Fast Food Customers Use Loyalty Apps to Get Deals on Free and Cheap Meals

  • More and more customers are using restaurant loyalty apps to get cheap or free food.
  • One customer told BI that his family was comparing fast food apps and ordering “the one that was cheapest.”
  • McDonald’s said loyalty platform sales have more than tripled in three years. At Starbucks, its application represents 30% of transactions.

Customers are turning to fast food loyalty apps for cheaper meals as years of rising prices catch up to customers.

Fast food restaurants have raised prices during the pandemic to offset rising labor and food costs. Cumulative price increases are now catching up with consumers, who say fast food no longer represents value.

Loyalty apps for some restaurants offer customers discounts on meals. The McDonald’s app, for example, offers personalized deals, while Wendy’s is currently offering $2 Dave’s Doubles to app users. Other top-ranked restaurant apps on the Apple App Store include Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, and Domino’s.

Many dining apps offer customers points based on their spending, which can be redeemed for free food. In some cases, customers can also earn loyalty points if they order through the chains’ websites.

Reddit users say they use loyalty apps to save money and get free meals.

“I’ve downloaded 30 different food apps and it’s been at least four years since I paid full price for a meal from a chain restaurant,” one Reddit user said last year. “If the app doesn’t have an offer, I don’t eat there.”


Comparison of fast food apps

Some restaurant apps give customers points based on their spending.

Starbucks/Taco Bell/Chipotle



Martin Jennings, a 51-year-old truck driver from Florida, told Business Insider that his family has apps for “almost every” fast food restaurant, looking for special deals.

Jennings said his family has really “cut back” on their fast food consumption due to the rising prices, but when they order some, his wife checks his apps to see what the best deal is that day and orders “whichever is the cheapest.”

By ordering through the app, her family also doesn’t have to wait in the drive-thru line, Jennings said.

Warren Colehour, a 40-year-old college student from Kentucky, told BI he can usually get a burger, fries and a drink at McDonald’s for about $9 when ordering through the app.

“I literally drive to the restaurant, pull into the parking lot, order through the app so I can try to get a better deal…That’s how I get the discount,” he said. -he declares.

“Aggressive discounts” on the app encourage loyal customers to return

By encouraging customers to download their apps so they can sign up for their loyalty programs, fast food chains can also collect more customer data.

They can then use it to target their promotions: if you almost always receive a strawberry milkshake from a certain chain, its app may prompt you to add it to your order, for example. It can also offer you a personalized discount on that specific item.

Sharon Zackfia, an analyst at William Blair, told BI she had seen some chains offering “pretty aggressive discounts through the app.” She said this allows restaurants to “entice” their loyal customers to return without offering money to customers who are not loyal.

McDonald’s lists a series of reasons why customers should download the app from the App Store: you can collect points, order ahead, get delivery and receive personalized offers.


Screenshots of the McDonald's loyalty app showing a user's points balance, special offers and rewards

You can redeem points for free food on the McDonald’s app.

Annie Smith/Business Insider



McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski told analysts during an investor update in December that the company had 150 million active loyalty program users in the last 90 days across its top 50 markets. “This provides us with scalable data to serve each of our customers in a unique and engaging way,” he said.

Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s U.S., said loyal customers in the United States visit 15% more often and spend nearly twice as much as non-loyal customers in markets like the United States and Canada.

Systemwide sales through McDonald’s loyalty platforms have more than tripled over the past three years to more than $20 billion, Erlinger added. He said the company expects this to reach $45 billion by 2027.

Starbucks has also invested heavily in its app. CEO Laxman Narasimhan told analysts in January that a record 30% of Starbucks orders were now placed on its app.

Customers who used the app “have developed a long-term, routine relationship with our brand that increases both traffic and transactions,” he said.

Brady Brewer, Starbucks’ chief marketing officer, said that through the app, Starbucks can also send personalized communications to encourage regular customers to spend more and occasional customers to come in more often.

Is fast food too expensive these days? Contact this reporter at gdean@insider.com.

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