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School night tussles, ballet lessons, soccer practice. Sometimes it feels like dinner prep usually takes a backseat when the afternoon hours are peppered with a plethora of activities for busy families. The weekends are often no better — think sports games, recitals and birthday parties. Given that family mealtime is also one of the best for quality conversations, what can be done to make the process less of a chore for modern working families? Eating out is a fun option, but the expense can add up quickly. To take the pinch off, many family-friendly restaurants offer fun dining programs with incentives and rewards to whet appetites and keep even the finickiest eaters drooling for more.

child ordering off restaurant menu
(Photo by Blend Images – Inti St Clair / Getty Images)

While small, local joints may have some of the best food (so eat there when you can), it is the chain restaurants that usually have the most popular and certainly widespread rewards programs. So, in case your family finds themselves eating out at some chain restaurants from time to time, here is how to earn restaurant rewards in addition to the credit card rewards that you were hopefully already enjoying. This can help when life gets busy at home, or you just need a familiar joint to dine while on the road.

My Chili’s Rewards

Loyalty wins at this family-friendly restaurant where members get free chips, salsa and a nonalcoholic beverage if they visit every 60 days and spend at least $5 each time. My Chili’s Rewards‘ perks can include free kids’ meals, appetizers and desserts. Chili’s custom app makes it easy for families to order their favorites: just one tap should do it. The app also lets members check out their rewards and scan them all seamlessly on the tableside kiosk. Join by sharing contact info, birthday, email and the Chili’s location you’re likely to visit most often.

(Photo courtesy of Chili
(Photo courtesy of Chili’s)

TGIFridays

There is such a thing as instant gratification with TGIFridays’ Fridays Rewards™ program. Sign up at a local Fridays and you instantly get a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert. Members accumulate a point for every dollar spent on food, which can be redeemed for more food from the kid-friendly menu. More goodies include a complimentary treat at every visit, a free dessert on your birthday month and a chance to preview new menu additions. Signing up requires providing email, phone number, name, ZIP code and birthday at nearest location. Kids feeling antsy? Member families can take advantage of a special Jump the Line pass that lets them skip to the front of the line every third visit.

TGIFridays

IHOP eClub

Got kids who would like nothing better than a stack of silver dollars morning, noon and night? The IHOP eClub loyalty program from the International House of Pancakes might just be the thing. Members get free pancakes on their birthdays and also on the annual sign-up anniversary. Get clued in to local updates and offers and shorten wait times by ordering online before you get there. Join by providing basic contact information, birthday and location of nearest IHOP.

IHOP
(Photo courtesy of IHOP)

Olive Garden Rewards

The points stack up almost as quickly as Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks when you belong to the Olive Garden Rewards program. Members earn a $5 reward after they sign up with contact information and birth date, and complete the first transaction. The rewards program gives one point for nearly every dollar spent, which can add up pretty quickly for families. Members can redeem points for meals at Olive Garden and sister restaurants, such as Longhorn Steakhouse. A free dessert, for example, (which you can also get on your birthday), will cost you 100 points, as will a kid’s meal.

Olive Garden
(Photo courtesy of Olive Garden)

Red Robin Royalty

Loyalty = Royalty at the restaurant, which has lots of options for kid-friendly dining. Red Robin Royalty members, who sign up with an email address, get treated like royalty here. You earn $20 toward a sixth visit when you visit five times in the first five weeks after signing on. Every 10th item is free for members who also get a free burger on their birthdays. Members qualify for surprise fun treats all year round. Teacher or a veteran? These special categories of royalty get exclusive surprises when they sign up for the program.

Denny’s Rewards

Exclusive rewards galore when you join the Denny’s Rewards loyalty program and the perks begin right away: You get 20% off the next visit when you sign up with contact details and birthday. Denny’s has an extensive kids’ menu and also a Fit Fare menu for lighter options, which make the restaurant an attractive proposition for families.

(Photo courtesy of Denny
(Photo courtesy of Denny’s)

Papa John’s Rewards

Pizza lovers, rejoice! The Papa John’s Rewards program Edition 2.0 offers points faster so families can indulge without too much guilt. Online, through the app or at participating stores, the rewards program gives 1 point per dollar spent, which can be redeemed for any food at Papa John’s. 75 points = $10, which can be applied as Papa Dough to the foods that kids love. Join by sharing contact details and birth date.

Pizza Hut Hut Rewards

Joining Hut Rewards is a snap, and if your family feasts on Pizza Hut pizza often, you’ll quickly be on your way to some free food. Earn 2 points for every dollar spent and redeem points for items like breadsticks (75 points), a medium two-topping pizza (150 points) or a large ANY pizza (250 points). Enroll online at Pizza Hut’s website.

Chick-fil-A Rewards

TPG has already done a full deep-dive on this new chicken rewards program, but this fast food restaurant program even has elite status tiers in its revenue-based program. At the Member Level you earn 10 points per dollar, so that would mean you have to spend $100 per year at Chick-fil-A to earn Silver status. You earn 11 points per dollar at the Silver level and 12 at the highest Red level.

Image courtesy of Chick Fil A

A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich will cost you 500 points, which is earned by $50 in spending at the Member level. A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich may sell for around $3.78, including tax. At that price, the points return is $0.00756 per point. A breakfast Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit may sell for about $2.68 and cost 350 points, providing a return of $0.0076 per point. At times, some bonus rewards may also appear in your account!

Chipotle Rewards

If you live in Phoenix, Kansas City (both in Kansas and Missouri) or Columbus, Ohio, you may be able to participate in Chipotle’s pilot program of its points-based rewards program. Members earn 10 points for every dollar spent with 1,250 points nabbing a free entree.

Bottom Line

We didn’t call out Starbucks specifically since it isn’t a restaurant, but for sure join its rewards program if you ever find yourself needing a cup of familiar coffee. To maximize the times your family just has to eat out, also be sure to join an airline dining program (some of the above mentioned chains may participate) and link your credit card that offers additional points/miles per dollar spend at US restaurants. When eating out, TPG Family is partial to the American Express® Gold Card, which awards 4 points per dollar on dining, or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3x points on every dollar spent at restaurants.

Casual dining franchises across the United States are undergoing a makeover and wooing families with special treats, early sneak peeks at new menu items and birthday treats. Joining rewards programs is a snap so make the time to do it to save some money or earn extra perks along the way.

What’s your favorite family-friendly chain restaurant and dining rewards program?

Featured image by rawpixel on Unsplash

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