The Twin Cities’ Best Birthday Deals, Ranked

A woman holds a slice of birthday cake at a restaurant

It’s 2017, and you’re still paying for stuff on your birthday? Cut it out!

You should be having no trouble living the high life on the cheap in this ad-happy world of email blasts, newsletters, Facebook fan pages, and coupon codes. Countless companies are just dying to get you on their e-lists, and they’ll be more than happy to throw you a freebie. There are so many, in fact, that it would be really nice if somebody could compile a collection of the specials your area you absolutely MUST hit, listed apart from the ones you can ignore.

Well, here I am!

This isn’t the only birthday freebie list, not even close, but this IS the only list you’ll find in which only the 15 best ones are listed. Listen, I don’t like listicles any more than you do. A lot of people asked me for this, though, so here it is.

I figured this using two criteria:

Value Score: Value score is how much you get for free stacked against the establishment’s offerings. This matters because you can’t reasonably expect Caribou Coffee to go dollar-for-dollar with, say, Lindey’s Steak House because very few things at Caribou cost more than $5. A free coffee at Caribou isn’t as good a deal as a free steak, of course, but this is why Caribou makes the list while many chain restaurants with their free appetizers do not. The baseline for the formula scores a high-priced free meal as a 5.

Degree of Difficulty: What do you have to go through to redeem it? Almost every deal “costs” your email address at the very least, and I’ll provide links to the sign-up pages. The other major factors are whether it requires a purchase and your time frame to redeem it.

This is by no means a complete, “Bottom line!” list. If I’m missing one, tell me and I’ll consider adding it! I should also add that these scores determined whether they made the list, but didn’t necessarily weigh into their ranking.

CHANGE LOG
November 2017: Red Rabbit in; Noodles and Co. out.
December 2017: First Avenue in; Tony Roma’s out (for now); Benihana added as honorable mention.
February 2018: You can expect a shift in the rankings after National Frank’s Birthday is celebrated in January. I’ve got a lot of new deals to try out, thanks to a lot of great feedback from readers. Keep up the great work, gangsters!

Onward!

DISHONORABLE MENTION: Any restaurant offering only a piddly appetizer or standard-sized dessert
Value Score: Not enough
Degree of Difficulty: Too much
There are too many better establishments offering better deals. You don’t have time for these.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
DowntownerThe Mermaid
What you get: Free car wash!
Value Score: 3
Degree of Difficulty: 5
I’m slightly biased, since my birthday almost always brings with it a snowstorm or sub-zero temperatures, but there’s a greater issue here: why are you driving on your birthday? That means you’re sober on your birthday. Stop it.

Benihana (Sign up here)
What you get: A $30 gift certificate! (but hold your horses)
Value Score: 5
Degree of Difficulty: 7
Thanks to Carrie Moritz for pointing this one out. Here’s the thing with Benihana’s $30 gift certificate, which you score for signing up for their Chef’s Table club. There are so many restrictions on it that getting the certificate and actually USING the certificate have their own separate FAQs on the sign-up page. They’re written in a really convoluted way, too, so I’ll try to make sense of it quickly.

You’ll receive the certificate within a week of your birthday, from which point you have 29 days to use it. You must print it out – they don’t care if you can pull the email up on your phone. Got it? Good. Now, in order to use it, you must purchase one adult teppan entree at full price. After that, you can use it on sushi, side orders, dessert and non-alcoholic beverages. You cannot use it on alcoholic beverages, or any discounted items (i.e. happy hour). You can only use it Monday-Thursday, at dinner hours only. If you’re going out with a fellow birthday-haver, you must be on separate checks.

I’m not going to complain about $30 free, no way, no how … but you’ve got to really want it to make this one work.

1: ACME Comedy Company (Sign up here)
What you get: Four free tickets!
Value Score: 20
Degree of Difficulty: 2
I’ve never seen a bad show at the ACME, and here you go getting $60 in tix. There’s a tiny proviso in that you can only cash it for Tuesday-Thursday shows, but you have all month to figure that out. Seriously, the only hard part is finding friends who won’t back out at the last second (good luck with that, though).

While you’re at it, their Insider Club gets you into a free show once a month on top of that!

2a: CARA Irish Pubs (Sign up here)
What you get:
A credit for $25
Value Score: 7
Degree of Difficulty: 1.5
Um, yeah, so $25 will buy you a Vincent Burger AND leave you with enough to get a good head start on your birthday buzz. The credit goes onto your CARA Pub Club card, which means you need a CARA Pub Club card. Check out what you get with it, though! This credit gets wired on a few days before the big B, and you have two weeks to spend it once applied. This is good at any CARA location, though, and you’ve probably got one not too far away.

2b: Pazzaluna (Website
What you get: A free dessert and a “special and surprise gift”
Value Score: 5-25, depending on your age
Degree of Difficulty: 1.5
Hit this on the week of your birthday. You’ll have a form to fill out at the conclusion of your meal, but no email signup is necessary.

They don’t say it on the website, but some quick Googling reveals the surprise gift to be a free bottle of wine, good for a price equal to your age. If this was a “bring your parents on their birthday” power rankings, this would be number one. It’s the most creative offer I’ve seen. I wish I drank wine. Next year, I might start.

4. First Avenue (Concert Calendar)
What you get: Two free tickets to a show
Value Score: 13+
Degree of Difficulty: 4
Thanks to Alison for pointing out a big one that had gone unnoticed: First Avenue offers a free concert ticket for you and a friend on your birthday, even if the show is sold out. Once you’re in, you’re given a ticket for a free bottle of champagne. I’m not a big concert guy, but I’ll capitalize on this with no hesitation if I have no other plans that night. If it was good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for you. It should be noted: this offer is only good for the main stage (thanks for clearing that up as well, Alison!)

5a. Red Cow (Sign up here)
What you get: A free burger, ANY burger!
Value Score: 5
Degree of Difficulty: 1
That’s right: if you’ve been eyeing up that Manhattan 2.0, now is the time! You can get any burger you want, no strings attached, free-ninety-nine. You’ve got three weeks after you receive the email to cash it, and it’s good at any of their three four locations. The only way this gets easier is if they just mail you the damn burger. Oh, and they toss you a $10 gift certificate for signing up for their e-club. That’s almost another free burger right there. Did I mention these burgers are f*cking great? They’re f*cking great.

5b: Red Rabbit (Sign up here)
What you get: A free pizza!
Value Score: 5
Degree of Difficulty: 1
The brains behind Red Cow took some new dishes out of their sleeves last year with Red Rabbit, a sister restaurant focusing on pasta and pizza. What does Italian food have to do with rabbits, you ask? THAT’S THE WRONG QUESTION TO ASK! You’re here to find out what you get for your birthday and the “something fancy” they promise on the E-Club page was revealed by Minnesota Skinny Reader and Official Gangster Nichole Robbins as … a free pizza! Same deal as Red Cow: you’ve got three weeks from its arrival to print it and spend it. Also similar to Red Cow, you get that $10 gift certificate right away for signing up.

7: Lindey’s Prime Steak House (Sign up here)
What you get: A gift certificate for $25
Value Score: 5
Degree of Difficulty: 3
That’s enough for a steak! Two things to consider, though: 1) the certificate comes in the mail, which leaves you SOL if the wind gets a hold of the mailbag on its way to your house; and 2) you’ve got a two-week time frame, within seven days before or after your birthday. You might already have a lot planned. Cancel one. You can’t miss this.

Notice the warning at the bottom of the sign-up page: “Please do not sign up friends or family members without their prior permission.” P’shaw! I’m signing up everyone I know!

8: Cherokee Tavern (Website)
What you get: Free 8-oz steak
Value Score: 5
Degree of Difficulty: 4
Another nirvanic steak on the house, but you’ve gotta premeditate this one. Here’s how it works: the Thursday of the week of your birthday, bring a friend who’s willing to spend at least $20 and you get your steak on the house. No email club, just bring your ID and your most reliable friend/s (take no chances). I’ve been living in this area for seven birthdays, and I haven’t missed this once. Not. Once.

9: 6Smith (Website)
What you get: THUN-DER! De-ne-ne-NEEHH-NEH-neh-NEEHH-neh-neh!

A piece of birthday cake on a white plate at a restaurant

THUN-DER!

Value Score: 4 in the real world, Infinity on the Internet
Degree of Difficulty: 2
No single dessert would make this list, but 20 in one? We’ll make an exception. When I had my birthday dinner here in 2016, they decorated the table for us and brought this monster out at the end. I needed my entire party of 14 to finish it, and we barely did. Call ahead and they’ll take care of you.

10: Camille Albane, Maple Grove (Website)
What you get: Free coffee, discounted haircut, free “Make your eyebrows look human again” procedure
Value Score: 10 million zillion (Gotta look good on your birthday, Fam)
Degree of Difficulty: 1
This is where I get my hair done. You get a free eyebrow job during the month of your birthday; which, if you’ve got rapidly-growing Cthulhu tentacles up there like I’ve got, every little bit helps. Talk to Sophia. Tell her Frank sent you. She’ll roll her eyes and mumble, “It’d be nice if he could keep an appointment on the first try,” but then she’ll work magic on your disgraceful mop. Coffee is complimentary, and it’s daaaamn good coffee. You’ll need it – if you’re like me, you’ll find a reason to hit the town after your haircut because you won’t want to waste your good looks.

11: Jersey Mike’s (Sign up here)
What you get: A free sub AND a free drink
Value Score: 4
Degree of Difficulty: 1
Jersey Mike’s makes a legit sub. I wish I’d have known about this one. From the site, “Every year on your provided birth date, we will send you a one-time use coupon for a free regular sub and 22oz fountain drink. The offer is valid anytime for the next year.(!!!) Your Email Club subscription must be confirmed at least 24 hours before your birthday to ensure your receive the offer.” Do it! Now! Don’t be the idiot who has to wait another 358 days.

12: Denny’s (Website)
What you get: Free grand slam!
Value Score: 4
Degree of Difficulty: 2
You just need your ID and it needs to be on your birthday. If you’re just waking up and you’ve a Denny’s nearby, aces. Order extra stuff. Pay $4 and get a table of food. Drink their glorious tar-coffee until you’ve got lightning coming out of your fingertips.

A breakfast meal with hashed browns, eggs, bacon, ham, and toast

Grand Slam, Denny’s, made grander

13: Free Cheeseburgers (Sign-up for Red Robin, Ruby Tuesday, Fuddruckers)
Value Score: 2.5-3
Degree of Difficulty: 1-2
Red Robin burgers are perfectly fine, thank you very much, and did you know they offer unlimited French fries?! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! You get it toward the start of your birthday month and you’ve got all month to use it. Same with Ruby Tuesday: their burgers are okay, and the voucher covers your first $11. I wasn’t able to find much information on Fuddruckers’ deal, but I haven’t heard much good about them so I didn’t try very hard. It’s there, though!

14: Caribou Coffee (Sign up here)
What you get:
Free coffee! 
Value Score:
2-5
Degree of Difficulty: 1.5
Caribou Coffee is straight-up, sign up and get a free coffee in your email. I signed up, then immediately walked into one because I thought I could use it. Kind of an asshole move, I know. They gave it to me, though; and, not long after, I received my offer via text.

Meanwhile, Starbucks and Dunn. Bros both require downloading an app. You have roughly 15 seconds to redeem Starbucks’ after using it before it self-destructs (according to their FAQ), and Dunn Bros. … I don’t even know WTF is going on here. You’ll have enough free coffee this month. Just stick to Caribou and leave these ones alone.

Last: Wild Bill’s (Website)
What you get: Ten minutes hunched over a toilet and a brutal hangover, most likely.
Value Score: Oh boy.
Degree of Difficulty: I don’t even know how to score this.
Bring four friends to Wild Bill’s on the Friday of your birthday week and be showered in free drinks, a free boot mug, a free birthday shot, and a birthday toast! They call it “Buck Wild Birthday Fridays” but we’re a little too old for this, right?

Right?

(Unsettling silence)


RELATED: Catch past write-ups on ACME Comedy Co. and its sister restaurant, Sticks; and a reeeally old post about the Vincent Burger’s old stomping grounds.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Value Score formula was adjusted shortly after publications, and some Value Scores adjusted with that. No ranking positions changed as a result.