How to Save Money at Restaurants by Buying Gift Cards

by Travis Pizel · 19 comments

Gift cards are a popular gift choice. You may have received some during the recent holiday season.

They’re convenient for the giver, since you don’t have to worry about getting the perfect gift, and they’re convenient for the receiver, because they get to shop at their leisure and pick out something out they really want.

It’s especially nice to receive a restaurant gift card because you can use it for a fun social night, or date night. These gifts cards are always a favorite, because who doesn’t like to take a night off from cooking for themselves?

Restaurants are well aware of this, and have come up with a way to sweeten the pot just a little more, in hopes of getting people through the door. Many restaurants now offer a bonus gift card when you buy one as a gift.

If you want to save money on going to restaurants by using gift cards, here’s how it works.

You buy a $25 gift card for a loved one, and in return get a bonus $5 gift card to keep for yourself. I’ve taken advantage of offers like this several times, including one recently during my holiday shopping.

As I was completing the transaction, I wondered why I don’t take advantage of opportunities like this by keeping both gift cards? I could buy the $25 gift card, get the $5 gift card for free then be seated and dine at the restaurant essentially getting a $5 discount on my meal.

I began making notes in my cell phone each time I encountered the bonus gift card scenario. Here’s a list of restaurants and eateries that offer bonus cards when you purchase a gift card.

  • Outback Steakhouse: The popular steakhouse will run a promotion a couple times a year of buy a $100 gift card, get a $20 gift card for free.
  • Red Lobster: If you like seafood, they too periodically run the buy a $100 gift card, get a $20 gift card for free. I could eat their cheddar bay biscuits until I explode.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings: Ah, my favorite sports bar! When I first started making notes about this eating out discount idea, they were the business I was thinking of. They’re a little smarter, though, as you typically cannot use the bonus gift card until a few weeks later.
  • Local Restaurants: At Costco, I found $100 of gift cards to a group of local restaurants prices at $80. I wonder if other Costco locations would have similar promotions but for business local to the area.
  • Nickelodeon Universe: The Mall Of America is just an hour north of my home. In the middle of the mall is the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park. Unlimited ride wristbands cost $32.99 at the park, but at Costco you can buy them 2 for $40. While it’s not a restaurant gift card, I thought the savings was so significant that I had to mention it.

If you’re on a budget, eating out and entertainment are usually the first expenses that get cut. But with these ideas you can see that great deals are all around — if you’re paying attention!

Have you run into a great gift card deal? What’s another way you save money when eating out?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Rich says:

    I tried using the $20 Outback bonus “gift card” in combination with a coupon, and they told me I couldn’t. They said that while the $100 card is a true gift card, the $20 bonus card is technically a coupon, and you can’t use more than one coupon per visit.

    I tried contacting Outback corporate about 2 weeks ago about this via email to confirm the policy, and they never responded.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      That’s a bummer, Rich……I wonder if it stated that anywhere on the actual gift card? I would hope so!

  • Gen Y Finance Guy says:

    I love buying gift cards for restaurants at Costco. You buy them for 20% off the face value. So if you would eat there anyways it totally makes sense to buy the gift card to save the 20%.

    Typically its $100 face value that cost you $80.

    They have Lucille BBQ, California Pizza Kitchen, McCormick & Schmick’s , Buca di Beppo, and Smash Burger. These do periodically change.

    But worth checking out.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      I love Buca! Lemon Caper chicken for the win! If I ever see gift cards for Buca at my Costco I’m stocking up. 😉

  • hemoglobinRed says:

    Be sure to read the fine print. There are laws that prohibit gift card from expiration but they only apply to the basis, they don’t apply to the freebies.

    Two restaurants near my home do this and I take advantage of it. In both cases it is an extra $5 for every $25 spent. In both examples that extra $5 is given to me as a separate $5 card. But one of the restaurants gives me a 3 month window to use the freebies.

    I’m not sure how this applies in situations were the freebies are co-mingled with the base cash in one card.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      It’s always a good idea to read the fine print on any gift card, or special offer, hemoglobinred. We once had a gift card for a restaurant and it had all kinds of restrictions on when we could use it, what we could order, etc!

  • James Hennings says:

    This is a sweet post on restaurant gift cards I am not the type of person who likes to eat out but I go gift card crazy during the holidays. Plus I much prefer gift cards because I am very tough to please. Local Giant Eagles in my hometown run “FuelPerks” where you get .10cents discount on gas for every $50 you spend up to a certain gallon amount. Speedway has a huge points system where you rack up points anytime you visit the store by swiping your card (or entering a pin called an alternate ID) for people who lose their cards when you make a purchase. Then every month they throw in bonus points just for visiting the store and making any type of purchase for a certain number of days. I’m a former gamer and I get crazy about my points.

  • LJ says:

    Slightly different, but my Kroger has fuel points for $0.10/gallon off of gas for every 100 points, up to $1/gallon off. You get double points (and sometimes quadruple points) on gift card purchases. I buy $75 in gas gift cards each month. That’s at least 150 points plus what I spend on groceries. If I know I’m going to make purchases at Target, Lowes, Amazon, etc., I’ll go ahead and buy gift cards to cover those purchase so I get the points. It’s great.

    • James Hennings says:

      I am very familiar with this we have Giant Eagle and they do the exact same thing it’s called “Fuelperks”. They give you .10cents off every gallon for every $50 you spent up to a certain gallon amount. I also used to work for a Giant Eagle warehouse where they gave us $50 gif cards for hitting our weekly incentives. I was a single college student at the time and rarely went to a grocery store so I initial thought was to give them away. Until my co-workers told me I could use them for gas I was pumped.

      • Travis Pizel says:

        We have a program like this at a local grocery store chain called HyVee. They have certain items on sale each week….and they also give you a certain amount off per gallon of gas too. Thanks for your comments, LJ and James!

  • Kate says:

    My sister in Florida sent me a large selection of gift cards this Christmas — mainly restaurants and coffee shops, plus Barnes & Noble. These are to share with my local sister and my Mama. We can go out to eat at a nice place sometimes, the three of us can dine at Applebee’s for $50 which we would not spend without that gift card. And my sister and I love Five Guys — a $30 gift card gave us two trips. The Dunkin Donut card bought a light repast for four of us one evening. For us old people, dining cards are a blessing.

  • Brian @ Debt Discipline says:

    We’ve picked up several for ourselves and as gifts a our local Costco for restaurant and attractions. Even once they offered the salon my wife uses for her hair, so we picked that up at a big discount.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Oh, man….I wish there would be gift cards for the salon my wife uses….as I’m sure you know, wife salon visits are spendy!

  • Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says:

    I’ve only ever come across something like this at Subway and I’ve definitely considered it!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I know in November, December Subway was having a deal where if you bought a $20 gift card you got a free sub….we certainly took advantage of that!

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