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I recently got back to the US after a short visit to Romania, and the one thing that caught my eye almost immediately was the drastic difference in prices. This was especially true when it came to restaurants. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
I’ve developed a 5-step guide that will show you how to save around 20% or more at all popular restaurants. If it’s a restaurant that no one has ever heard of, these tactics will most likely not work. Make sure to follow the steps in order so that you can maximize your savings.
While the process seems long at first, once you get it down it should only take you a few minutes – trust me. At the end of the article, we’re also going to do a quick run-through with an example to help you better understand the process. Let’s get started.
1. Get A Cash Back Credit Card
Many of you are already that there are cash back credit cards that give you bonuses for eating out at restaurants. For example, using the Discover It Card at checkout will give you 5% off your meal depending on the quarter.
However, for our purposes, we do not want to do this. We want to find a cash back card that gives us the most amount of cash back for all purchases (and you’ll see why in the steps below).
Currently, the highest rate you can find on the market is 2% in cash back. I personally suggest the Visa Blispay Credit Card. It gives you 2% back on all purchases no matter what the category, and it comes with no annual fee. Let’s take a look at a few of the details below:
- 2% cash back on all purchases no matter the category
- Cash back is automatically applied as statement credit
- No annual fee
- Works with Apple Pay
- 6 months interest free financing on purchases of $199 or more
- Works anywhere that Visa works
Keep in mind that in order to get approved, you do need to have a fairly high credit score. Therefore, we recommend only applying if you have a score of 700 or more. Other cards that also give 2% back are Citi Double Cash and Discover It (only for the first year).
2. Get A Discounted Restaurant Gift Card
In order to maximize our cash back, we don’t want to make our purchase directly with our our cash back credit card. Instead, we want to buy a restaurant gift card at an extreme discount.
Nowadays there are multiple gift card resellers that sell you gift cards under their actual retail value. For example, on Raise I can buy a Red Lobster Gift Card for 15% off. This means I can get a $100 card that’s only good at Red Lobster, but I only pay $85 for it – Incredible?!?!
The reason Raise is able to sell a gift card at such a cheap price is because they buy them for even cheaper. You know those unwanted gift cards we get for Christmas? If you get a Red Lobster gift card, you can sell it to Raise for 34% off of its retail value. In turn, Raise marks up the price to just 15% off, but still cheaper than full price.
Here is a list of gift card resellers that we recommend that have both been reliable, reputable, and have great deals:
Be Careful Of Other Platforms
I have never had a problem with any of these sites listed above, and their customer service is exceptional. One time my gift card wasn’t working with Raise. I contacted them and they immediately refunded me. If you decide to go with a gift card vendor outside of this list, let us know how they’ve been in the comments below – there have been suspicious ones in the past.
Try to always order an electronic gift card. They only take up to 24 hours to arrive in your inbox, but physical ones can take up to 7 business days.
How Do I Quickly Compare Which Gift Card Vendor Has The Best Rate?
We don’t want to have to go to each of these sites individually in order to find out which one has the highest gift card discount. Fortunately, there’s a free service that does this for us called Gift Card Granny. To to the site and type in the restaurant you want to dine at. Your results will display a list of gift card vendors along with their associated rates – view Red Lobster below.
From the image, we can see that SaveYa has the best rate at 20% off. This will prevent you from having to go to each of the vendors individually and check.
One of the gift card resellers that isn’t featured on Gift Card Granny is GiftMe. We highly suggest checking them as well, especially since they give out their gift card immediately. Whatever the case, just be sure to use the cash back credit card we mentioned above to get an additional 2% off the gift card.
3. Go Through A Portal
When you’ve decided on which gift card you want to purchase, sometimes you can get an additional 1% – 2% in cash back by using a shopping portal. This can be a bit confusing to understand, so I’ll try to explain it in the simplest way possible.
Shopping portals are just websites that partner with thousands of online retailers. When a partnership is formed, they agree on a set commission each time someone clicks on a retailer’s link on the portal site. Instead of the portal site keeping the commission for themselves, they give it back to you in the form of “cash back.”
Let’s use Raise as an example and TopCashback as our shopping portal. We go register for free at TopCashBack and type in “Raise” in the search bar. We notice that we can get 2% off of our gift card by using their links.
When we click on the “Get Cashback” link, we’re redirected to the Raise website. We make our purchase, and TopCashBack automatically keeps track of what you buy via browser cookies. The 2% of your total purchase price is then automatically deposited into your TopCashBack account, which you will eventually be able to withdraw for real cash.
Which Portal Do I Use?
While the process seems long at first, once you get the hang of it, it will be incredibly quick and easy. Keep in mind that not all gift card vendors are partnered with shopping portals. Here are the list of shopping portals that we recommend:
These 2 portals usually have the highest rates, and they both give a $10 sign-up bonus. You can’t go wrong with that. If you’re still confused about how portals work, we suggest reading our Portal Guide, or you can check out the Top 10 Shopping Portals. Keep in mind that these portals can be used across thousands of retailers, just as long as they have an online store.
4. Use Receipt Scanning Apps
After you get your discounted gift card, you can use it at the restaurant and save around 20% off your meal. However, we don’t want to stop there. We can save even more cash by keeping our receipt. There are 2 main apps that we can use to get some extra cash back.
Ibotta is a free mobile app that pays you to scan your receipts. Although most of the time they only partner with grocery stores, there are a few restaurants they partner with as well. If we register, we can go to the home screen and select the “dining” category to see a list of available restaurants.
As of today, Ibotta is partnered with AppleBee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Texas Roadhouse and Chili’s. There’s even a few rebates that will work at any restaurant.
A Quick Example – Red Lobster
Click on the restaurant you’re interested in to view available cash back deals. We click on Red Lobster and notice that on certain wines and beers we can get cash back. Let’s purchase a glass of Apothic Wine.
Once you get your receipt, scan it through the Ibotta app with your smartphone camera. You need to make sure that the date, product details, restaurant name and total price. In short, just take a picture of your entire receipt.
Once your receipt is verified by the Ibotta team, wait 24 hours and you’ll have cash back in your account. Withdraw your cash for PayPal or gift cards once you reach a minimum balance of $20 – it’s that easy.
Although the options listed on Ibotta are somewhat limited for restaurants, they are rapidly expanding and have been around for years. Be sure to frequently check back, and at the very least they’re partnered with a ton of different grocery stores that you can get cash back from.
Yaarlo is another free mobile app that pays you for scanning your receipt. However, instead of having to shop or dine at particular places, it doesn’t matter where you go. As long as the receipt has the name of the place, the total, and products listed you’re good to go. Use bonus code FRUGAL to get a $1 bonus after scanning your first receipt.
Yaarlo tends to pay .25% of your total purchase price. Spend $100 at a restaurant and get $.025 cents back. While the amount isn’t much, it can add up quickly. Furthermore, Yaarlo makes it incredibly easy. All you have to do is open the app, hit scan receipt, take a picture and then wait for them to verify it.
Once you reach a minimum of $10 in your account you can cash out for gift cards or to PayPal with a $50 minimum. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you reach this balance by taking pictures of all your receipts.
A Quick Overview Of Receipt Scanning Apps
Although it may seem like a long time to get your receipt, open an app, scan it to your phone, and then withdraw your cash, once you get in the habit it will take you under 2 minutes each time. If I can save $1 just for 2 minutes of work, I’m essentially earning $30 per hour. I’d say that’s a killer deal.
The same applies for portals. It may seem like a lot of work, but this is only at first. Once you get in the habit, it only takes a split second, and totally makes the process – and your wallet – that much more enjoyable. You can also view a list of other apps that pay you for scanning receipts.
5. Let’s Combine All 4 Steps
Now we’re going to walk you through what we just covered step by step in order to help you understand a bit better. We’re going to use Red Lobster as our example.
Step 1 – Cash Back Credit Card
Apply for a credit card that gives you the most amount of cash back on all purchases, not specific categories. For our purposes, the ones with the highest rates are Discover It, Citi Double Cash and the Visa Blispay Credit Cards. They all give 2% cash back and come with no annual fee.
Step 2 – Head To A Portal
We know we’re going to want to buy a discounted gift card. However, in order to get extra cash back, we need to use a shopping portal. Let’s use TopCashback since it gives us 2% in cash back at Raise. Type in “Raise” in the search bar.
The results show that we get 2% in cash back by clicking on the “Cashback” link. After clicking it, we’re redirected to the Raise website. From here on out, everything we purchase will give us 2% in cash back (with exceptions) to our TopCashBack account. Once we hit $10 in earned cash back we can cash out.
Step 3 – Buy The Gift Card
Now that we’ve been redirected to the Raise website, let’s search for the gift card we want: Red Lobster. A quick search reveals that we can get them for 15% off.
Although the gift cards are physical ones, we don’t mind since we frequently eat at Red Lobster and would eventually use them. We go to the checkout page and enter our payment information. Yet we need to make sure to use our cash back credit card that we got above.
So far with the portal, credit card and gift card purchase combined we’re at 19% in cash back – that’s 19% off of your restaurant purchase.
Step 4 – Use Ibotta and Yaarlo
A glass of wine sounds fantastic. Open the Ibotta App and go to the Dining category, and you’ll notice that under Red Lobster you can get $1 in cash back for a glass of Apothic wine.
We pay using our Red Lobster gift card, leave the tip and scan our receipt with the Ibotta App. In 24 hours, we’ll receive a $1 credit in our account. Once we hit a minimum of $20, we can cash out to PayPal, for gift cards, or to charity. Ibotta can be used at pharmacies, restaurants, online shopping and more.
Our purchase came out to $100 for a dinner of 4, so we can use Yaarlo to scan our receipt and get $.25 cents back. Verification takes up to 24 hours as well, and once a minimum of $10 is reached we can cash out for gift cards. If we want, we can also check other receipt scanning apps to see if we can get a discount.
Step 5 – Calculate Your Savings
We’re assuming that our total purchase price was $100 for a party of 4. Here’s a quick recap of what we did:
- 15% cash back buying a discounted gift card at Raise
- 2% cash back by going through the TopCashBack portal
- 2% cash back by using a credit card to buy the gift card at Raise
- $1 (or 1% off the total) off by scanning the receipt to Ibotta for a glass of wine
- $.25 cents off by scanning our receipt to Yaarlo
- Possibly more discounts depending on other receipt scanning apps
We just saved a total of 20.25% off of our Red Lobster purchase.
The steps listed out in the article seem as if they take a long time… and that’s because they do. But trust me – I promise you that once you get used to it, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to do all of these steps combined.
There’s a reason that the word “almost” is listed in the article title – I can’t guarantee that I’m going to find a gift card with such a high discount like at Red Lobster. Yet I know that if the restaurant is popular enough, most of the time I’m going to be able to save at least 20% or even more. If it doesn’t reach 20%, it’s going to be pretty close.
Keep in mind that when you order through a gift card reseller, your electronic gift card can take up to 24 hours to arrive in your inbox, but most of the time it’s there within a few minutes. I try to plan at least a little bit in advance just in case.
If you’ve tried these methods or have any to add, let us know about them in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your experiences or how you manage to save money at restaurants. Still confused about how to do all of this? Ask questions down below. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!
My name is Jason Wuerch and I'm currently located in Madrid, Spain running a personal finance blog called Frugal For Less. My goal is to help everyone and anyone willing to make and save money through easy and simple ways that don't require much effort. Just because you're frugal doesn't mean you have to give up life's luxuries.