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Whether you're a foodie who loves keeping up with the hottest new restaurant openings or simply someone who doesn't like to cook, you know that dining out can get expensive. But if you spend more time at restaurants and fast food joints than you do in your own kitchen, you should have a smart strategy for making the most of your restaurant spending to maximize credit card rewards and even score discounts.
Find the Right Credit Card
If you eat out frequently and aren't earning at least 3% back on your dining purchases, you're missing out. A number of credit cards now offer excellent dining rewards, with some as high as 4% or 5%. Some do charge an annual fee, so you need to weigh the cost of that against how much you spend on dining. And be sure to check credit cards with rotating bonus categories, like Discover or Chase Freedom®, for the occasional 5% back on dining to amp up your rewards.
Check out some of our top credit cards in the Experian CreditMatch™ marketplace that you'll be more than happy to slip to the waiter.
You earn an impressive 4% cash back on all dining and entertainment purchases with this card—and the rest of the rewards aren't shabby, either: 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on all other purchases. And after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, you'll earn a one-time $300 cash bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
Don't want to pay an annual fee ever? This card doesn't charge one but still offers an impressive rewards rate, almost as good as its big brother card: 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores and 1% back on all other purchases. You'll also earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
While this card does come with a $250 annual fee, if you use it strategically, you can make that fee back and then some. You'll earn 4 Membership Rewards® points per $1 spent at restaurants, as well as at U.S. supermarkets, on up to $25,000 per year in purchases. You'll also get 3 Membership Rewards® points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com. You can also receive up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, the Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack and Ruth's Chris Steak House. (Enrollment in the program is required.) After you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of account opening, you will earn 35,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points.
You'll earn 12 Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on eligible purchases at hotels or resorts within the Hilton portfolio; 6 Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3 Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other eligible purchases. Spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership and earn a whopping 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points. The card comes with a $95 annual fee.
Take Advantage of Credit Card Dining Offers
Cards that offer amped up rewards on dining are great, but be sure to check the other cards in your wallet as well, depending on where you're dining out. Both American Express and Chase offer special deals through some of their cards that include significant deals and cash back at specific restaurants and food chains.
For example, most American Express cards come with a program called Amex Offers, which features impressive discounts or bonus reward points when you use your card at specific restaurants or retailers. The program is tailored to individual users, and the deals in your Amex Offers account may be different from what's available to others. And they even vary across multiple cards. So if you have two different American Express cards, you might find varying deals for each of them.
To find your Amex Offers, simply log in to your online account. If you have multiple American Express cards, click the icon for a specific card and then scroll down the main account page. Below your recent transactions, there should be a section with the Amex Offers for your card. Once you see an offer you like, you simply click "Add to Card" to activate it. Then, when you use your card in the way the offer suggests, you'll get the discount or cashback. One current offer is for Caviar restaurant delivery: You can get a $10 statement credit by using your enrolled card to make a single purchase of $40 or more via the Caviar app. (There is a limit of two statement credits.) That's an impressive 25% rewards rate.
Chase has recently started a similar service called Chase Offers. To access the offers, you must have the Chase Mobile app. Once you're signed in to your account, scroll down to the bottom of the app. There you'll see a section called Chase Offers, where various merchants are listed offering statement credits after you spend a certain amount. Note that the offers are card-specific, so if you have multiple Chase cards, you can choose your credit card account to see which offers apply to which card. Current offers available on certain cards include 10% back at Olive Garden, 10% back at Just Salad and 5% back at Five Guys.
Don't Miss Dining Rewards Programs
You can also earn valuable points toward your next vacation when you eat out if you take advantage of dining rewards programs through your airline or hotel loyalty rewards. Several U.S. airlines, such as Delta, American, United and others, will let their loyalty program members earn miles when dining at selected restaurants. You simply have to register for the program, which is administered by a company called Rewards Network.
For example, if you're a frequent Delta flier, visit https://skymilesdining.com/ and create an account with your SkyMiles number and email address. Then register any credit or debit cards you might use to pay for meals at a restaurant. The next time you eat at a restaurant that participates in the SkyMiles Dining program, you'll automatically earn miles when you pay with a registered card. You can search the site for restaurants that participate in the program by city or ZIP code.
Some programs offer bonuses as well. For example, you can earn up to 3,000 bonus miles with Delta's program when you spend $30 at three restaurants within the first 30 days of membership and complete a review of each.