April 8, 2008

Saving at restaurants #1- discount programs

In my last post I discussed how I spend a lot on eating out. I've decided I should look for some ways to cut my restaurant bills. One way I already discussed would be to bring sack lunches to work. I'm going to do a few posts on the topic and discuss methods for saving at restaurants.

Today I'll discuss various discount programs that can save you money when eating out.

You've probably heard of the Entertaiment Coupon books. These are big fat books full of coupons for local restaurants and attractions. They are often sold as a fund raiser. You can buy one for most areas online at their site for just $15. They typically have hundreds of restaurants with discount coupons. I skimmed through the listing for my area and found one chain of Mexican restaurants I like here that has 2-for-1 lunch or dinner coupons for up to $9 off. If I bought one of those for $15 and then used it once a month to save $9 for a dinner out then I could save $93 a year. A lot of the restaurants in the Entertainment books are very reasonably priced and they even have coupons for fast food joints too.

Make reservations online via the OpenTable.com site. They have a rewards program that gives you free dining certificates for using their service. They usually give 100 points per reservation made and you can redeem 2000 points for a $20 certificate. So if you used it once a week you'd get about $50 in rewards a year. Its free to join. The selection of restaurants is mostly the high end places.

You can join a discount club like Passport Unlimited. They give you your second entrée complementary with dinner at the member restaurants. I happen to have a club membership free from my employer and my fiancé has one she got as a door prize. I've heard of people getting them free from 3rd parties as promotional items too. But if you don't have one or know a way to get one then you can buy an individual regional membership for $75-90 a year. Depending where you dine a second free entrée is going to save you $10-25 a meal so it won't take long for the savings to add up. If you dine out once a month and spend $20 per entrée then you'd save $240 a year with a free membership or $150 a year after membership fee.

One discount club I already use is the McCormick and Schmick's Preferred Guest Membership Program. Heres how it works for me. When you dine at any of their restaurants they give you 1 point per dollar spent just like many typical rewards programs. You can then use those rewards for free food. If you get 1000 points you can get a $100 dinner certificate. That's about 10% back on your spending. Another nice bonus is they will send you a certificate for a dinner every year for your birthday, and if I recall right that is valued at $35. They do have a $25 fee to enroll but you get a $25 coupon when you sign up so that's a wash. If nothing else its worth signing up to get that free dinner once a year for your birthday. I love McCormicks and we eat out there fairly frequently so for me joining their club is saving me 10% on dinner. If we eat there monthly and spend $100 a pop then this can total of average of $120 in rewards and $35 for birthday for a total of $155 a year savings that I'm already taking advantage of. Keep in mind that McCormicks is a relatively expensive dining option so I would not recommend them in general for people with tight finances. But even if money is tight you could however sign up just for the birthday $35 gift certificate to have an annual treat out at a nice restaurant you couldn't afford otherwise.

There are undoubtedly more rewards or discount club programs out there.

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