You can nibble away at the cost of eating out with card-linked offers, cash back credit cards, cash back apps and restaurant loyalty programs.
Stack these rewards and you’re taking a bite – sometimes a big bite – off the bill.
1. Card-linked offers
My favorite way to save at restaurants is with card-linked offers.. For example, the next time I spend $50 at Brio Tuscan Grille, my American Express card will take $10 off the top. When I use my AmEx card at Boston Market and spend $25, I’ll get $5 back. (Check your card issuer for similar card-linked offers for restaurants and other businesses.)
Link your cards on Yelp and Groupon and you likely can save up to 30 percent off at places in your neighborhood. Yelpers can get up to 10 percent cash back automatically. Groupon users (would that be Groupers?) like me can get up to 30 percent cash back on credit card statements.
Groupon expanded its cash-back restaurant deals to Visa and Mastercard holders in 23 U.S. metro areas in September. Austin, where I live, was one of three cities where Groupon tested the program with Visa cardholders.
How card-linked offers work:
Just select the restaurants you’re likely to dine at and a percentage comes off your total bill (tip included). The best part: A text or email telling me how much I saved often arrives before I get home.
2. Cash back cards
My Chase AARP credit card, which earns 3 percent cash back at restaurants every day, is my go-to card when dining out now. From July through September, though, I was handing over my Chase Freedom card, which earned 5 percent cash back at restaurants and movie theaters (on up to $1,500 in the bonus category).
It couldn’t be easier to earn cash back or miles at restaurants and everywhere else. Just dip or swipe your cash back card that will earn you the most rewards – or use it in a mobile wallet (a handful of cards offer bonus rewards for using mobile payments) – and get a percentage of the purchase price on your statement.
How to stack your rewards:
Link your card with the best rewards rate for restaurants on Yelp, Groupon or some other cash back app to double-dip on rewards. That reminds me … I need to link my AARP card on Groupon and unlink the Chase Freedom card (which is now earning 1 percent at restaurants).
3. Cash back apps
Drop and Dosh are just two cash back apps (there are several others) that can add savings when you dine out. Freelance writer Susan Johnston Taylor, who often writes stories and blog posts for CreditCards.com, introduced me on to Drop, which is one of her favorite ways to score cash back on her everyday spending. I, in turn, turned her on to Dosh.
How cash back apps work:
Drop, which officially launches this month, scares me a bit. To link my cards, it wants my username and password for my online banking account. For me, that’s a little too much of my personal information to be handing over to get rewards.
Johnston Taylor, though, likes Drop, and adds, “I’ve also been using Seated, which my husband and I really like.” Seated users earn rewards for trying “only the best restaurants in each city,” the website says, and features restaurants from 15 U.S. cities.
Dosh, meanwhile, required me to link my credit card account number, expiration date and CVV. The restaurants, though, are similar to if not identical to those included with my Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining Program. (Airline and hotel dining programs are another way to rack up bonus points).
How to stack your rewards:
I tested Dosh at a Jack in the Box, using my Chase Freedom card, which was earning 5 percent at restaurants through the summer. With Dosh, I earned 7 percent cash back on top of my card’s 5 percent. I redeemed a free drink offer I’d received from the Jack in the Box loyalty program, so I scored even more.
4. Restaurant loyalty programs
Jack in the Box sends texts every few weeks for something free, and Mimi’s Café emails buy-one-get-one entrée offers nearly once a week. Signing up for the Corner Bakery’s loyalty program will get you one free sweet. Mighty Fine Burgers sends a free burger coupon in the mail for your half-birthday.
How loyalty programs work:
Sign up only for the programs of the restaurants where you often go to eat, otherwise you’ll wind up deleting emails and texts and recycling mailed offers that go unused. These programs are aimed at getting you to come back, often around your birthday or anniversary, but “Jack” often texts quirky offers tied to obscure “holidays,” such as a BOGO on the recent National Cheeseburger Day.
Around the holidays, restaurants usually will email or text with a discount on gift cards. (Bonus savings tip: Buy those gift cards for use on future visits with a rewards card earning points or cash back at restaurants).
How to stack your rewards:
At Mimi’s Café, a new favorite, we use a coupon to get a free meal and double-dip by paying with the AARP card, earning 3 percent cash back. At Jack in the Box, I triple-dipped, as Jack’s text got me the free drink, Dosh saved me 7 percent and I earned 5 percent back with my Chase Freedom card.
Which card to use where?
At home, I’m told I’ve become a nut about stacking rewards at restaurants, with pet food discounts and treats for our dog, and always trying to be sure we’re using the right card to get the most rewards on our everyday spending.
For example, while I was at work Thursday, my other half forgot that the Chase Freedom card earns 5 percent at Walmart through the end of the year. I had noted on a Post-It note that the Chase Freedom card is for Walmart, Amazon Visa cards are for filling up at gas stations (where they earn 4 percent cash back through November) and my AARP card for restaurants.
CreditCards.com’s free Wallet app alerts me to which of my cards earns the most rewards, but that’s just base rewards. For stacking, you need to keep track of which cards are linked to card offers, cash back apps and other tools to score even more points, miles and cash back.
Yes, I admit I’m becoming a bit of a nut about card rewards, which I guess is a hazard of working here. Oh, and Jack, Dosh and any other rewards I can stack won’t tempt me to revisit Jack in the Box anytime soon. I missed the tacos from my days growing up in St. Louis, but Jack in the Box isn’t on my diet now.
See related: 4 easy ways to stack your card rewards, Easy ways cards save you money at restaurants