No sooner did I write that one of my secret financial goals for 2007 was to eat $1,000 worth of free food—which I did—than I started receiving one e-mail after another (at a rate of two a week in the last 24 hours!) asking how I did it. I have to admit I’m a little afraid of giving away the secrets to my complimentary nutritional escapades, for those supplying the free food may learn of my tactics and attempt to combat them. But screw that; here’s how I did it with no purchase or dumpster diving necessary!
The Executive Meeting Leftovers
On the way into the office, swing by the executive meeting rooms. When important people in my company meet with clients, customers, and other highly regarded external personnel, the meeting is usually catered with all sorts of fresh fruit, sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. There are usually at least 30 minutes after the meeting ends before the leftovers are whisked away by the caterer, probably to be discarded. Don’t let that turkey sandwich die in vain! Pick a handful of execs and monitor their calendars for big customer meetings that are likely to be catered. Then swoop in right after the room clears and help yourself to some delicious eats meant for people more important that yourself.
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Around 50 sandwiches, a few dozen bottled drinks, and enough fruit cups to feed all of Vatican City for a day.
- Estimated Retail Value: $250
Whenever a town hosts a grand opening party for a park or dedicates a new memorial, there’s often a sweet little shindig that follows. My city has a habit of hosting these gatherings during early or mid-morning hours, so they’re usually lightly trafficked despite being open to the public. This lets me swing by for five minutes, shake the city council members’ hands, and make off with a fistful of hors d’oeuvres. To cash in on free city food, just peruse your local papers for dedications, grand openings, and other city-sponsored events containing the magical R-word: “refreshments.”
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: I’m not sure what half the crap I ate was, but I was usually in a hurry. I think I also accidentally ate the mayor’s daughter’s hamster, but it was yummy (as all food served in cages tends to be).
- Estimated Retail Value: $75
Gifts From God
Well, almost. I’m convinced that my church spends at least 10% of the money brought in through its weekly collections on refreshments for its parishioners, and I’m also convinced that I eat at least 15% of that food. Whether it’s coffee and donuts after Sunday morning Mass or a boatload of yummies following choir concerts, the Lord giveth most generously unto Nick’s tummy. It’s a good thing gluttony isn’t a sin or I might end up getting excommunicated!
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: 25 donuts, 40 cups of coffee or juice, and a few dozen cookies and cakes.
- Estimated Retail Value: $50
The Best Part of Volunteering (Other Than Helping People In Need, Of Course)
Next door to our church is a Catholic elementary/middle school where we volunteer a few hours of our time most Fridays helping out with the after-school daycare. It’s great experience for my wife who is studying to become a teacher, and it’s an excellent way for me to unwind after a strenuous work week. Around 4:30pm is snack time for the kiddies, and the adults get to join in the fun too! Sure, I might feel like an eight-year-old munching on a bag of chips while sipping on a Capri Sun, but I won’t complain because it’s free!
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: 40 completely unhealthy snacks, 40 Capri Suns. Sometimes I get extras when kids bribe me with theirs to do their math homework.
- Estimated Retail Value: $50
The Out-of-Town Work Conference
I had the pleasure of being shipped to Colorado this past summer for a leadership conference. Because there’s nothing to do in the mountains of Colorado in August, I spent a lot of my free time there packing away some extra calories at the company-paid breakfasts, lunches, dinners, between-meal snacks, and the occasional between-snack snacks (I kid you not!). The food was not that great, but the price certainly was. I put on so much weight that week that I had to pay an overweight luggage surcharge for my thighs on the return flight.
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Rather than put the whole list here, I’ll just summarize it with the estimated calorie count for the five days of the conference: 23,000. Yes, that’s almost 5,000 calories a day, or 250% of the recommended daily intake.
- Estimated Retail Value: $200
A great way to kill time when you’re bored is to check out open houses for everything from real estate to pre-schools to banks and more. Sure, I might not have the money to buy your house, and I might not have the children to put in your school, and I’ve got enough freaking bank accounts already, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying your assortment of tasty treats. Of course, you’ll want to supply fake contact information or you’ll end up on everyone’s mailing lists. I’m sure real estate agents around the county are wondering why “Ima Bigeater” has been in attendance at virtually every open house this year.
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: More cookies, donuts, carrot sticks and sodas than you’d think a person could possibly fit in an oversized trenchcoat.
- Estimated Retail Value: $150
The Office Christmas Party
If you work for a big corporation like I do, and you get a lavish holiday party every year, then you could easily put a huge dent in your free food goal in one night. Load up on cocktail shrimp, other seafood, expensive meats, exotic foreign dishes and, of course, enough booze to kill a baby elephant.
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Everything’s a blur after the first three or four glasses of wine.
- Estimated Retail Value: I am told it was at least $200 in food and drink.
…including but not limited to free samples at stores and restaurants, office lunches to which I was actually invited, and office lunches to which I was not officially invited.
- Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: A little of this, a little of that.
- Estimated Retail Value: $50
Total Free Food For 2007: $1,025 …and there are still four days left in the year!
As you can see, many of your free food opportunities will come at work. So while you’re keeping one eye on the computer monitor, you should use the other to follow the catering cart as it makes its way down the hall. For a better idea of where I snatched up those free snacks, check out this map of all my free food sightings at work. Every time I grabbed a free bite, I put a small red dot on the map.