In case you haven’t figured it out from my earlier posts about iDine, Dosh, and Groupon+, I really like to eat. And more than that, I really like to eat for cheap while someone else is cooking. Restaurant.com helps make that easy and often combines well with other programs.
There’s some great benefits to buying certificates from Restaurant.com, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. Let’s get right into how it works and then cover the difficulties.
Saving with certificates –
Here’s how it works: You buy a “gift certificate” for the restaurant from Restaurant.com, then redeem the certificate at the restaurant in accordance with requirements for using the certificate. Many of the certificates I’ve bought have been purchased for as little as $2 for a $25 certificate, which means $23 of free food or drinks.
The certificate requirements used to ban purchasing any kind of booze, which is something many tend to do at dinner… Now the requirements are much more focused on things like not including taxes or tip, minimum purchase thresholds (typically double the value of the certificate), and only 1 per party/table/month/etc.
You can bring in a paper certificate or pull one up directly on the Restaurant.com app.
Above you can see a printable certificate for a bar in Tampa called Bar Asia. You either have to plan ahead to bring and use this certificate or use the app.
Let’s say we’re in the mood for Peruvian for date night…
A real-world use case –
In the above example, you can see (circled toward the top-right) that there is a minimum of a $75 purchase to use the certificate. You definitely don’t want that kind of threshold when you’re going out for dollar tacos and beers.
Chakana has a lot of items in the $15-$20 range and cocktails from $5-10. With dinner for two, two drinks each at $8 apiece will be $32. Plus an order of lomo saltado ($20), tacu tacu ($17), and steamed muscle appetizer ($8) and you’re sitting on a $77 tab perfect for this certificate. ($82.78 with tax)
Knock off $25 and it’s like you split 1 drink. Your tab is down to $57.78!
Just like that, you’re getting $17.33 in instant cash back before you even leave the restaurant. Now your total out of pocket is $40.45, less than 50%.
Then there’s the credit card cash back. If you’re using the Barclay Uber Visa, you’re getting 4% back on restaurants. For this dinner, that’s 4% of the $57.78 for another $2.31 in your pocket (plus 4% of your tip if you put that on the card).
Sounds pretty great, right?
Here’s another example –
Let’s take another look at a Tampa Bay restaurant. I love Indian food. I can’t get enough of it. But it’s not like there’s an option to swing by the local joint and get a Butter Curry Naan sandwich for $6… No, going out for Indian means around $15 for a dish.
Bay Leaves Indian Cuisine is no exception. At least it’s well reviewed (hard to find great Indian in Tampa, this isn’t Seattle, San Francisco, or New York).
But why go here? Well, let’s break it down. I’ll bet we can save over 50%…
1) Restaurant.com –
We’re going to save $15 off a $45 tab. Hopefully we’ve bought our certificate while it was on sale, so it is less than $6. (They go on sale regularly.) $45 means we’ll get 3 dishes, probably on takeout, which will feed us for 3 meals.
2) Now let’s hit Groupon+ –
Alright, 15% cash back ($4.50) on the $30 we’re going to spend after using our Restaurant.com certificate!
Total out of pocket down to $25.50
3) There’s more, let’s hit Dosh –
Sweet! 7% cash back ($2.10) on the $30 spend (plus cash back on our tip).
Total out of pocket down to $23.40
4) That’s not all, we’ve also got iDine –
Now here’s we’re hitting 5% back because I haven’t been breaking iDine’s thresold to 10% ($750 on iDine restaurants in a year). That’s 5% cash back on the $30 post-certificate amount plus tip. ($1.50 to $3)
Total out of pocket now running $21.90 (could be as low as $20.40)
5) Last up, we’ve got credit card cash back –
If I use my Barclays Uber Visa, I’ll get another 4% cash back ($1.20) off that $30. That’s a total out of pocket of $20.70 and could be as low as $19.20 if I spent more at iDine restaurants. That’s between 54% to 57% off that original $45 and puts each dish at an average of less than $7. I’m pretty sure the spices they use cost more than that.
It’s not all gravy with Restaurant.com –
Restaurant.com definitely has some challenges.
Right now I have $975.00 worth of Restaurant.com gift cards which can be exchanged for certificates from restaurants. I bought a ton of these when they had a sale of $2 for a $25 certificate back in like 2009. They never expire, thankfully, but they make it way too difficult to use them.
I have to plan ahead which restaurant I’m going to visit. Then I exchange my Restaurant.com Gift Card for a restaurant-specific gift card. Next I either print it out or pull it up in what is possibly the world’s buggiest app.
The app is really, truly, awful. You can’t stay signed in and they’ve only recently added the ability to exchange Restaurant.com GC’s for the restaurant certificates.
They also, for a while, experimented with mixing “online deals” into your local search. This made it nearly impossible to actually identify local restaurants because there’s 83 places that want to sell you a box of overpriced steaks and gourmet cheese. I also just don’t think about going to Restaurant.com to find tickets to a baseball game, but there they are in the middle of me trying to decide between Green and NY Deli tonight.
In summary –
Despite the flaws and bugs, Restaurant.com offers an easy way to knock a few bucks off a bar tab, take someone special out on a budget, or stack up with other rewards offers for maximum savings. It’s definitely worth taking a look at and participating when there is a certificate sale.
I don’t take the amount from the certificate for investing, but I do leverage any additional cash back into my investment account instead of viewing it as “savings.” Every month (or so) when that cash becomes available, I transfer it to my bank account and then deposit it into a dedicated cash back account at Betterment. This way I watch it stack up along with the market, creating a better financial future based on my dinner choice tonight.
I may earn commissions or referral bonuses off links from this site, but that does not influence which sites or apps that I link to. These are applications that I am signed up for and use. The affiliate links are there to get this blog to start paying for itself.