There’s something to be said for dining at a place where everybody knows your name — or at least, your dining habits.
Frugal Foodie had a memorable meal a few years back at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It wasn’t just the food. The staff gave her directions to a nearby jazz joint on the back of a sample sheet the restaurant uses to note its frequent diners’ preferences, down to whether they want ice in their water and celebration dates for birthdays and anniversaries.
Chain restaurants may not remember your preference for sparkling versus still, but they do keep tabs on — and offer deals to — frequent diners via reward programs. According to the National Restaurant Association, 41% of restaurants currently have a loyalty program, and another 47% plan to launch one.
Yes, you’re signing up for a full inbox of regular emails, but the discounts can be well worth it if you enjoy a particular restaurant, says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert with The Frugals. Just don’t sign up if you don’t often eat at that chain. The constant deal feed might lead you to dine out more and overspend, she says.
Wait to sign up until you’re planning a visit — signing up often yields an introductory coupon or bonus that’s only good for a few days.
Join the Prime Club and get a free dessert as a signup bonus. On your birthday, you’ll get a coupon for a free steak dinner with the purchase of a second entrée of comparable value. Recent emailed deals include a $15, 6 oz. filet mignon (regularly $21).
Bruegger’s Baked Fresh
Get a free bagel and cream cheese when you sign up for email newsletters. Members recently received a similar emailed offer, among other deals.
Cheeseburger in Paradise
Get a free appetizer when you sign up for text-messaged deals.
Sign up for the email club to get a free order of Skillet Queso and Chips with the purchase of any entrée, and ongoing e-mailed deals like $5 off any two entrees.
Get two free soft chicken tacos at signup for the email club, and a free premium shake on your birthday. A recent emailed deal: a free shrimp taco with any purchase.
Sign up for emails, and get a free order of chips and guacamole. You’ll also get a free entrée on your birthday.
Joe’s Crab Shack
Sign up for Joe Mail and get a free appetizer. Members get advance notice of deals, and exclusive coupons.
Lone Star Steakhouse
Get a free appetizer with any entrée purchase for signing up for the e-club. You’ll also get a birthday gift, and regular deals like a recent $7.50 off any two entrees.
A free breakfast (with the purchase of another) is the sign-up perk for the e-club. Members recently received a similar emailed offer, among other deals.
Sign up for the Q Club, and get a small sub and cookie for $2.99. You’ll receive regular emailed coupons, too, like recent ones for $1 or $2 off the lobster and seafood salad subs.
Members of the Fresh Catch Club routinely get coupons for $3 off any two lunch entrees, or $4 off any two dinner entrees. Get a special coupon (usually a free appetizer or dessert) upon signup, and another gift on your birthday.
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Save $5 on a purchase of two entrees when you sign up for Get The Dish emails. Recent deals have included $5 off any purchase.
Earn one point per dollar spent; 200 are redeemable for a $20 voucher. Members also receive special email deals, including, recently, buy one, get one free entrees.
Join Give Me More Stripes and get a coupon for a free dessert or appetizer, and another that gives you line-cutting privileges to get a table. Members earn one point per dollar spent on any purchase including food, with points redeemable for discounts. You’ll also get regular emailed coupons, like a recent buy one, get one free entrée offer with the purchase of two beverages.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.