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How to use restaurant loyalty programs to save money when eating out

Food is marked up heavily in restaurants
Food is marked up heavily in restaurants

Eating out at restaurants can be a fun, convenient way to tame your hunger. But, it usually is more expensive than preparing food at home. The markups on restaurant food, especially alcohol, are considerable. Just the other day I tweeted an article and the accompanying infographic on just how high they are.

Short of not going out to dinner, there are ways to take some of the sting out of dining out by using loyalty programs. You probably have heard of OpenTable which allows you to make reservations ahead of time. In exchange, you earn points, 100s to 1000s, which you can later trade in for gift certificates. I have been using OpenTable for years.

You may also have heard of the Rewards Network, which in some circles is called "iDine," its earlier name. With the Rewards Network, you simply enroll with a loyalty program, such as a frequent flyer one, and you can earn miles and points when you dine at participating restaurants. For example, the neighborhood restaurant you love eating out at participates in this program may yield you 5 points/$. This is basically a rebate in the form of points or frequent flyer miles.

While it's likely going to be always cheaper (and maybe healthier) to eat at home rather than at a restaurant, you might as well get something back for your dining loyalty.

I have mentioned just two ways that you can save money when eating out at restaurants, but if you watch my video podcast, I will show you even more tricks to cut down your costs. I also have a few more tips in future posts that you can use to help you save money.