Eating out can be expensive, especially if you live somewhere that has a lot of great restaurants. It’s hard not to try them all! I’m here to help with the ultimate guide on how to save money at restaurants – sometimes even eating for almost free!
They say nothing in life is free. That’s hogwash – whoever said that needs to read The Money Ninja.
A friend recently challenged me to figure out how to save as much money as possible when dining out at restaurants. “You’re good John, but you can’t be THAT good.”
Challenge accepted. How dare you question my skills, you infidel.
Not only did I find out how to lower the cost of going out to eat, I used advanced ninja strategies to GET PAID TO EAT. Here’s how I did it and what you need to know to minimize the cost of eating out!
How is this even possible?
You’ve probably heard somewhere that 60% of restaurants fail in their first year and 80% close their doors within the first five years. Those are incredibly high failure rates! The restaurant industry is a cutthroat business with a lot of competition.
Sure, delicious food and great service are things restaurants need to get right in order to stay in business. Generation Y and Millennials are notorious for
relying overly relying on Yelp for recommendations to places that nail those two items down. Ok, ok, ok… I don’t want to leave Gen X’ers out, you guys are cool too with your Zagat guides.
But for long-term success, you need more than that. We live in an incentivized world. We like coupons. We love discounts. We crave deals.
We need a reason to pick one restaurant from all the rest.
Restaurants understand this. Virtually all restaurants offer promotions from time to time to get people to visit. The tech-savvy ones partner up with web sites, phone apps, and loyalty programs to drive more traffic through the door.
However, what they never intended was for people like me to understand the system and use it to our advantage.
What’s the strategy?
First things first. Let’s understand what I wrote above in a little more detail.
Like I was saying, restaurants have all these partners in order to entice people. What they intended to do was have a potential customer run across one of these sites/apps/programs, see the promotion for their establishment, and come in to dine.
What they didn’t think too much about was the potential of someone combining all these various promotions and double-dipping, triple-dipping, or even quadruple-dipping!
It’s like buying clothes. Do you remember how excited you were when a pair of your favorite jeans were on sale? You were ready to buy it, but then you remembered you also had a $30 coupon laying around. Sweet! Now you need to order it ASAP before it runs out.
But wait, there’s more (I’ve been wanting to use that infomercial line)! Since you read The Money Ninja, you’re also buying this online through a cash back shopping portal, giving you even more money back!
That’s essentially a triple-dip for buying those jeans – you’re combining multiple discounts into one purchase.
The same philosophy is true when it comes to eating out at restaurants. Your ultimate goal is finding restaurants that have multiple rewards partners and use them all at the same time.
I realize some people are new to the “stacking” game, so in the next few sections, we’ll go through real-life examples of things I did myself. I’ll start off with a simple one and get more complex.
It’s important for you to go through each example to fully understand how the system works.
Ready? Let’s get started ninja warriors and find out how to eat at restaurants with massive discounts!
1. The Newbie – Can you give me a simple example?
What You’ll Need:
- Groupon+ (our review)
- Many of you are familiar with Groupon, but did you know they also have a program called Groupon+ that gives you cash back to your credit card for visiting a participating restaurant?
How To Do It:
Go to Groupon’s enrollment site for Groupon+ and link your American Express, Visa, or Mastercard (credit or debit card) that you intend to use with the program. You can link more than one.
Then search your area for participating restaurants. You’ll find most restaurants are offering 10% to 50% cash back.
When you find a place you like, click through to its page and press ‘Claim’ in order to add it to your Groupon+ account. Unlike a normal Groupon, there’s no voucher needed.
Once you dine, pay for your meal as your normally would, making sure you use a credit or debit card you linked to Groupon+. You’ll automatically get a statement credit directly to your card account within 7 business days. The credit is calculated based off your total with taxes (excluding tip).
I used Groupon+ at Assaggio, a charming Italian restaurant located in the North End district of Boston. At the time, Groupon+ was offering 30% cash back there. I went with a friend and our bill totaled $104.65:
After I paid using my linked credit card, I received a phone notification from Groupon that $31.39 will be sent to me as a statement credit on my card. Since I have the Groupon app, I also see the confirmation on my account:
Results: $31.39 saved on a $104.65 bill (30%)
Conclusion: Baby ninja worthy, but there’s room for improvement.
2. The Learner – Can you give me something more advanced?
What You’ll Need:
- Groupon+ (our review)
- Seated App (our review with a $15 code for signing up)
- Seated is my favorite phone app for dining out and my review of it was one of the most popular on this site. The Seated app gives you rewards for taking a picture of your receipt!
How To Do It:
Now I’m looking for the double-dip opportunity – how to get a reward from both Groupon+ and Seated. For this to work, I need to find a restaurant that participates in both programs. You’ve already signed up for Groupon+ in the previous example. Now it’s time to do the same with Seated.
Download the Seated app (use code MONEY1 for a $15 sign-up bonus). Unlike Groupon+, there’s no credit card to link. Seated is a reservations app, so use it to book the restaurant. After you dine, just take a picture of the receipt as proof and you’ll get rewarded based on the amount you spent.
I found a restaurant called Aqua Pazza that was part of both Groupon+ and Seated so my double-dip experiment was done there.
First, I used the Seated app to make a reservation for two. Seated offers 23% back at Aqua Pazza:
Then, I switched over to my Groupon app to link my credit card to the Groupon+ offer for Aqua Pazza.
Once I got the bill, I pulled out phone, opened the Seated app, and took a picture of the bill. This took care of Seated. For Groupon+, I again paid with my linked card to get credit there.
In about an hour’s worth of time, I received notifications from both apps that it was a success!
Results: $60.39 saved on a $130.54 bill (46%)
Conclusion: Ninja apprentice hot, but let’s keep going!
3. The Ninja Master – How can you wow me?
What You’ll Need:
- Seated App (our review with a $15 code for signing up )
- Uber Visa Rewards (our review)
- Everyone knows Uber as a ride-sharing app, but did you know that inside its app is also a little known thing called Visa Local Offers? As long as you have a Visa credit card on file with Uber, you’ll automatically receive Uber credits at certain restaurants when paying with that same card.
- Rewards Network (our review)
- Dining Rewards is a company that partners with various airlines like Alaska, American, Delta, Jet Blue, and United. When you link a credit card to the program and use the same card to eat out, the company will award you miles for every dollar you spend (between 3-5 miles per dollar depending on your status).
How To Do It:
In the previous two examples, I showed how you can save almost half off your restaurant bill. While that’s awesome, those are moderately priced restaurants. Sometimes you’re only going out for a $10 lunch so what then?
In this example, I’ll walk you through how to triple-stack programs to maximize rewards on a low-priced lunch.
I’m going to be using the Seated app again to reserve the restaurant, and combining that with Uber Visa Rewards and the Rewards Network.
Uber Visa Rewards will give you Uber credits as long as you use a Visa card connected with your Uber account to pay for your meal. You have to opt-in though on the Uber app. Here’s where to find it:
Rewards Network is a collection of airline partner programs that give you miles for going out to restaurants. Connect the credit cards to one of the Reward Network airline partners and they’ll reward you with miles for every dollar you spend eating out. I’m a United Airlines flyer so I use them, but you can use whichever one you want.
I found a sushi restaurant that offered a $10 sushi lunch special.
I booked the restaurant through Seated to get 40% back through them.
When it came time to pay, I made sure I used a credit card that was connected to both my Uber app and the Rewards Network.
Uber is offering 5% back in the form of an Uber credit while the Rewards Network gave me 10 miles for every dollar I spent.
So on that $10 lunch, I got:
- $4.00 back through Seated
- $0.50 back through Uber
- $1.00 back through Rewards Netowkr (1 miles x $10 = 50 miles; I value each United miles at 2 cents each)
Results: $5.50 saved on a $10.00 bill (55%)
Conclusion: OMG!!!!! Triple-stacking Ninja master!
What else do I need to know?
I got a great question the other day:
“Couldn’t I just combine every single program? For instance, not only do I have a United Airlines account, I have an Alaskan, American, and Delta one too. Couldn’t I just link my credit card to all four programs and quadruple-dip?”
Unfortunately, no. All four airlines that participate in dining rewards are under the same umbrella company; they’re all use the same underlying technology platform, which is called the Rewards Network. What will end up happening is that you’ll get miles for just one program only and they’ll cancel the other three.
To be successful in combining multiple programs, they each need to be on separate platforms. You can pick one from each platform only. Here are the major ones I know of:
- MOGL Cash Back
- Yelp Cash Back
Rakuten Card Linked Offer Network (RCLON):
- Dosh Cash Back
- Alaska Mileage Plan Dining
- American AAdvantage Dining
- Club O Dining Rewards
- Delta Skymiles Dining
- eScript Dining
- Free Spirit Dining
- Hilton HHonors Dining
- IHG Rewards Club Dining
- JetBlue TrueBlue Dining
- Orbitz Rewards Dining
- Southwest RapidRewards Dining
- Total Rewards Dining
- United MileagePlus Dining
- Upromise Dining
- Uber Local Visa Offers
The Bottom Line
With a little bit of planning, you don’t have to pay full price when you go out to eat. These phone apps and loyalty programs are just a few things you can use, but there are many other ways to save money at restaurants.
You can use what you’ve read here and stack it with other things. Think outside of apps and programs. For example, restaurants usually send out coupons in the local paper. That’s a good stacking opportunity.
What other restaurant hacks do you take advantage of?