50 Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free Or Cheap

With times calling for tighter wallets and tighter belts, FrugalLivingTv’s list of 50 restaurants where kids eat free or cheap is like manna from heaven.

For instance, tonight, kids eat free at Applebees. Tuesday, children 10 and under eat free at Red Robin from 5 to 9. Every day at IHOP your meal is comped if you’re 12 or under. To keep the savings coming, parents, eat your own meal ahead of time before bringing your brood to the dining establishment so you’re not tempted to splurge on your own meal. This may not always work as sometimes purchase of adult entree is required.

Another important caveat to this list: call the specific location you plan on going to ahead of time to make sure they’re participating in the kids meal program. Sometimes individual franchise owners opt-out of national promotions.

Kids Eat Free [Frugal Living] (Image: Paxton Holley)

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  1. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    So for the kids to eat cheap, mom and dad have to suffer through a meal at Applebees and Red Robin?

    • sanjsrik says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:
      that’s what I was thinking, in my zip code the only place that was viable was IHOP, have you been to IHOP recently? ewww.

      • nakedscience says:

        @sanjsrik: I’ve been to IHOP recently. The one near me is quite nice.

        • Starfury says:

          @nakedscience:

          Denny’s has kids eat free 2x a week. We go there at times…but the food there is good. Not all chain restaurants are the same.

          • nakedscience says:

            @Starfury: Yeah, I live near Gay Denny’s aka Jenny’s (lol, yes, really, that’s what we call it!) here in Phoenix, and it’s perhaps one of the best Denny’s I’ve ever been to. They have THE BEST BACON.

    • mzs says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Red Robin burgers are fine and you can get a salad instead of fries. Some of the soups are good as well. Also the kids like the guy dressed-up as a red bird and the free balloons. Plus it is the kind of place that does not mind kids.

    • Leah Clouse says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: well yes actually. Having kids means you surrender your rights to partake in restaurants like Bonefish Grille unless you leave the little monsters at home. I think it’s brilliant for upscale restaurants to have higher prices for kids cause lets face it folks- bringing your kids there makes the rest of us hate you.

  2. Canino says:

    Thank you for this “50 Restaurants to Avoid” article.

  3. Jacquilynne says:

    Generally, you’re going to be required to purchase adult entrees to go with the free kids meals, so there’s not much point in eating in advance.

    And even where it’s not required, just bringing your kid to eat free without ordering anything yourself would be pretty crappy consumer behaviour.

    • lemonchar says:

      @Jacquilynne: And make sure you tip your server for the free meal, too. Working at Applebee’s is bad enough without having extra kids’ place settings to clean up. Please, please, please tip your servers generously for that.

      • takes_so_little says:

        @lemonchar: I always tip huge when one or both of my kids make a mess. I used to be a waiter at… (throws up a little in mouth)… Friendly’s.

  4. Dethzilla says:

    Yeah… I’m pretty shocked at that suggestion too. Generally Sunday Thru Thursday are KEF days where I’m at.

  5. EBounding says:

    What the crap is “Quaker Steak and Lube” restaurant??

  6. courtneywoah says:

    suggesting the parents eat before going to the restaurant is bizarre. Either you are going out to have a nice family meal…or your not. These restaurants are counting on the parents eating entrees that will offset the cost of free kids meals.

    • sanjsrik says:

      @courtneywoah:
      That’s really funny advice, wait a second, kids, I have to finish my healthy meal so you can go have crappy fried stuff “for free” (even though for me to get you a free meal, i have to then eat a second meal).

      • nakedscience says:

        @sanjsrik: lol not all meals in restaurants are “fried”…or unhealthy.

        • takes_so_little says:

          @nakedscience: True, but, as a parent of small kids, I’ll tell you that the only remotely healthy choice on the kid’s menus is the spaghetti, and frankly I let my kid choose what he wants (mac and cheese 9 times out of 10) because hey, I’m getting what I want.

          It doesn’t bother me though, because we go out so infrequently, and then mostly to little ethnic places that don’t have a ‘kid’s’ menu.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @courtneywoah: Well, I think for parents, eating a little bit ahead of time or just snacking a little helps cut down the amount of money on the total bill….especially if the parents are only going to Applebees because they have to eat out somewhere, and kids eat free.

      That said…a lot of places only charge $6 or so for kids. If you’re looking to cut spending that much to offset junior’s kids portions, eat a little less and just drink water.

  7. nakedscience says:

    Yeah, I don’t get suggesting parents eat before hand. Especially since almost every “kids eat free/cheap” includes the caveat that you have to buy one adult meal per child meal. That and um, why would you take your kids out to a meal if you are going to eat at home?

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Saving money angers me!

    • KyleOrton says:

      @Ben Popken: Thank goodness, Ben. For a minute there I thought you were immune to the advertising-induced consumer thinking the rest of us are sick with.

  9. Saydur says:

    One reason these franchises opt out of these promotions? Precisely as you said, people try to tack on the savings by taking only free stuff, while corporate often leaves franchise owners in the cold without any compensation, even if their business is doing fine without the promotion.

    You want to eat frugally? Buy healthy food at the grocery store and cook it yourself, it’s much cheaper than eating out. Better yet, if you can, plant a garden, and enjoy vegetables that taste right.

  10. Cupajo says:

    I would like to see a list of 50 Restaurants Where Children are Expressly Forbidden. That way I can enjoy my meal in piece without your disgusting little hell-spawn screeching over the back of the booth right into my ear or trying to show me what he just pried out of his nose.

    • Cupajo says:

      @Cupajo: By “enjoy my meal in piece” or course I mean “enjoy my meal in peace”.

      No more bourbon for breakfast for me!

      • Cupajo says:

        And @Cupajo: And by “or course” I mean “of course”.

        Consumerist! If you enable an ‘edit your post’ feature, I will buy you a Maserati!

    • thelushie says:

      @Cupajo: I was thinking the exact same thing. The other day I was in a resturant when a couple with 5 spawn came in. They were all over the place. Ugh.

      • subtlefrog says:

        @thelushie:
        My favorite moment with one of those hell spawn parties was when an older gentleman looked at the parent and asked, “are you going to parent your child, or shall I?”

        The child began to behave, much to everyone’s relief.

        @cupajo: I’m with you.

        • thelushie says:

          @subtlefrog: I can get a child to behave with a look. When the parents are whining “Will you stoooooppppp?”, I give them a look and they go sit down. There was a kid once who, while running through a store, stepped on my mother’s foot. Wouldn’t have been so bad except my mom had nerve problems and it caused shooting pain for about an hour. No apology from the parent, she just called her kid over.

          Yes, parents need to make their children behave in public places. Yes, children will misbehave but you are the parent and it is your job to stop the behavior. Some parents get this, many don’t. And if you don’t, prepare to have your children parented by complete strangers such as the gentleman in subtlefrog’s post.

          And you can call me bitter, mean, whatever…I call you a bad parent.

          • chocolate1234 says:

            @thelushie:

            Exactly, I totally agree. I love kids and would like to have some of my own one day, but am disturbed by the fact that so many parents refuse to actually PARENT their children.

    • takes_so_little says:

      @Cupajo: And I would love to eat someplace they don’t allow bitter curmudgeons like yourself in the door.

      • Canino says:

        @takes_so_little: And I would love to eat someplace they don’t allow bitter curmudgeons like yourself in the door.

        Try McDonald’s

        • dragonfire81 says:

          @Canino: I think it fair for their to be upscale restaurants that do not allow kids. There are plenty of family places around anyway.

          • Canino says:

            @dragonfire81: I think it fair for their to be upscale restaurants that do not allow kids. There are plenty of family places around anyway.

            Actually, there is a very simple solution. Since many cities have mandated that restaurants go smoke-free, those restaurants should convert their smoking/nonsmoking areas into children/nonchildren areas. Families won’t bother other families, and they won’t bother “curmudgeons” or people who just want a nice quiet dinner either.

            • nakedscience says:

              @pecan 3.14159265: UP is a kids movie. If you don’t want to deal with kids at a kids movie, wait ’til it comes out on DVD. Otherwise you’ll just drive yourself insane.

              • pecan 3.14159265 says:

                @nakedscience: That’s the thing. I usually do wait for it to come out on DVD precisely because I enjoy Pixar movies, but I avoid kids movies in theaters. Up is the first kids movie I’ve seen in theaters, so I was pleasantly surprised by how well-behaved all the kids were.

      • Cupajo says:

        @takes_so_little: I’ve got nothing against kids. Love ‘em, in fact. And when I go to Chuck E Cheese, I don’t feel at all bothered by the little basta- the little treasures running around playing whack-a-mole.
        But when I go to a nice steakhouse and shell out $14 bucks for a nice steak and some red wine, I don’t think it’s too asking too much to not want to see this week’s Power Rangers acted out by 6 year olds.

      • HiPwr says:

        @takes_so_little: You’ve had run-ins in resturants with “bitter curmudgeons” (great word, by the way), have you?

    • nakedscience says:

      @Cupajo: …You could just stay at home.

    • Anonymous says:

      @Cupajo: The problem is not that restaurants allow children, but that our society has accepted this lie that children are unable to sit still and quietly enjoy a meal the way adults do. Parents accept this lie and so either leave their kids at home or let them run wild because “that’s how kids are,” and people without children accept the lie because everywhere they go they see ill behaving little brats.

      I have seven children aged 10 months to 11 years, and they go with me almost everywhere I go. My husband and I take them out to eat on a regular basis, and I can’t tell you how many times a waiter, restaurant manager, or another patron has complimented us on the fact that our kids DON’T stand in the chairs, climb on or under the table, throw food, yell, or otherwise disturb other people. We especially enjoy taking the kids to a local Mexican restaurant that has a “kids eat free promotion.” We should only get two free meals since we only buy two adult meals, but they like us so much that the usually comp several of our children and sometimes even when it’s not the right day! (No, we don’t ask them to, and yes we tip well!) I think everyone enjoys being around happy, well-behaved children.

      As for the parents who don’t make their kids behave, I don’t want to be around them and my kids don’t either! They’ll usually ask me why that child’s mother is letting him annoy everyone else in the restaurant. All I can say is that I don’t know.

  11. WelcomeToMyWorld says:

    Dear Ben, despite all the nasty, snarky comments posted here, I think this is a great idea for an article. It’s totally appropriate for the theme of Consumerist.

    I’m sure that poeple who have families with children, unlike the social-misfits that congregate here, will appreciate your efforts. Thank you!

  12. takes_so_little says:

    I know cooking at home is better, I know a lot of these restaurants suck, and I know that my children (heaven forbid!) might actually SPEAK in these places, yeah got it.

    But frankly, sometimes you’re in the middle of a bunch of errabnds that are taking a lot longer than you thought, they’re getting hungry, and going to a crappy chain restaurant that has fast service AND crayons is an acceptable solution.

    Just another good reason to fill them with the healthy stuff the other 99% of the time, so when I see my son clean up a plate of god-knows-what’s-in-it nd wash it down with a glass of soda, it doesn’t bother me.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @takes_so_little: I have absolutely no problem with parents taking their kids to restaurants. I don’t even mind being near kids when I’m at restaurants…but from my experience, it’s like playing Russian Roulette. Most of the time, kids will be kids and that means they’ll be a little high-pitched and a little rowdy.

      We all have the right to have our meal in whatever atmosphere we so desire. I don’t have a problem with kids…but there are plenty of parents who don’t parent their kids in public, so I’ve had to be cautious when being seated near children. I don’t hate kids, but the restaurant-going experience would be a much better one overall if parents parented their children and taught them to behave in public, rather than go the ‘kids will be kids’ route – and some people who really do hate kids would be better off keeping their grumbles to themselves instead of airing them in public.

      • nakedscience says:

        @pecan 3.14159265: But sometimes kids will be kids and no matter how great a parent you are, kids aren’t perfect and still act up sometimes. Ever seen a kid throw a tantrum in the store? Yeah, it happens, and generally not through the fault of the parent. Kids can be a pain in the ass.

        I suggest avoiding certain restaurants if you don’t like dining where kids are.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          @nakedscience I really do try to avoid some places like Red Robin because it’s precisely extremely family friendly. I appreciate that there are places that are family friendly, because I know if I were a parent, I would want to find a place like that as well.

          The kids that I’ve encountered who have made dining out a ridiculous experience for people around them were not parented properly. These were kids who screeched at the top of their lungs, and parents didn’t do anything about it, other than continue with their conversation. I’m of the mindset that parents need to control their kids, even if the tantrum isn’t their fault.

          I saw Up the other day. Tons of kids there, 99.9% of them were extremely well behaved, which was extremely surprising to me. There were two kids who didn’t behave, but they were babies, which I don’t think should be in a movie theater anyway. But I know quiet, respectful kids are out there. It’s just the ones whose parents let them “express themselves” all the time that make it rough for everyone else.

          • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

            @pecan 3.14159265: “they were babies, which I don’t think should be in a movie theater anyway.”

            A lot of theaters do “Mommy Matinees” where they leave the lights on low (so you can see to do childcare) and specifically intend them for parents with infants and toddlers, like at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, so mom can get out of the house and see a movie, without worrying that a fussy baby will bother everyone else.

            The downside is everyone at the matinee has a potentially fussy baby. :)

            Some places do kids’ movies, some do a variety of non-explosion-focused movies.

            • pecan 3.14159265 says:

              @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): Yeah, so the rest of us can sleep until noon while the moms and dads are catching a 10 am showing of “Up” :-P The one we went to was much, much later in the afternoon. We expected kids, but I don’t think babies should be in the theater because I can understand why they’re crying – isn’t it massive sensory overload for a child that obviously does not have a clue why there is so much light and noise?

              • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

                @pecan 3.14159265: Depends. Most are pretty oblivious to non-startling noise for quite a while. They urged us to have background noise and lots of light on during the day to help baby learn the difference between night and day and so he’ll be a good daytime sleeper when there’s noise. Some moms vacuum on purpose during naps to train a heavy sleeper. :)

                But yeah, babies at non-Mommy Matinees is just not very considerate to others in the theater.

                (But then, I don’t really mind waiting for things on video. I suppose some people have compelling reasons to go to the theater.)

        • thelushie says:

          @nakedscience: Then you need to remove your child from the situation. What bugs people most is when parents ignore what is going on! I am with pecan in that even if the tantrum is not the parent’s fault (but who taught them that will accomplish anything?) it is still the parent’s responsibility to control the child.

          • nakedscience says:

            @thelushie: “but who taught them that will accomplish anything”

            No one “teaches” kids tantrums. Jesus Christ. Kids get cranky, tired, whatever, and aren’t perfect little angels and sometimes *gasp* they lose it, even if the parent is a great parent.

        • chocolate1234 says:

          @nakedscience:
          As others have said, the problem most people have isn’t the fact that kids will act up or be fussy at times. The problem is the fact that there are (sadly) many parents out there who refuse to parent their children. Junior is running around shrieking, and mom and dad don’t even look up from their conversation. THAT is something I have a problem with. There will always be the people who can’t stand kids, but I think there are many more people that like kids, but don’t enjoy having to deal with the kids whose parents are simply too lazy to do their job.

          • nakedscience says:

            @chocolate1234: The problem is going to a movie like UP, especially when it first opens, and not expecting the it — A MOVIE FOR KIDS — to be full of children.

  13. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    “Tuesday, children 10 and under eat free at Red Robin from to 9″

    From when ?

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      @larrymac: Ah, never mind, the linked article has the full sentence “At Red Robin kids 10 and under can eat for free on Monday (and Tuesday) from 5pm to 9pm.”

      So I guess there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

      Ha. I kill me.

  14. redskull says:

    All I know is 50s Mom in the red shorts in that illustration is HOT!

  15. B1663R says:

    there is something missing in that dairy queen picture but i just can’t seem to put my finger on it… man, this is going to bother me for days…

  16. Possinator says:

    I’ glad I don’t wait tables anymore. Kids eat free days always brought in hoards of kids. Lots of work and hassle with little in the way of tips.

    • takes_so_little says:

      @Possinator: Most of the restaurants on the list are low-tip deals. Speaking as a former crappy-restaurant waiter, if you want real tips, work in a real restaurant.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, not only is this a weird suggestion but a bad one. First off, the kids shouldn’t be eating crap like Wendy’s or Applebees for dinner. It’s pumped full of fat, salt, and sugar that’s causing the obesity and diet related diseases (e.g. hypertension and type 2 diabetes) that is so pervasive in this country.

    Just check out Corporate Accountability International’s website http://stopcorporateabuse.org/category/sitecategories/food and you’ll see why.

    Silly consumers!

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @NicoleDawhoa: I don’t buy into that. I think once in a while, it’s okay. I enjoy a good hamburger, but you bet I’m going to load it with all sorts of toppings. But I only do it once in a while, and I substitute fries with veggies (though I do sneak some off Mr. Pi’s plate).

      Just because you can get diabetes, doesn’t mean you should live your life like you already have it. Just eat unhealthy food in small amounts and in moderation. Continue to live life to its fullest. Enjoy that grease-laden fried chicken, because if you practice moderation, you’ll only eat it a few times a year.

    • nakedscience says:

      @NicoleDawhoa: Taking a child out to a restaurant once a month is not going to kill them, you know.

  18. Jessica Haas says:

    Why wasn’t any of this around when I was a kid? *sigh*

  19. Anonymous says:

    @cupajoe – I have kids, I take them to restaurants that are family friendly, even there I find myself telling them to behave better than the other kids. That said, the fact that you feel that you can judge parents based upon their kids behavior, not taking into account any sort of pre-existing mental condition (and I speak as the parent of a 16 year old with Tourettes) is offensive although I’m more offended that you consider a $14 steak “nice”.

    Peace.

  20. chuck0008 says:

    I love how Bennigans is on the list.

  21. SteveBMD says:

    Another way to save is to raise anorexic kids. Yay mental illness!!

  22. Jevia says:

    I wish some of those restaurants were near where we live. The only one is Applebees, which only has a kid promotion on Tuesdays for $2.49 (supposed to be plus a special desert not usually included in the kids meal, but we only seem to get that half the time). Not free, but I suppose its at least a little cheaper than the $5.49 they usually charge for a kids meal. None of the other restaurants listed are in our area, or are at least a 30 minute drive away (and of those, I don’t think any of them offer the listed promotion). So we don’t usually eat out much.