Just because you’re trying to be frugal doesn’t mean you have to stay at home and cook three meals every day. There are plenty of ways on how to save money eating out without spending a fortune.
Going out is a time to enjoy a nice meal with friends and family. In this guide, I will teach you not only to find great deals at inexpensive restaurants, but also get a discount at nicer ones as well.
When I use these steps, I save an average of about 20% on my meals. Sometimes it’s a little lower like 10% – 15% and sometimes it’s as high as 70%. Follow these steps regularly and I’ll guarantee it will save you lots of money in the long-run.
1. Have a Cash Back Credit Card – Save 5%
When I was looking around, the credit card with the highest cash back on dining out that I could find was at 5%. It’s the Discover It Card.
This card gives you a 5% cash back discount on any restaurant or fast food joint from January 1st – March 31st of each calendar year, and then changes to another 5% category each quarter after.
Although the 5% bonus only lasts a quarter, I still use this card due to the fact that you can use the cash back points you earn to buy gift cards at a discount through the Online Discover Mall (shown in Step 2).
- No annual fee
- Get $150 sign-up bonus after spending $750 within the first three days of opening your account with the Discover It Card
- Receive 5% cash back on categories that rotate quarterly: gas, restaurants, home improvement stores, theme parks and movies.
- All other purchases receive a 1% cash back bonus
- Each monthly statement has a free credit score from FICO to help you keep track of your credit
- Points can be redeemed for gift cards using their Partner Gift Cards, saving anywhere from 10% – 50%
- Browse the online Discover Mall to get discounts from retailers at anywhere from 5% to 20%
Then what about for the other months of the year, April 1st – December 31st? That’s why I have to recommend the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card. This card is great by it’s versatility. You can choose two categories in which you get 5% cash back each quarter.
What I usually do is set the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card to 5% cash back on gas and department stores during the first quarter. When the second quarter starts on April 1st, I’m no longer getting 5% with my Discover It card so I switch one of my US Bank Card cash back categories to get 5% back on restaurants.
Here’s the card below. Note that it can ONLY be applied for at the bank, while the Discover It Card can be applied for online.
- Earn 5% in cash back on up to $2,000 in purchases each quarter on 2 combined categories such as Restaurants and Movies that you choose
- Earn 2% cash back on 1 every day category that you choose such as gas
- Receive 1% cash back on all other purchases
- Get a $25 cash back bonus when you redeem $100 dollar or more from your points at one time. Limited to once a year
- There’s no limit on cash back earned and no annual fee
- Online banking customers receive a free Experian Credit Score at no additional cost
- Can only be applied for in person at local US Banks
The reason why I don’t just use the US Bank Cash Card year-round on restaurants is because I want to use my Discover Card points at the Online Discover Mall.
I’ll explain in step 2 and later on why this is important for saving up to 10% on your restaurant bill.
If you’re confused about using these cards for cash back or how to activate cash back, you can check out my Discover It Card Review.
Note: Please remember that you must activate the cash back in order to get 5% which can be done on their log-in page. Otherwise, you will only be saving 1%.
2. Discounts Provided by Credit Card Companies (Up to 10% with the Discover It Card)
Other than cash back, credit card providers supply other means by which you can get more bang for your buck. Instead of redeeming for just cash, these companies allow you to use your cash back points to purchase gift cards through their partner retailers at large discounts. Let’s take a look at the Discover It card for example.
After getting your Discover It Credit Card, you can register an account online at Discover. Once you have your account setup and are signed-in, you can access their “Partner Gift Cards” as shown in the picture below. Once there, you can browse the available deals that they have to offer.
Here we see that we can purchase a $50 gift card to Chile’s for $45, giving us an additional 10% off.
Discover will send you the discount in the form of a gift card or an e-certificate. If you order the e-certificate and change your mind, you can call up Discover and cancel your purchase and use your cash back for something else.
Groupon is a website that sells coupons that are called “Groupons.” These Groupons are usually a great deal as they can save you from 20% – 60% on dining out. Furthermore, Groupon also has other deals on items such as dance classes, electronics, etc.
Lets look at 11 quick and easy steps on how to get the most cash back from this website.
1. First go to Groupon. Type in your email address and zip code when prompted and click on “continue.”
2. Next hit the sign up tab in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. Type in your full name and email address to register for an account.
3. Once you get your account registered, you will automatically be logged-in under your e-mail. From here, we’re not going to directly make a purchase, as we’re going to do a trick to get you 10% extra cash back with the Discover It Card. Go ahead and log-out of Groupon.
If you don’t have the Discover It Card, we can still save 6% on our Groupon purchase by using Ebates.
5. Clear ALL of your cookies in your internet browser. Only this way can you get the maximum cash back as you’ll see in the step below in Step 5.
6. Go to Discover and log into your account. Once you are there, hit the cash back bonus tab at the top and click “Browse Retailers.” Search for Groupon, which usually has a discount anywhere from 10% – 15% off every Groupon purchase you make. You can see this example in the picture below.
7. Click on the Groupon picture and hit the “Start Shopping” button. Discover will start automatically redirecting you to the Groupon page.
The reason that we cleared all of our cookies in step 3 is because we have to ensure that it’s the Discover Mall that referred you to the Groupon page. Otherwise, it is possible that you have a cookie stored from another site that linked you, meaning you won’t get the 10% cash back.
8. Sign into Groupon once again and use the bars at the top or the page to browse the discounts by category in your area. Here we see a deal under the Local — > Food and Drink tab that states that we can get 57% off Domino’s Pizza.
9. Click on the picture to view the Groupon in full detail. Make sure to scroll down to see all of the possible offerings that we can get with this deal.
In this example, let’s say we’re really hungry and go after the deal that says we can get 5 large pizzas with 2 toppings each and 3 bread sides for a total of $39. This originally has a value of $91.17, saving us 57% on our pizzas.
10. After deciding which deal you want, click on the “Buy” button and proceed to make your order. Here you HAVE to use your Discover Card in order to get the 10% discount on your Groupon purchase.
11. The next page will display your Groupon. Print it and take it to the Domino’s Cashier and place your order for 5 pizzas. You have a specific time frame to make the purchase, which usually lasts up to 72 hours.
If you don’t want to print out the coupon, you can access it via the Groupon smartphone app. All of your Groupons not yet redeemed will be stored within the app itself that can be shown to the cashier during purchase.
I didn’t use a smartphone to find and purchase the deal because we wanted that extra 10% cash back from Discover.
We ended up saving 57% on our 5 pizzas by spending $39 on a Groupon, saving us a total of $52.17. Then we save another 10% on our $39 Groupon purchase by going through the Discover Mall, saving us another $3.90.
We’ve now saved a total of $56.07 on our pizzas, or nearly 62% on our meal!
LivingSocial is basically Groupon’s twin, and it’s not usually necessary to check both of them. It’s a site that also offers coupons or discounts on items such as restaurants, laptop cases, luggage, etc.
However, like Groupon, in most cases the only really, good deals are found by purchasing their restaurant deals. I usually first check Groupon as they have a lot more deals. But if I can’t find anything good on their website I’ll check LivingSocial.
Let’s check out on how we can save the most cash by following these 9 steps.
1. Go directly to the LivingSocial sign-up page by clicking this link. Make an account by entering your name, email, your location and creating a password.
2. Next go ahead and log-out or simply close the page. We’re going to use our Discover It Card to get us a 10% cash back on our coupon purchased through LivingSocial.
You need to go into your browser’s history settings and clear your cookies. This is important as we want LivingSocial to know that it’s Discover who referred us instead of some other website.
3. Next go to Discover and log-into your account. Click the Cashback Bonus tab at the top of the page and search for the LivingSocial discount. Currently it’s at 10%, but it’s been as high as 15%.
4. Click on the LivingSocial link and on the following page, click the “Go Shopping” button and you will automatically be redirected to the LivingSocial page.
5. Log-in to your new LivingSocial account that you created in the first few steps. Here’s a direct log-in link.
6. Next click on the “local” button near the top of the page, and then click restaurants. If there are no restaurants in your area, it will not show.
7. Browse the deals that you like and go ahead and click on the deal you like the most. Here we that we can spend $12 and get $25 worth of food at Cafe Allegro so we click on that deal. We look at the full details and decide on the best deal.
8. Click on the “buy now!” button and enter your credit card information. Take not that you MUST use the Discover It Card in order to get the 10% back on your purchase.
9. After going through the purchasing process, you can print the coupon and take it to the restaurant in order to get your deal.
If you don’t want to print the deal, go ahead and download the Living Social smartphone app to view all current coupons not yet redeemed. Simply show the cashier the coupon during purchase.
The reason we didn’t first use the smartphone app is because we wanted that extra 10% off of our coupon through Discover.
On the deal that we purchased, LivingSocial had a special for new customers of an extra 2$ off, so we actually spent $10.00 for getting $25 worth of food at Cafe Allegro. By using the Discover It Card, we save another 10% on our coupon of $10, subtracting another $1. That means in total we spend $9 for a $25 value, saving a total of 64% on our meal. Congratulations!
5. Buy an Entertainment Book
The Entertainment book is a thick book of coupons for about $30 or you can purchase a yearly subscription online for $25 with coupons added daily. These books have great deals and usually consists of 300 pages of deals that are expire within one year.
At first glance it sounds like a great deal, but I urge that you look at the coupons in the book before you consider buying. A lot of people end up buying the book and never using the coupons, or they inclined to buy more just because they have a coupon to use.
I looked at the local deals in Seattle from Entertainment and found a few nice deals, such as buy two large pizzas for $10 a Domino’s. However, I believe I could find a better deal on Groupon or just by browsing the Domino’s website.
I would first recommend going to their website at www.entertainment.com and look through the local deals in your area. If you feel that it’s worth your money, it might be a good idea to fork over some cash to save money down the road.
When you make the purchase, if you go through Ebates you can get 8% cash back.
And of course, when you make the final purchase, be sure to use a cash back credit card to get additional cash back.
6. Get Free Coupons With Newsletters
Some companies give you free meals just for signing-up for their newsletter or fan club. Signing up for IHOP renders me 3 free meals in the first year by email: one upon signing up, one on my birthday and one from my one-year anniversary of signing-up for the newsletter.
Here are the websites that I’ve found that give you free meals when signing-up. I only sign-up right before I go to the restaurant so that my coupons won’t expire before use. If I’ve missed any, feel free to mention them in the comments below.
- Caribou Coffee – Free medium drink reward.
- Baja Fresh Mexican Grill – Free order of Tacos and a free burrito on your birthday.
- IHOP – Free meal when signing-up, on your birthday and on your 1-year anniversary of being an IHOP fan club member.
- Weinerschnitzel – Free chile dog coupon.
- Dairy Queen – A free blizzard coupon on your birthday and a buy-1 get-1 free coupon upon signing-up.
- Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill – Free fish taco coupon.
- Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream on your 1-year anniversary and your birthday, plus a buy-1 get-1 free coupon when signing-up.
- Which Wich? – Free sandwich coupon.
- Taco Cabana – Free fajita taco coupon.
- Black Angus – Free dessert coupon and a buy-1 get-1 free steak dinner after being a member for 1 year.
- Orange Julius – Buy-1 get-1 free coupon.
- Longhorn Steakhouse – Free appetizer coupon.
- Johnny Rockets – Coupon for 1 free hamburger.
- Sbarro – Free slice of cheese pizza.
- Coldstone Ice Cream – Buy-1 get-1 free coupon for an ice cream creation.
7. Purchase the Restaurant Gift Card
Now that we’ve ordered our American Express Gift Card and have waited a few days to receive it, we can begin with step 3. This step allows you to buy restaurant gift cards at an extreme discount. We’ve also broken this down into 4 sub-steps:
1. Go to Gift Card Granny. This site allows you to search for gift cards with the highest discount. Once there, search for your favorite restaurant using the search box. In our case, we’re going to want to look for Olive Garden.
We see that Cardpool gives us the highest discount at 15% off. We’re going to want to remember this name. Sometimes you may see discounts as high as 30% from Ebay, but take note that these cards are in an ongoing auction and that prices may change.
These gift cards are safe and most sites have a guarantee when you make a purchase. You can check Cardpool’s terms of service here.
2. Since we know that Cardpool offers the highest discount for Olive Garden gift cards, we’re going to want to check back with our old friend cashbackmonitor.com.
We want to see if we can get any discount from Cardpool by going through a shopping portal. A quick search shows us that we can.
In this case, BeFrugal.com wins again with the highest amount in cash back, so we go to the BeFrugal website for Cardpool. By going through them, we can obtain an additional 2% off on our purchase.
8. Buy Discounted Gift Cards at Cardpool
When you go to Cardpool, you can find a compilation of multiple gift card sites onto one. A simple search will reveal that you can often get up to 20% – 30% on many gift cards. Cardpool works by buying gift cards at a discount and then reselling them for much lower than their card value.
Cardpool has been claimed to be on of the safest gift card vendors on the web.
Ebay is also another great source to find unwanted gift cards. Usually they’re placed on there by people who get them for their birthdays and have no use for them.
Personally, I trust Cardpool a lot more than Ebay as the sellers on Ebay will sometimes sell you empty cards. Cardpool has a guarantee program that states that if there’s any problem with your card, you will get a full refund.
If you use my referral link here you can get a discount off of your first order.
Also check out Use Cardpool to Get Paid For Your Unwanted Gift Cards.
9. Only Drink Water
Restaurants are very good at convincing you to buy beverages, especially the nicer ones. As soon as the waiter gives you the menu, he will immediately ask you if you want something to drink before you decide on what to eat. This gives you absolutely no time to even look at the price of the drink before you’ve ordered it.
One time I went to a breakfast restaurant and as soon as we sat down the waitress asked us if we wanted fresh-squeezed orange juice. We reluctantly said yes as orange juice sounded good. When the bill came we realized that a glass of 1 small orange juice was FOUR DOLLARS, but our meal was only $7 per person.
Make sure to ask the price before confirming for a drink or just take water, which is usually the healthier choice of the two as well.
10. Lunch or happy hour
If it’s the weekend and you haven’t been out to eat for a while, try taking your date to lunch instead. Restaurants sometimes include separate prices for lunch and dinner, with the former being the cheaper.
Around 2-6 PM usually you can find a better deal by ordering some appetizers and discount drinks during their happy hour time.
They’re usually enough to fill you up and don’t cost you an arm and an leg while getting a nice buzz at the same time. You can expect happy hour prices to be as much as half off.
One of my favorite restaurants to go to for happy hour is Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Their drinks are cheap and appetizers only at $1.
If you don’t happen to know the times, a quick call to the restaurant or a look on their website will let you know.
11. Purchase a $1,000 American Express Gift Card
The next step we want to take is purchase an American Express Gift Card using our new 2% cash back Fidelity card. However, there are some precautions you need to take before making this purchase. Here we have broken it down into 3 basic steps that will need to be taken.
1. We are going to want to use a shopping portal to purchase the American Express Gift Card. First go to cashbackmonitor.com and type in “American Express” in the search box. Look for the shopping portal that gives us the highest amount of cash back.
From the image above, we can see that using the portal BeFrugal.com will give us 1.5% back on our purchase on American Express gift cards given that we go through them. Go ahead and click on the link.
2. If you don’t have an account already, sign up at BeFrugal.com. Once you are there and logged-in, type in American Express in the search box. You will see an option for American Express Personal and Business Gift Cards. Go ahead and click on either one of them and you will be redirected to the AMEX purchase page.
3. Now that you are on the American Express Gift Card page through BeFrugal, you’ll be given an additional 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Go ahead and proceed with purchasing a $1,000 gift card, but you must purchase it with the 2% cash back American Express Fidelity Investment card that we mentioned above.
There is a processing and shipping fee, but if you search online you can usually find promo codes for free shipping, especially during the holiday season. Currently the code FPHURRY will work until 12/17/14 for free shipping on all American Express Gift Cards.
By purchasing our gift card through BeFrugal, we redeem 1.5% in cash back along with an additional 2% cash back by using our Fidelity Card to make the purchase. Since there is a small processing charge on the card, our total cash back will come out to be slightly less at 3.49%, which is a negligible difference for our calculations.
I highly advise purchasing in large denominations as the purchasing charge and the shipping fee are fixed prices; they won’t change if you purchase a gift card with a lower value.
At a 3.5% discount we’ve already saved $35 dollars. Let’s see how we can save even more. The 1.5% we earned from BeFrugal.com will be credited to the account you made. A check will be mailed to you or sent to your PayPal once the purchase is confirmed.
Caution: If you’re thinking of using the 2% cash back Double Rewards Car by Citi, think again. This card will charge you a cash advance fee when buying American Express gift cards. You might actually end up losing money.
12. Don’t Leave a Large Tip For Bad Service
I know that the standard is set at 15% for leaving a tip. Yet if the service is really poor should you leave one?
I always leave a good tip if the service is great, and sometimes will leave up to 20%. However, there are many times in which I encounter extremely poor service. During these times it might be advisable to leave a tip in the 1% – 10% range depending on how bad it really was.
Not only does this help prevent you from spending extra money, but lets the server know why their tip was so low. If they really want a high tip, they’ll work hard to earn it and show courtesy when serving you.
It’s difficult for me to leave 0% for at leave some service, but that’s a choice totally up to you.
When I use these steps, I save an average of 20% at restaurants.
Any other tips I missed on how to save money eating out? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! Thanks for reading.