You’re going to dine out, so why not get money or points back each time you pick up the bill? Often you can stack your rewards at restaurants, earning cash back and miles on food and drinks morning, noon, dinner and late night.
On rare occasions, I’ve scored a triple dip – with my cash back credit card and cash back apps or an airline dining program.
It’s kind of fun to get texts of cash back and offers of free or discounted food on your phone, but the prize for earning rewards at restaurants goes to one of my colleagues (more on that later).
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Here’s my card rewards recipe for success at restaurants (and it can work for you, too):
Start with the credit card you use at restaurants.
Which card earns you the most rewards or cash back at restaurants? If you travel for work or fun, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points, may be your best bet.
If you prefer cash back, the Barclays Uber Visa, with its 4x points year-round at restaurants might be your best choice.
In my case, the Amazon Rewards Visa card is my restaurant card of choice until the end of May. I’m currently earning 5 percent cash back at restaurants (with a targeted offer) and have accrued $55 in rewards.
When I turn the calendar to June, my Chase AARP credit card, which earns 3 percent at restaurants year-round, will be top of wallet when I pick up the check.
Add cash back apps.
Groupon Plus was my first cash back tool for dining out. At area restaurants here in Austin, Texas, I can usually earn up to 35 percent cash back.
Couple that with a credit card earning 5 percent cash back and your total kickback is nearly 40 percent.
For example, I recently linked my card to a Dunkin’ Donuts Groupon offer of 100 percent cash back for a purchase up to $3. I surprised a colleague with doughnuts one morning. (Camille Thomas has no idea I didn’t spend a dime to make her day.)
I’ve added the Dosh cash back app now, too. On rare occasions, I have been pinged with “you’ve earned cash back” texts by both Groupon and Dosh after lunch.
With Groupon, the cash back you earn will appear on your credit card statement. With Dosh, your cash back is banked in your Dosh Wallet. When you have earned $25, you can transfer it to your credit card.
Amex Offers is another card-linked cash back option. Currently, I have linked an Olive Garden offer that will give me $10 back when I spend $40 there. If I ever wind up at Olive Garden, all I have to do is remember to pay with my American Express Everyday card.
Sprinkle in airline dining programs.
Link your restaurant credit card to your favorite airline’s dining rewards program and you’ll get a side of points whenever you eat at participating restaurants.
For instance, we ate lunch at Opal Divine’s on Sunday, earning Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining 3 points per $1, and $1.51 in cash back from Dosh.
And the food at Opal Divine’s was tasty, too.
Mix in a few local loyalty programs
With the FiveStars and Belly apps (there also are other loyalty program apps), you rack up points every time you use your card at member restaurants and local retailers.
With Wally’s Burger Express, three visits add up to free fries on FiveStars. At Asia Cafe, another FiveStars member, a couple of meals will get you complimentary pan-fried dumplings.
At Bo Asian Bistro, a Belly member, your takeout might include a free tea you’ve unlocked with your spending.
Offers vary by the participating merchant, and oftentimes, the apps will send texts with buy-one-get-one specials or other discounts to get you to stop in for the first time or come back.
When I met an executive from Gemalto (the largest maker of contactless credit cards) for lunch at Honest Mary’s, I had a FiveStars offer that let me get Philippe Benitez’s bowl for half off.
Cash back and points are your just desserts
Every time you eat out, you can – and should – be earning rewards. And with your restaurant credit card, cash back apps, airline dining rewards programs and local loyalty programs, the savings add up. Always tip, though, on the full bill, not the discounted amount.
Though I always aim to stack my rewards at restaurants, I’m a bit of a piker at this. My cash back earnings are chump change (literally) compared to my colleague Jeannie Griego’s big haul last week when she won the battle to use her credit card to pay for a company team-building dinner.
By using her Chase Sapphire Reserve, with 3x points for dining, Griego raked in 7,800 points by paying for the dinner and drinks for around 30 colleagues.
Our “Have Cards, Will Travel” columnist Stephanie Zito may have spurred Griego’s action. Zito’s recent column detailed “Why the savvy points earner always picks up the check.”
The challenge in picking up a big check is getting friends, family or co-workers to pay their portion of the bill. Griego didn’t have that worry. As a team-building dinner, she’ll be reimbursed by the company for the full expense.
Score! Between Zito and Griego, I’m learning how to up my credit card rewards game whenever I eat out.
See related: Calling all foodies: Best credit cards for restaurants, How dining out can help you to earn more rewards, Easy ways cards can save you money when dining out,