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I’m a little embarassed to admit that I’m turning into a food-snob. I love to cook and know my way around a kitchen, so when I go out to eat, I won’t settle for mediocre food. Even better is when you eat well and you earn rewards!
While rewards in general are something that make me smile, getting multiple rewards all for the same purchase is even better. Here’s how to maximize the value from your next restaurant meal.
A large portion of my favorite restaurants participate in Opentable, which makes it a great option to earn rewards! Simply by making a reservation for your meal through OpenTable – even if it’s two minutes before walking into the restaurant at a time you don’t actually need a reservation – will earn you 100 points. Some restaurants offer as much as 1000 points per table on select dates or dining times, so rewards can add up quickly. Just 2000 points is enough to cash out for a $20 gift certificate (and of course, make another reservation when you use that certificate!). Although it’s nice to earn rewards, I really love being able to make a reservation online or via app as opposed to calling, so OpenTable is a favorite option in my book. Please note that if you no-show at enough reservations, your account will be closed down so please only make reservations you will actually use or remember to cancel/reschedule if necessary.
In a nutshell, restaurants that want to draw in new customers can use miles as an incentive to get you in the door. To earn these miles, you’ll need to join Rewards Network through your preferred airline/hotel, register a credit card with the program, and then use that credit card to pay for your meal. Typically, you’ll earn one mile per dollar spent, though you can increase that to 3x miles if you agree to receive emails, and you’ll start earning 5x miles on your 13th annual transaction with Rewards Network (hint: running your bar tab and restaurant check separately counts as two transactions). You’ll also find some restaurants offering bonus points if you dine with them, others that offer bonuses if you write a review, and other network-wide promotions.
If you’re not already a member, you can sign up with your preferred program and receive a bonus when you dine and write a review. It’s free to join, so as long as you know you’ll be dining at a partcipating restaurant within the first 4-8 weeks of joining (varies by program), this is an easy way to receive some extra miles. You can join with multiple programs as long as each is linked to a different credit card, though make sure you’ll be able to make your first purchase within the required timeframe before joining.
- Alaska Airlines – 1000 miles with first $30+ purchase
- American Airlines – 1000 miles with first $30+ purchase
- Delta Airlines – 1200 miles with first $30+ purchase
- Hilton Hotels – 1000 points with first $30+ purchase
- Priority Club Hotels – 1500 points with first $30+ purchase
- Southwest Airlines – 300 points with first $25+ purchase, along with multiple bonuses once you hit a certain number of dines
- United Airlines – 1000 miles with first $50+ purchase
- US Airways – 1000 miles with first $30+ purchase
If you already are a member, check out targeted bonuses such as 10,000 Reasons to party for 1,000 bonus United miles with every $250 in purchases or One Bite at a Time, which offers 300 bonus miles with every $100 in purchases (AA, UA, US).
Similar to miles-based rewards, MOGL offers 10% cashback for linking your credit card and eating at participating restaurants. That’s a great return, but unfortunately MOGL is currently only in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. If you live in those areas (or are traveling there soon), you can earn a $10 bonus for your first purchase when you sign up through my referral link (which also offers a $10 credit to me).
I feel really spoiled that my dinner out tonight qualified for both OpenTable and RewardsNetwork, but amazingly that’s not all. I lucked out that this is currently Restaurant Week, so I can take advantage of saving cash as well. While restaurant week isn’t something you can count on, there are lots of other ways to get cash discounts more regularly. Dining off-peak might lead to half-price wine on Tuesdays or free dessert on Wednesdays. Checking your favorite restaurant’s website can lead to discounts for Facebook fans or Twitter followers and sometimes signing up for their e-newsletter will get you a special treat on your birthday or anniversary. You can also buy certificates at a discount through restaurant.com, Groupon, and other deals websites. Remember to grab rewards on those certificates by starting your purchase at a shopping portal, such as Mr. Rebates which offers a whopping 15% cash rebate on restaurant.com purchases (which alone might save you 50% off your total bill). If you’re not much for planning ahead, you can always look for discounts when you check in on Foursquare: you never know if you’ll get your first beer for a penny at the Chicago Seminars.
Credit Card Rewards
Yeah, I have a few places I like to eat that are still cash-only, but for the most part I can count on paying with plastic and I’ll actually have to pay with my registered credit card if I want to earn my Rewards Network miles. Any credit card that offers rewards is better than nothing, but some of the best for dining are the Citi Forward for 5 Thank You points per dollar spent or the Sapphire Preferred for 2 points per dollar spent.
My meal tonight would normally cost $122.50, but with my restaurant week discount I paid just $88. I also earned $1 in rewards from OpenTable, roughly $18 in value from airline miles through Rewards Network (including a joining bonus), and another $4 in cashback through paying with a rewards-earning credit card. Not bad for a Thursday night!
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Joining some of the rewards programs featured in this post will offer a small referral credit to me at no cost to you while still providing you the best offer I’m aware of. Please read my disclosures page for more information.