When I noticed recently that Restaurant.com — one of my favorite dining programs — is having a huge sale this week (only $2 for a $25 certificate), I shared the information with my friends on Facebook along with a tip about how to save even more by shopping through Rakuten (formerly Ebates). Since such sales are fairly common, I’m reposting that thread here, so my blog readers will also know how to save money dining out with Restaurant.com and Rakuten.
Here’s my original post:
One of the ways our family likes to save money while traveling is by eating at restaurants I find through Restaurant.com. I always wait to buy dining certificates (normally $10 for a $25 gift certificate) until they drop the price to $2 — which they’ve done again this week. If you buy through Rakuten, you’ll get an additional 20% cash back, dropping the final price to $1.60 for a $25 dining certificate.
I stock up during this sale by getting generic certificates, then decide later which restaurants to use them at, depending on where we travel. If you don’t already use Rakuten, you can access using my affiliate link (they’ll give you $10 credit for doing so if you’re a new user), then type “restaurant.com” in the search bar at the top of the page to take advantage of this great deal.
Our family has been saving money with Restaurant.com and Rakuten for years, so it seems like a super-simple process to us. But my friends were full of questions as to how exactly it works. So I decided to post all those Q&A here, in case my other readers might also be interested but unsure how to proceed.
QUESTION: Double the savings?
Can you use two certificates at the same time?
ANSWER: Only one at a time
No, you can only use one certificate per visit. And the minimum purchase required is normally double the amount of the certificate (in other words, a $25 certificate can be used toward any tab of $50 or more).
Different restaurants offer different denominations of certificates, from $5 or $10 certificates (good toward a $10 or $20 purchase) up to $100 certificates (good toward a tab of $200). Those larger denominations come in handy when feeding our big crew!
Whenever I’m purchasing a gift certificate for a new restaurant, I first check out the menu (you’ll find a direct link under the Restaurant.com listing) to get an idea of how much our family would likely spend eating a meal there, then I purchase a gift certificate for half that amount.
QUESTION: What do you mean by generic?
When you say generic certificate, are you saying you can buy a credit for any restaurant.com restaurant to redeem later? Or do you just mean restaurants that you know will be available while traveling? Like chains that are common?
ANSWER: Generic certificates are redeemable at any restaurant in the program.
It is possible to buy generic gift certificates to use later — there is a link at the bottom of the Restaurant.com site to do so, and you can usually find that option under the “specials” tab, as well. However, the price on the generic certificates is slightly higher during this particular sale.
But since the restaurant-specific gift certificates never expire and can be exchanged, no questions asked, a better option would be to buy multiple certificates to a nearby restaurant, then exchange any of those you don’t use for restaurants you want to try when you travel. Of course, you could also just use them as is for savings when you eat out locally. For $1.60 (after rebate) it is certainly worth checking out.
QUESTION: How hard is it to make exchanges?
How do you exchange gift certificates between restaurants?
ANSWER: Exchanges are super simple.
Once you buy a certificate, you will see it in your profile under “Restaurant Certificates.” Next to each certificate are two options: “View Certificate” (so you can print and use it) or “Exchange Certificate.” If you click on exchange, the credit will be immediately available to use at a different Restaurant.com restaurant (just hit “redeem now”). Or, if you don’t want to use it immediately, choose “redeem later” and you’ll see the credit listed under “gift cards” which you can use whenever you’re ready. The certificates never expire.
Not only do these Restaurant.com certificates save us a bundle when we travel, but they make date nights more affordable, as well!
QUESTION: Will I find food I like?
What kind of restaurants participate in these programs?
ANSWER: You’ll find everything from fast food to fancy five-star feasts.
You’ll find a broad variety of restaurants and cuisines accept restaurant.com certificates. We’ve used our vouchers at everything from pizza joints and food trucks to five-star restaurants and fine dining establishments. And we’ve discovered some fabulous mom & pop diners we probably would’ve never found otherwise.
It’s easy to search for participating restaurants on the restaurant.com site. Just type in a city name or zip code to get a full listing.
If you’re interested in giving this money-saving method a try, start by creating a free Rakuten account, so you’ll be ready to go next time Restaurant.com runs this special (which is normally once every 6-8 weeks). Then just remember to access the Restaurant.com site through Rakuten to get extra cashback on your purchase (up to 20%, depending on the current promption).
PRO TIP: To insure you never miss another cashback opportunity, install a free Rakuten button in your browser. And for even further savings, use your restaurant.com certificates whenever you can at restaurants that also offer kids eat free programs, happy hours with half-price appetizers, or airline miles with food purchase. Bon appétit!