The 5 Best Credit Cards for Dining Out

By Jason Steele. Last updated 8 October 2015. 17 comments

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At first glance, dining out would seem to be the opposite of frugality, as it is easy to spend enough in one meal at a restaurant as you could buying a week's worth of groceries. Yet frugal people like me have been able to turn this equation on its head by taking advantage of rewards points.

On a recent night out, I made my reservation with Open Table just before departing in order to receive points worth future dining credits. When I arrived, I presented a coupon from that took $25 off my $35 bill. Finally, I paid for our meal with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns double points at restaurants. On other occasions I have use coupons from the Entertainment Book and participated in many of the dining miles programs offered by the airlines. By using coupons and taking advantage of rewards, I might not be able to claim to be saving money over the price of home-cooked meals, but I can come pretty close to the price I would have paid for just the ingredients I would have used to prepare a similar meal. (See also: Credit Cards for Groceries)

Restaurant Rewards Credit Cards

No matter what your situation, anyone can save money by using the ideal credit card to maximize the rewards they receive from their dining expenses. Just as with any reward credit card, cardholders must always pay their balances in full and on time in order to assure that interest payments do not overwhelm any rewards received.

Best Credit Cards for Dining Out at Restaurants

These are my picks for the top credit cards to use when dining out.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase offers several cards that earn points in its Ultimate Rewards program, but their Sapphire Preferred® Card earns double points for charges at restaurants and for travel. Their current sign up offer includes 40,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months — that's $500 worth of travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can also earn 5,000 bonus points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase within the first 3 months. Cardholders receive 20% off travel when redeeming travel through their website or transfer your points to partner programs at a 1:1 rate. Finally, the card has no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

Click here to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card today!

Discover it® chrome - New! Double Cash Back your first year

credit cardWith the Discover it® chrome card, you receive 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants every quarter, no sign-ups needed. In addition, you'll get 1% cash back on all other purchases you make with the card. As an exclusive offer for new cardmembers, all the cash back you've earned is automatically doubled at the end of your first year. There is no minimum you need to meet before you can start redeeming your cash back rewards, and they never expire. Currently, there is a special introductory offer of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months (a 3% fee applies to each transferred balance). Then, the standard variable APR of 10.99%-22.99% will apply based on your creditworthiness. The card also offers no foreign transaction fees, no overlimit fee, no penalty APR, and no late fee on your first payment. This card comes with the new Freeze ItSM on/off switch, which allows you to prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app and online.  There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Discover it® chrome Card today!

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

credit cardThe Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 2x miles per dollar on every purchase, unlimited! They're also offering a great bonus offer right now: get 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months (equal to $400 in travel). Apply your points toward your travel purchases — so fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime — with no blackout dates. This card also has no foreign transaction fees. Annual fee: $59, waived for the first year.

Click here to apply for the Capital One Venture Rewards Card

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card

credit cardThe Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card from our partner Citi offers unlimited double points on purchases spent on dining and entertainment, and one point spent on other purchases. As a sign up offer right now, you can get 20,000 points after spending $1,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening — this is redeemable for $200 in rewards. Citi also offers special benefits like Price Rewind, where Citi will search hundreds of retailers' sites for 60 days from the date of purchase to help find a lower price and be refunded the difference (see program details for terms and limitations). There is no annual fee.

Click here to apply for the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card

U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card

The U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card allows its cardholders to earn some great rewards on their everyday purchases. You can earn 2 FlexPoints for every $1 you spend on restaurant purchases as well as most cell phone purchases. In addition, depending on what you spend the most on each billing cycle, you can also earn 2x FlexPoints on your gas, grocery, or airline purchases. You'll get 1 FlexPoint on all other purchases you make with the card, and for any eligible charitable donations you make, you'll earn 3 FlexPoints. Points can be redeemed as airline award tickets with more than 150 airlines or for merchandise, gift cards, or statement credits.

New cardmembers will receive 20,000 bonus FlexPoints after spending $3,500 in net purchases (purchases minus credits and returns) within the first 4 months of account opening, which is enough to redeem for an award airline ticket worth up to $400. Also get 3,500 bonus points each year you spend $24k in net purchases, and get up to $25 reimbursed per air travel award ticket toward baggage fees, in-flight food and drinks, and more. Finally, this card offers EMV chip technology and no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee of $49 is waived for the first year.

Click here to apply for the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards American Express® Card today! 

Without a doubt, most consumers will save money when they prepare their meals at home. Nevertheless, I find a frugal night out to be a needed respite from our family's normal routine of cooking and cleaning. By using all available coupons and discounts, and by choosing the best credit card to pay for your dining expenses, you can have affordable meals that ultimately lead to valuable rewards.

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 bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

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17 discussions

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Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

I like the Discover Card. I've been looking for a good credit that offers decent rewards with no annual fee. What would you guys recommend?

Guest's picture

I would add the Visa Signature SonyCard from Capital One to this list. It offers 3X points on dining out and movies. No foreign transaction fees, no annual fee.

Guest's picture

Also, whatever card you go with, if you register it with and you get additional cash back at many restaurants. This cash back can be applied to a Sallie Mae student loan, 529 plan or just a regular savings account if you don't have any education related expenses.

Guest's picture
Timothy Girard

Is the non-student version of the Citi Forward Card still available? I can't find it on the Citi website.

Guest's picture

yes, discontinued in January 2013 I think

Guest's picture

Thanks for sharing this information and this post! I'm mostly pleased with American Express, have been using it for years and I almost have no problems with it.

Guest's picture

overlooked is the Costco (American Express) card - 2% on restaurants - cashback paid annually (bummer) plus, of course the Costco membership fee. But, too, the card does 3% on gas.

Guest's picture

Just use the Fidelity Amex. Its 2% everywhere.

Guest's picture

I agree , Fidelity American Express is the best general purpose card at 2% on every thing no exclusions. Plus it encourages you to invest the cash back to each even more money over time!

Guest's picture

I still use the Citi Forward Card with 5x point for dining but he Simply Cash Business from Amex looks like a good one..3% back at restaurants.

Guest's picture

U.S. Bank Cash+. 5% on restaurants if you choose restaurants+fast food as your two 5% categories.

Guest's picture

U.S Bank has downgraded restaurants to 2% beginning 2015.

Guest's picture

Amex Costco Card is definitely the best out there. 2% Cash back on restaurants no quarterly limit crap. Eat as much as you want as frequently as you want and you'll get 2% cash back. Just don't forget to exercise :)

Guest's picture

The new Bravo card from Santander is 3% on all restaurant spend.

Guest's picture

The Paypal Mastercard is offering 3X points on restaurants

Guest's picture
Steven Y

I use to use the Costco Amex as my #1 card for restaurants and gas. I eat mostly all meals out. But since Sams Club came out with there new MasterCard which gives 5% on gas, 3% on travel and restaurants, and 1% on everything else. I switched. While I like Amex look and customer service better, the Sam's Mastercard has superior cash back rewards, and is my new favorite to use in restaurants and gas stations now. I hope Costco competes, however Mastercard is excepted everywhere and Amex is not..

Guest's picture

Citi double Cash 2% everything

Discover it or Chase freedom sometimes has 5% on restaurants if you feel like dealing with rotating categories.

Many cards have 5% or more on groceries and work for restaurant gift cards. Using this method you are more likely to overspend or lose gift cards.

Guest's picture

Great analysis but I would add, for the second quarter, to use the Chase Freedom card which gives you 5 x points for restaurants.