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6 Ways to Dine Out on a Dime

Enjoy more meals out via smart scheduling, rewards programs and exclusive discounts

Dining out can take a bite out of your wallet, especially if you go to restaurants often or if you have a big family. With a little research and some savvy scheduling, you can get some great restaurant deals that can save you money and stress. 

These six money-saving tips will have you enjoying meals out more often—even if you’re on a tight budget.

1. Buy discounted gift cards and certificates. Money-saving sites such as Restaurant.com and Groupon team up with eateries to offer gift certificates that give you more than what you pay for. Restaurant.com’s $25 e-cards and standard cards sell for $10, and its $100 certificates go for only $40. Go through NEA Click & Save to earn WOWPoints when you buy Restaurant.com gift certificates. Keep up with Click & Save’s latest discounts at facebook.com/NEADeals.

At Groupon, get huge discounts based on your location. One recent deal at a barbecue joint in Virginia offered a $30 certificate priced at $15. GiftCardRescue.com sells gift cards for Damon’s Grill ($88 for a $100 card), Benihana ($80 for a $100 card) and many other food establishments.

2. Join a rewards program or a frequent diner club. Reap savings based on how often you eat out. Many restaurants have programs that reward your patronage, whether it’s one free dessert for every 10 meals or a points card that tallies up your expenditures (usually excluding alcohol) and later rewards you. Inquire at your favorite spot.

You can register your debit or credit card at rewardsnetwork.com to enroll in the frequent diner program from Rewards Network. Eat at a participating restaurant and earn rewards in your choice of airline miles, funds toward college savings, hotel points, charitable contributions or rewards cards.

Lettuce Entertain You, a frequent dining club, gives diners a $10 dining reward card every time they rack up 140 points worth of food and beverages (or save up points for bigger rewards) at more than 70 participating restaurants in select states.

3. Stay informed about deals. Flip through local newspapers or penny-saver ads and tear out regional deals and coupons—especially when you’re vacationing or in an unfamiliar locale. Check Valpak, too.

Trolling well-respected “foodie” websites—such as Eater or Grub Street—keeps you in-the-know on free tastings, happy hours and prix fixe meals in several metropolitan areas.

Restaurants often advertise discounts via social media sites. If you’ve dined somewhere—and loved it—become a Facebook fan and follow the eatery on Twitter to get the quick scoop on hot deals.

Finally, be sure you’re registered for NEA’s Click & Save program. You’ll never miss another discount food offer, thanks to its email reminders.

4. Use smartphone apps. LocalEats doles out mobile coupons in more than 50 U.S. cities, and ScoutMob offers online and app-only deals at local restaurants in seelct cities, saving you at least 50% on your next meal. Some apps with location-based services, such as Yelp and FourSquare, unlock deals when you check in while dining out.

5. Make a reservation. Just reserving a table via free online-booking agent OpenTable helps you save. Every standard reservation made garners 100 points, and for every 2,000 points earned, a $20 OpenTable Dining Cheque is awarded. (Get 1,000 bonus points if you and a dining partner are willing to eat during specific time frames.)

6. Share your opinions. Providing feedback can reap rewards when you fill out restaurant surveys with iDine. After eating at participating restaurants and answering a few questions about the experience, you’ll earn back a percentage of your bill and rack up points for future dining excursions.

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