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Have you ever been in line at a Panera and have been asked if you’re a member? The question may tire you out after a while, and when you inevitably give in because you really just want your salad, you’ll see that the company has offered you a gift of their own.

This gift usually comes in the form of a discount as an award for signing up, but as you dig deeper into what discounts your new membership has bought you, more often than not nowadays you’ll see a ‘birthday reward.’

For most fast food companies, that reward usually comes in the form of a free side, dessert, drink or discount on your next meal. For other non-food-related companies, you might see a special coupon in your email for 20% off.

Birthday rewards programs can be super slay! But, just like with any other program, it does have its downsides.

Let’s start with the obvious: FREE STUFF! College students especially love a good freebie, in any shape or form. Places like Panera offer any free pastry as an award. Au Bon Pain gives you free lunch on your birthday. For most restaurants, a free dessert is the most common birthday reward that is given out. Other places offer a free appetizer, and even sometimes a free meal if you go in on your birthday. Birthday reward programs are also super common in most chain restaurants.

One of the best things about birthday reward programs is that it’s universal for the restaurant. You could go to any Dairy Queen and redeem that free blizzard. It’s not limited to one or two of the same fast-food chains.

While fast-food restaurants are the most common places where you’ll find birthday reward programs, it is not limited to them. CVS gives you a coupon for a free item when you join the CVS ExtraCare Beauty Club. Places like Ikea and Madewell give you a certain amount off your next purchase when you become a member of their reward program.

Besides the obvious perk, birthday reward programs can also lift someone’s spirits and make their day feel special. Birthdays aren’t always fun for everyone, and with birthday reward programs, it’s nice to correlate your birthday with something positive, even if the reward itself isn’t that big of a discount.


One of the major downsides of birthday rewards programs is the fact that they have an expression date. Most reward programs make you redeem it either the day of your birthday or a week after. It can be frustrating to give up a free meal just because you didn’t have time to stop by the restaurant on your birthday. Even when the reward gives you a week’s time frame, it is not always enough time. Redeeming the reward is easy enough, but it’s the process of picking it that can be a hassle.

Birthday rewards are also often limited. If a store gives you a birthday discount, it may not be for all the store items. Even free food has its limits, limiting the person to just a dessert or appetizer, and sometimes even those rewards don’t cover everything in that category. This can be a struggle for all the picky eaters out there.

Often, people don’t know about birthday rewards. Companies don’t do a good job of advertising them. When you do have a reward to redeem, a lot of companies and their receptive apps don’t always notify you. And because they expire so quickly, if you don’t check it on the day of your birthday, it’s as good as gone!

Birthday reward programs have their positives and negatives. Next time it’s your birthday, be on the lookout for any special offers, you might just get a free meal out of it!

Dorothea Armijos is a journalism major with a fine arts minor. She is currently a student at Hofstra University and is a part of the graduating class 0f 2023.
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