How to cut your restaurant bills in half

Restaurant.com has come highly recommended in some recent media reports. Here are the pros and cons.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 15, 2011 12:07PM

This post comes from Karla Bowsher at partner site Money Talks News.

 

One of the best ways to save money is to cut out dining out. But you don't have to give up restaurant fare altogether: There are several ways to eat out and save.

 

Dining out less often is the obvious way. When it comes to lunch, for example, I bring mine from home. That way I eat healthier and don't feel guilty about going out for dinner with friends on weekends.

 

Another good way is with gift certificates from Restaurant.com. They can cut your bill in half, if not more. The website claims to have saved diners $500 million since 1999.

 

Last month, Restaurant.com was cited in Kiplinger's "Best bargains of 2011," CNNMoney's "Best couponing sites and apps" and USA Today's great dining deals. Despite the headlines, many people still haven't signed up to save. Many don't understand how the site works or think it's too good to be true.

 

Here's the gist: Restaurant.com sells restaurant gift certificates for less than their face value. These certificates allow customers to buy, say, $25 of restaurant food for as little as $2.

 

Here's why it's not too good to be true: Restaurants are willing to offer gift certificates at a discount to market themselves to a larger potential customer base.

 

Here's what you need to know to get the most out of Restaurant.com: Restaurant gift certificates (also referred to as restaurant-specific gift certificates) come in five denominations:

  • $10 gift certificates, normally sold for $5.
  • $25 gift certificates, normally sold for $10.
  • $50 gift certificates, normally sold for $20.
  • $75 gift certificates, normally sold for $30.
  • $100 gift certificates, normally sold for $40.

They frequently go on sale, however, for as much as 80% off (which means a $25 gift certificate would cost only $2). Because this price becomes available once a month or so, you should always wait for the sales to buy. (I always give readers a heads-up when they're on sale at this price, so keep an eye on my Daily Deals posts at Money Talks News or my Deals & Coupons page.) Post continues after video.

The pros

Saving you money isn't the only advantage of restaurant gift certificates. They also:

  • Never expire.
  • Are emailed to you as soon as you buy them, so there's no shipping charge.
  • Can be reprinted if you misplace them, unlike traditional gift cards (though Restaurant.com isn't responsible if they end up in someone else's hands).
  • Are available for more than 18,000 restaurants nationwide. (Enter your ZIP code in the "Find a Restaurant and Save" box to see which restaurants in your area offer certificates.)

The cons

Restaurant gift certificates do have a few conditions, though none are deal-breakers. 

  • They are nonrefundable and nonreturnable.
  • They are valid only on dine-in meals unless otherwise noted.
  • They cannot be used to pay for taxes, tips or merchandise.
  • They can be redeemed only once per month per restaurant (so you can redeem certificates as often as you want, as long as you don't use more than one at the same restaurant in a month).
  • They cannot be combined with other gift certificates, gift cards, or coupons from Restaurant.com or elsewhere.

In addition, individual restaurants may add their own conditions. For example, take a $25 gift certificate I've used at a local sushi joint. In addition to Restaurant.com's rules, they require that I spend at least $35 in order to use the certificate, and they automatically apply an 18% tip.

 

They also don't let me use the certificate to buy promotional items, which means I pay for both rolls of sushi I order even when they have a two-for-one special. (Restaurant.com will always inform you of any restaurant-specific restrictions beforehand, so you won't be surprised by them.)

 

Still, the last time I was at that restaurant, I was able to buy close to $50 of food for $20 plus tip.

 

Just be sure to give your certificate to your server as soon as you're seated. They'll appreciate it because they won't have to total your order twice, and they'll be able to warn you about any restrictions before you place your order.

 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

14Comments
Sep 8, 2011 11:33AM
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A better title for this pice would be "An Advertisement for Restaurants.com" . Because that is ALL this is.
Sep 7, 2011 10:45PM
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Ford Pu is wrong. Your server should be tipped on the entire bill before the coupon is deducted. Restaurant.com is a great deal.
Aug 15, 2011 11:49PM
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I don't mind the restaurant adding tip to a deeply discounted meal--it protects the server from suffering from my bargain. As for Restaurant.com, I've been using it for several years. We occasionally end up at a place we would not consider going back to, but we found that out on the cheap and it usually makes for a good story at least. Mostly we buy certificates for local restaurants that we would be going to anyway, or as gifts for college/recent grad kids. They seem to go over very well.
Sep 8, 2011 8:57AM
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I've used these coupons at some great restaurants; but I have one complaint about something that recently happened:

 

I purchased a coupon in mid-June this year, gave it to my daughter and her husband to use on vacation, and when they got to the restaurant and showed the coupon to the ownere, they were told by him that he cancelled his membership to "Restaurant.com" in April, 2011.  The owner then proceeded to call them on the phone and call them names for not removing his restaurant from their list.  This experience was embarrassing to my daughter and her husband.  They stay at the restaurant and spent more money than was originally intended because the restaurant would not honor the coupon. 

Sep 8, 2011 1:11AM
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would *love* to use these but when living in a small town close to bum f~ egypt it just dont happen.  
Sep 8, 2011 1:43PM
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I have used restaurant.com certificates a few times for local places that I have not been to before.   They have always worked perfectly for me, and have been easy to use.  The restaurants have not always been the best, but that is not the fault of the website.

 

One place that I went to became a regular place for me, so it worked as advertised. 

Sep 8, 2011 4:13PM
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I cut mine by 100%.  I quit eating out! hhahahahahaha!!!!!! 
Aug 15, 2011 11:51PM
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AND... if you purchase Restaurant.com via upromise.com, a percentage of your purchase can go toward your own or someone else's college bills. I have mine set to periodically send an extra payment on my student loans. Win-Win-Win!
Sep 8, 2011 12:31PM
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How about going out to eat, finding some obscure thing to complain about (not enough ice in the iced tea) and insisting on getting a discount?  I swear its a scam some people have going on. If it works for them once it seems like they try it all the time.
Sep 8, 2011 9:39AM
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I like the fact the certificates do not expire. I have one that I forget I have. It is not redeemable during most days during hockey season as the restaurant sits very close to the arena and since it's on the other side of the city that seems to be the only time we remember we have it. We tend to go to the "mom & pop" places during their discount deals anyway.
Sep 12, 2011 11:57PM
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This article is nothing more than SPAM with an MSN label on it!!
Sep 8, 2011 10:40AM
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When the article starts off with incorrect math skills , I start to doubt, in fact, I didnt finish the rest of the article.
Sep 8, 2011 4:40PM
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I used to hate eating out! Now I eat out for free! it's simple. Go to a restaurant, order, eat, and if you like it, YOU BUY THE RESTAURANT! This way I can come back whenever I want FOR FREE! Isn't that sweet?!?!?
Sep 8, 2011 12:16PM
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I think restaurant.com is a scam.  I purchased it for resturants that I would never go to.  I bought 2 at the same time thinking a great deal.  However I gave 1 to a friend and didnt use the other one.  They are good for trying new place.  Since the beginning of this ad said, cut your bills in half eating out ---  This is for frugal people like me.  Still spending 35.00 for 2 at dinner is no deal to me!!   I suggest all to avoid restaurants.com
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