In today’s grande-nonfat-sugar-free-vanilla-triple-shot post, we depart from the regular talk about marketing your business with low dough… today it’s about How to Get FREE DRINKS (and Other Stuff) from Starbucks.
Stick with me, toward the end I’ll show how I effectively got an Iced Venti (20 oz) Caramel Macchiato, a blueberry scone, PLUS a 20 oz iced coffee… for a total for BOTH drinks and the pastry of $2.14, .50 cents of which I’m going to get back… Intrigued? Read on.
BTW, though we’re talking about that beloved elixir of life, COFFEE (Oooga shaka, oooga oooga ooga shaka)… I do still think it’s important I give you the latest and greatest in marketing on a Shoestring. So today’s post is brought to you by the lovely and talented Ana Hoffman of TrafficGenerationCafe.
I call Ana the “Queen of Traffic” because she regularly outdoes some of the great gurus in her space… WITHOUT the benefit of ANY paid advertising. That’s no money spent for regularly getting hundreds of thousands of views. Thass right, I said no money spent for hundreds of thousands of views.
Traffic comes to TrafficGenerationCafe.com naturally and for free because of Ana Hoffman’s penchant for delivering more value for free… than some of the gurus might charge $100′s for in an information product.
Plus, she has some killer hacks. I mean, genius in a box. You can pick up piles of unique, not-available-anywhere-else-marketing-wisdom without charge at her site.
F’rinstance, Ana’s recent post on how to reach “influencers” in your space is super-valuable to anyone involved in content marketing.
Plus there’s a mention or two of yers truly in there.
So if YOUR site could use more highly targeted traffic, without spending a dime on advertising… go read it, and quick! Here’s the link again to the latest and greatest in marketing:
So… back to ME. Ooh, and coffeeeee. Ah.
As a writer, I’ve inhabited coffee shops all over the fruited plain. MOST writers I know are also caffeine-based lifeforms, and though many of us prefer the mom and pop shops… we all have spent at least SOME time at the good ol’ corporate evil dispensary where cheery baristas and creepy pics of Oprah abound.
How to Get Free Drinks (and Other Stuff) at Starbucks
So I don’t feel TOO bad about teaching the general public how to squeeze SBUX for every last cent; they’ve gotten more than their “Fair Trade” from me over the last ten years since my good friend Emil got me started with ‘em.
That said! I’ve got a devious mind that concocts crazy stuff… woulda been a great bank robber or international jewel thief. So I come up with, shall we say… interesting ideas… that I’ve been known to try out and see what I can get away with.
My internal moral compass keeps me from going really far with things though.
I’m not going to encourage any “black hat” stuff designed to intentionally bilk Sixbucks… er, STARbucks out of what they deserve in terms of patronage. I don’t believe in straight-up stealing, not even from a behemoth like the Big Green and White.
But we DO wanna make dang sure you and I get full value for what we spend there, right? It’s almost confiscatory what they are charging these days.
SO here’s a checklist of what you’ll need to get maximum free drinks and free food at Starbucks:
- Your Own Cup
- A Registered Starbucks Card
- Starbucks App for your Smart Phone
- A charming, friendly disposition
- A pair of Brass Balls
Armed with these, your trip to free drinkdom is ready to plan…
Bring Your Own Cup to Starbucks for Free Coffee
First off, Starbucks gives you a discount of .10 cents right off the bat if you bring in your own cup. It’s not much, but .10 cents IS .10 cents. It adds up, and starting small is always a good thing.
My daughter made me this cup at one of those crafty places. It’s still my fave, mainly because it reminds me of my little sweetheart. But there’s a side benny: the thing holds over twenty ounces!
If you order a Tall (12 oz) or Grande (16 oz), but hand the barista a 20+ oz personal cup, they’re likely to fill it to the top. Not that we’re trying to encourage that, wink wink … but it happens often enough to be worth it. That, added to your personal cup discount makes for more of that precious brown harbinger of happiness. For less.
Whether you squeeze extra free Starbucks coffee out of this little gambit, you certainly will pay the .10 cents less, while at the same time saving the planet from being overrun with paper cups and trite sayings from celebrities.
Register Your Starbucks Card for Free Coffee
There are at least four ways to get free coffee and discounted coffee and treats with a registered Starbucks card.
Free Coffee from a Registered Starbucks Card Tip #1:
First off, they give ya free refills! Now, that’s not for specialty drinks like lattes and mochas and shakes, oh my… it’s only for the plain drip coffee. But hey, for those of us that appreciate plain ol’ coffee that’s a no-brainer. Buy a drip, get a drip free.
I happen to enjoy a Caffe Misto. I’ll often get this 1st, then a free drip refill afterwards.
Here’s where the Brass Balls (from your list above) come in handy: Caffe Misto happens to be an even mix of steamed milk and drip coffee. Here, they charge ya over 3 bucks for a 20 oz.
So sometimes when I go for my refill, I say, “Just a drip coffee refill please… with LOTS of room.”
Then as the barista is getting ready to hand back my cup I tell her, “Um, and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you were to put some steamed milk in there.”
Smile big, shut up.
They know what I’m doing… but usually smile and give me the 2nd Caffe Misto fo’ FREE.
Hey, they would give me the milk free anyway out on the condiments table… but that would be cold milk, making for a lukewarm drink. And they don’t use microwaves in Starbucks, so… this is how I roll.
Don’t judge me.
Free Coffee from a Registered Starbucks Card Tip #2: Happy Birthday!
Yes, Starbucks gives their favorite registered customers a free drink each time they make it around the sun. Now, I wouldn’t actually do the following plan… but it would work.
For a one-time investment of $260, you might set yourself up with a free drink a week for life. That’s $5 for each gift card… then go register them with different email addresses (those things are free, ya know) and different birthdays. One for each week.
Aw, shucks! You KNOW I wouldn’t actually do something like that. Setting up dozens of fictitious birthdays is definitely black hat. But I will tell you this: I’ve got a registered card for the birthday of every person in my household, even though I’m the only coffee drinker.
I can tell you’re quietly judging me again. Well, I take my kids to SBUX on their birthdays and I ACTUALLY BUY THEM SOMETHING while we’re there.
So Starbucks gets mo’ money.
But my coffee drink is free.
Free Coffee from a Registered Starbucks Card Tip #3: “Swipe” Some Free Coffee!
THIS tip was actually given to me by Mary, an employee at Starbucks who will remain nameless. Oops. Well, she’ll remain last-nameless.
“Ya know, once you register a card with your email and home address they start keeping track of you and your purchasing habits.”
Personally, I think it’s a plot by President Obama and the NSA to know exactly where they can find and recognize you in Starbucks by what you’re ordering. I’m KIDDING… kind of…
That said, there IS a tasty incentive for providing
the NSA er, Starbucks with all kinds of personal information:
Each time they swipe your card you get a “star”.
Remember those from when we were kids? Gold stars are good. Get enough of ‘em and you get nice things from your Mom or your Dad, or your teacher at kindergarten.
Old motivations die hard; I’m still trying to make up for all the gold stars I DIDN’T get for being a good boy back then.
Mary, the last-nameless Starbucks employee advised me,
“Next time you buy two items, ask the partner to swipe your registered card twice, paying for them separately.”
Ahhhh. Cooool. Maximum gold stars.
“Of course,” she continued, “…don’t be that guy that’s holding up a line and buying six items, demanding a separate swipe for each. That’s no way to make friends with your barista or your fellow customers.”
Now, I did me some math. Every twelve stars gets you a free drink or food item. Since I’m often at a coffee shop all dang day putting finishing touches on a blog post or book chapter, I often get a food item. The Chicken Salad and Bacon Sandwich costs $5.95… or twelve stars.
That makes each star worth about .50 cents to me. Dayum.
Free Coffee from a Registered Starbucks Card Tip #4:
Perhaps the least obvious way to get free coffee and stuff from your Starbucks card is to check your free Starbucks card app daily for specials and promotions.
Time and again there will be a notice in your “rewards” section that clues you in: $1.00 off a sandwich, double stars for any cold drink, et cetera.
It isn’t easy to find these specials… you have to check how many stars you have, then scroll to the right where the records are kept of how many rewards you’ve already cashed in. Then you will find the secret treasure trove of code-numbered offers. It’ll say something like, CODE 131: 20% off any packaged coffee.
Try and time your visits to those days when you get double stars, and if you were gonna buy packaged coffee or a sandwich or a merch item ANYWAY… the codes will get you the best price.
ANOTHER Way to Get Free Starbucks Stuff: ASK For a Discount
Here’s where those Brass Balls come in handy…
Sometimes I’ll simply ASK for a discount on an item I’m picking up.
Learned this one from good ol’ Noah Kagan in his How to Make Your First Dollar course: one of the first and most important keys to salesmanship is asking for the offer.
And one of the first and most important keys to being an entrepreneur is NOT being concerned what people think… and to simply ASK for what you want.
Got a pair? Pony up and prove it… it doesn’t cost you a thing and you (probably) won’t get thrown out for asking. Take a deep breath, hold it, let it out… and ASK for a discount.
The worst possible thing that could happen is that a judgey sixteen-year old barista raises her eyebrow at you for being a cheapass. The best thing that could happen is, well… you get stuff for free or at a discount.
STILL ANOTHER Way to Get Free Starbucks Stuff: Ask for a Markout
Gettin’ even brassier here…
Starbucks throws out lots of stuff.
Like pastries at a certain time of day.
They “mark it out”… meaning that they go into their computer and account for stuff that’s going bye-bye… then very often nip a li’l bite as they throw out piles of useable food.
And they know it.
So sometimes yers truly will mosey up to the counter and say, “Ummmmm. Yummay. That blueberry scone looks like it’s almost five minutes too old to sell.”
Your Friendly Disposition from the above list does well here.
If you’ve taken the time to make a few friends of the baristas, they will take care of you.
So long as you don’t ABUSE the privilege.
Keep Tuned In To Get Free Coffee and Stuff at Starbucks
Y’know? Every store has their “regulars”. Because we drink a lot of coffee, some of us are more regular than others… ahem. But puns and bathroom humor aside, the fact that I take the time to banter with baristas and ask after their families and such makes me one of their “favorite customers”.
Now, I don’t just do this principle and flatter baristas just to eke a bit of free coffee or stuff out of ‘em…. I would be personable and kind to anyone I meet regardless of who they were or what they could/couldn’t do for me. Check out the post on Creating Value to see more about this principle, but in short it goes like this:
Be NICE to people for no good reason at all.
Because it’s the right thing to do, and doesn’t cost you a dime.
Sometimes, as a natural side effect, magic happens. And when it does, pay it forward by being nice to more folks.
Here’s an example of some magical side effects:
Things get hectic in the drive-thru and they make too many drinks. One of the extras happens to be your fave… and your favorite barista that considers you her favorite customer calls you up to the counter for a free drink.
I wouldn’t write about it if it hadn’t happened to me MULTIPLE times.
Now again, the idea is not “be nice and you will get free drinks“. Give to get. No, no , NOOOO. It’s more like, “great stuff happens all the time, and to be in tune with the forces that send those great things your way once in a while… BE that force for someone else often as you get the chance.”
Treat Receipts, Gold Stars, Refills, Oh My! The Ultimate Plan For Free Drinks and Stuff at Starbucks
Finally, the piece de resistance: combining strategies for the Ultimate Plan.
So I’m heading off to Starbucks to crank out a couple thousand words. Ironically, those words are about how to get free coffee and stuff at Starbucks.
It’s 1:45 in the afternoon.
I sniff out a good spot to perch and percolate the latest genius for Shoestring101, but FIRST! Head up to the counter and add $5 to my card.
My favorite barista winks and hands me a “treat receipt”.
After getting situated, it’s 2:01pm. I walk back up to the bar and get an iced grande caramel machiatto (in my 20 oz personal cup, which they filled…so, VENTI not grande) for two bucks plus tax.
That’s because when you get a “treat receipt” before 2:00 in the afternoon, then “return” the same day you can buy any iced grande drink for two bucks.
Oh, and refills with your registered card are free… so…
Filled ‘er up again after about a thousand words.
Fo’ free. Because coffee refills on a registered card are free. Not a caramel machiatto, mind you… just an iced coffee… but a FREE one.
Gettin’ rid of those blueberry scones are we? You’re not really throwing that out, are ya?
THAT, my friends is how to use a registered card, a friendly disposition, the treat receipt, and a pair of brass balls to get what I promised to show you at the beginning of this post: an Iced Venti (20 oz) Caramel Macchiato, a blueberry scone, PLUS a 20 oz iced coffee… for a total for BOTH drinks and the pastry of $2.14, .50 cents of which I’m going to get back.
Because buying the first drink gets me a star on my registered card.
Conclusion of How to Get Free Drinks and Stuff at Starbucks
Yes, I realize that in order to get all these discounts and bonuses I’ve got to be a regular Starbucks rat. Starbucks knows it too. That’s why I’m sure they don’t mind me gaming them a bit to get the very best value for the many, many dollars I spend there.
I think they’re still okay with it.
Plus… I own the place. Well, a piece of it.
Full disclosure: I own shares of Starbucks… SBUX on the Nasdaq exchange.
SO it’s okay. I’m one of the owners and I don’t mind if you game me out of a teeeeny bit of profit by using these ideas.
P.S. Hey, what did I forget? If you’ve got a “top secret” method for getting free drinks and stuff at Starbucks, spill the beans woudja?!? Put your awesome strategy or experience in the comments. Oh, and make SURE to go see Ana Hoffman’s fab post on how to successfully engage influencers in your niche. Your time will be WELL spent there. Here’s that link once again: