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Updated June 27, 2016

Credit Cards for Restaurant Rewards

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If you're usually eating out rather than slaving over a hot stove at home, make a point of using a rewards credit card every time you pick up the tab and save up some serious cash.

In fact, most of us could benefit from one of the many credit cards aimed at frequent diners. According to the 2015 Zagat Dining Trends survey, Americans dine out an average of 4.5 times per week and drop close to $40 per person for a meal, which is no small potatoes. Get something back every time you go out, and the rewards will add up quickly.

What to Look For

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Picking a credit card that pays you back every time you drop in at your favorite restaurant is a hassle-free way to keep the cost down — and cut down on your guilt for eating out all the time.

But many rewards credit cards focus more on their travel rewards than the fact that they also give rewards for restaurant purchases as well. So you may not view one card over another as a “restaurant credit card.” You need to know where to look (and you’ve come to the right place!), and you’ll need to narrow down your choices because there are quite a few.

We’re going to help with the search and your decision. CreditDonkey has put together a guide to restaurant rewards cards that covers what you need to know about choosing the right card for you.

Restaurant Credit Cards: How Do They Work?

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You want to look for a rewards card that lists restaurants as one type of purchase that will give you a higher amount back than other things you can buy with it. You could get 2X points, say, when you dine out rather than just the 1X you get on other purchases. Be sure to check out how the credit card company views restaurants — if you’re a frequent visitor of the takeout counter (we’re not here to judge), then be sure “fast food” will count.

You could either let your points rack up for a one-day splurge at a fancy restaurant or use them for an entirely different purpose than eating.

Here’s what you need to consider during your search:

  • Rewards structure: Look at how many points you can earn for dining out and whether points are awarded for other purchases. For instance, some cards will give you a little something extra back for your restaurant visits as well as every time you spend money on travel or entertainment. Ideally, you want a credit card that will give you their top level rewards across several categories that match your spending habits.

  • Bonus offer: As an incentive to draw in new customers, many card issuers offer bonus rewards for opening an account. These bonuses usually require you to charge a certain amount within the first few months of opening the new credit card. You want to think about how likely you’ll be able to meet the requirement. You don’t want to spend more than you would anyway just to get a bonus — that won’t save you any money on your food budget.

  • Fees and interest: The rule of thumb with rewards cards is the better the payoff, the higher the annual fee (usually). The key is to make sure you're going to be earning enough rewards with the card to offset the cost.

If you normally carry a balance, you also need to look at the APR to see how much you're going to be handing over in interest each month.

At the opposite end of the priority scale are a few other matters that may sway your final decision:

  • Your options for redeeming rewards. How limited are they, and do you understand the terms?

  • If you can use the card for balance transfers. In particular, does it have a promotional offer where you can get 0% APR for a few months (although you’ll likely get charged a balance transfer fee)?

  • If there are any exclusive perks or benefits just for diners.

Which Card Is the Right for You?

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With so many options to choose from, nailing down the right one is no easy feat. To make things easier, we've rounded up a few restaurant credit cards that we think represent the cream of the crop.

If you're a big spender:
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred: The Sapphire Preferred Card from Chase is a good choice if you drop a lot of cash at restaurants and on travel, and you want to snag a big sign-on bonus. The card lets you earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. Plus, as a promotion, you can earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Read our in-depth Chase Sapphire Preferred review to see why this is a top pick.

The card comes with a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. If you regularly travel overseas, you won't have to worry about paying foreign transaction fees with this card (it has a $0 foreign transaction fee). Otherwise, all that dining at French cafes would add up much too fast (many cards charge a fee around 3% on every purchase made outside the U.S.).

Premier Rewards Gold Card
Apply for Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card: The Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express (a CreditDonkey advertiser) earns 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2X points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1X points on other purchases. Terms Apply.

In terms of how the annual fee compares, you're going to pay quite a bit more per year compared to the Sapphire Preferred card. The annual fee is $195, although you do get a $0 intro annual fee for the first year. Since it's a charge card, there's no interest, but you'll have to pay the bill in full each month. That's something to keep in mind if you prefer the flexibility of being able to carry a balance from time to time.

If you want to avoid the annual fee:
Discover it Chrome: For a no-fuss way to earn rewards at restaurants without shelling out big bucks for an annual fee, the Discover it Chrome card may be right up your alley. The card pays 2% cash back on combined restaurant and gas purchases, up to the first $1,000 you spend at restaurants and gas stations each quarter. There are no rewards tiers to worry about, and there is no need to sign up for the bonus categories, which is great if you like to keep things simple.

As far as the cost goes, there's no annual fee or foreign transaction fees. You won't get an upfront bonus with this card, but Discover will match all the cash back you earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder to thank you for opening a new account (for new cardholders only).

Final Word

Whether you eat out often out of necessity (who has time to cook at home these days?), you’re usually dining out on the road for business, or you just love to go to restaurants and try new dishes, a restaurant credit card may be a fitting addition to your wallet. You could use it mostly for dining out or you may find it useful for everyday purchases as well.

Do the math to see which card will give you the most benefit (depending on how you’ll likely use it), and start saving up rewards for a nice night on the town.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the Discover it® chrome has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Comments about Credit Cards for Restaurant Rewards

  • Derp from California
    on January 25, 2012 9:13 AM said:

    No Citi Forward? 5% cash back at all restaurants. That one is clearly the best.

  • Charles Tran
    on January 25, 2012 10:35 AM said:

    Great suggestion Derp.

    Citi Forward Card is a good option for *point rewards*. Keep in mind, Citi Forward offers 5 *points* (not 5%) for every $1 you spend on restaurants.

    Usually, you'll need 16,000 ThankYou Points to redeem for $100 cash reward.

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About CreditDonkey®
CreditDonkey is a credit card comparison website. We publish data-driven analysis to help you save money & make savvy financial decisions.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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