at. He ordered a large tea, a large ice water, and 6 lemons, all in a drink carrier. The only thing he was charged for was the tea. I give him his stuff and he presumably leaves. About 20 minutes later he comes back up with a totally empty cup. No ice or anything. He wants a refill of tea. I’m not stupid, I know he just poured the water out. But I do it anyway because I really don’t give a s***. I mentioned it to my manager, and we watched him as he went back out into the dining room. A minute later he comes up, leaves his drinks on the counter, and we see 2 large teas with 3 lemons each. This man wasted 25 minutes of his day just to get a free tea. Seriously?”

The man in this story made a lot of effort just to get a free tea, which seems like a waste of time and energy. What do you think of this behavior?

13. The Classic Dine-and-Dash

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One person mentioned, “Trying to walk out without paying. I caught them before they reached the door so they complained to the owner.”

Another one commented on the same incident, “They were leaving while their bill was on the table. They had not paid me. They were my only customers at the time so I was watching them pretty close.”

14. Threatening To Call the Health Inspector/Cops

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A Redditor shared their summer experience, “Once, where I used to work as a summer job a guy bought a sandwich and start, takes some bites and then come back and tell us that he wants to get his money back because the butter in his sandwich isn’t butter.

We showed him the butter from the kitchen and then he tell us that we’re lying and that he will sue us. I told him that he should then call the police right now and that after his statement I will denounce him for slanderous denoucement and then we will see what happen.

Guess that it finally came to his mind that it was really butter in his sandwich because he just told us again that we was lying as he hastly go away.”

Another one added, “We had a woman threaten to sue over a coupon. She was misunderstanding the discount and said we weren’t giving her the full benefit of the coupon. She just wanted more taken off her bill.”

15. Creating a Scene To Get Freebies

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One restaurant staff wrote, “I had a table demand a free meal because they had waited “over half an hour” to have their table greeted. The only flaw was that the restaurant had opened less than 5 minutes before they complained.”

A second member commented on a scene, “Pretended to fall on our “slippery bathroom floor” and demanded a free meal for her entire party of 3. Entire bathroom was bone dry. Not one puddle in sight. No limping, no wet clothing, no trash on the floor, no screams, no cuts or scrapes, just 100% lies.”

And a third worker added, “Someone faked a heart attack to get out of paying.”

Instances of customers demanding free meals or trying to get out of paying by lying or faking incidents are unfortunately common in the service industry.

16. Taking Advantage of The Kid’s Meal

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A chef said, “I am a Chef that used to work in a carvery restaurant. A woman and her son came in one day and alarm bells immediately rang when she claimed her son was under 12 for the kids meal (clearly 15 at least!).”

Another worker shared, “I had someone ask for a half order of pasta for their kid and we didn’t serve half orders. I politely explained this and tried to come up with a solution from the kids menu. The parent decides to order the full dish of pasta and take whatever the child doesn’t want home. Reasonable enough choice. They get their meals, I check on them and everything is great. Well into their meals they flag another server down and tell them the pasta they ordered for their child was cold and tasted awful and they just don’t want it anymore.”

It’s disappointing to see how some people try to cheat the system by lying or exaggerating their circumstances to get a cheaper or free meal.

17. Splitting Checks To Get More Discounts

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One user commented, “A party of 18 collectively decided that because it was taking the waiter too long to separate their bill into 12 separate checks, it was ok to leave without paying a $700 bill. I’m not sure how they were able to leave, I wasn’t the one in charge of them, but they somehow did. One good samaritan returned embarrassed and covered the whole bill himself 15 minutes later and apologized.”

Another shared, “Always love when people come in for dinner with multiple coupons and expect to use them all. No you can’t use two $5 off $15 coupons and a BOGO…. It doesn’t work like that. Then you get the well can you separate the bill so we can. We do obviously in the end mostly taking what we can but most coupons say one per party… Not one per person….”

18. Requesting Excessive Modifications to Meals

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A user shared an incident about messing with the order, “I worked at McDonalds for about a year, and there was a man that would come through every single day and order enough food for a small army. Nothing wrong with that, right? No, but this guy would change the order in as many confusing ways as possible in an attempt to get whoever was taking his order to mess up, which would in turn cause him to get his order for free.”

Someone else replied,  “Back when I worked in Mcdonalds we had a guy like that too, would come in atleast once a week and order a Big Tasty but change it so much that is basically wasn’t a big tasty anymore.”

It’s frustrating to deal with customers who intentionally try to mess up their orders just to get free food.

Have you ever encountered a similar situation where a customer tried to manipulate the system for their benefit?

19. Pretending To Know the Owner or Chef

Funny Chef Posing With Food Having Fun Over Black Background
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One restaurant employee commented, “I had an upper class elderly woman who’d come in every so often with other upper class elderly women. She’d always order one french press and they’d share it. I was working alone one day when she brought her friend over and said, “Tommy (the owner) told me that because I bring so much business and new customers to the shop that I could start coming here for free.” She gets food this time.”

Another one added, “I would get this all the time at a hotel I worked at. The owner/manager co-owned another hotel in the area with his brother, and both hotels had been owned by their father, so right there, prominent businessman with longstanding ties to the community. On top of that, he sat on the board of directors for both the hospital and the university in town, the top two employers in the region, making him an even more prominent figure in the community.”

A third user emphasized, “All the d*** time, “Hey, I’m good friends with OWNER, so you can give me a discount” or whatever.”

20. The Accusation Game

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A Redditor said, “A chubby woman and her friend accused another waiter and I for discriminating against them because of their size. They said we were being rude and avoiding them. They asked for a full discount on their dinner and threatened to bomb yelp with negative reviews and said they will never return. They returned a week later and did the same thing, thinking we wouldn’t remember their faces. The manager told them next time they return, they will not be served.”

Another Redditor added, “Once served a blind lady and her daughter. They sat for over three hours and only had tea and one appetizer. When I delivered the check, they asked to see the manager and complained that I had been giving the “‘blind” woman dirty looks all night. They got ten percent off.”

Scam Free Meals

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Restaurant workers have seen it all when customers try to scam free meals. While some of these tactics may work occasionally, they’re not fooling anyone in the long run. As customers, it’s important to treat restaurant workers with respect and pay for what we order. After all, they work hard to provide us with great food and service.

So, let’s do our part to ensure they get paid for their hard work and not fall prey to the cheap tricks of customers trying to score free food.

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