12 restaurant loyalty programs that are worth joining

Jul 29, 2020

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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. Given that 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 sting out of it, many restaurants offer fun dining programs with incentives and rewards to whet appetites and keep even the finickiest eaters drooling for more.

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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 you find yourself ordering takeout 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.

In This Post

Chick-fil-A One

TPG has already done a full deep-dive on Chick-fil-A’s rewards program, which is revenue-based and even has elite status tiers. At the Member level, you earn 10 points per dollar. You can earn Silver status after earning 1,000 points in a year or Red after 5,000 points. Silver members earn 11 points per dollar spent while Red members earn 12.

All members qualify for a free birthday reward, while Silver and Red members can gift rewards to family and friends.

Image courtesy of chick fil a
Image courtesy of Chick-fil-a

A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich will cost you 500 points, which is earned by spending $50 at the Member level. A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich may sell for around $3.78, including tax. At that price, the return is $0.00756 per point. 

A breakfast Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit sells for about $2.69 and costs 350 points, providing a return of $0.0076 per point. At times, some bonus rewards may also appear in your account, making this a terrific program.

Related: The best credit cards for dining out, taking out and ordering in

My Chili’s Rewards

Loyalty wins at this family-friendly restaurant where members get free chips, salsa or a non-alcoholic beverage if they visit every 60 days and spend at least $5 each time. My Chili’s Rewards points can be used for 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.

  • Personalized rewards in the form of free kids meals, appetizers, desserts and more 
  • Free dessert on your birthday 
  • Free Wifi
Photo courtesy of Chili’s
Photo courtesy of Chili’s

Chipotle Rewards

Chipotle’s rewards program is open to all. Members earn 10 points for every dollar spent with 1,250 points nabbing a free entree. Your entree rewards expire after 60 days, so be sure to use them before that.

Occasionally, Chipotle will offer bonus points on select days or in exchange for trying new menu items.

Chipotle store in NYC
NEW YORK, NEW YORK — FEBRUARY 8: People walk past a Chipotle restaurant on Broadway in Lower Manhattan on February 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

Related: Guide to the Chipotle Rewards loyalty program

Dunkin Donuts DD Perks

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Dunkin’s loyalty program, DD Perks, will get you five points for every $1 spent. When you earn 200 points (after spending $40), you’ll get a free beverage. The coffee chain also boasts some exclusive bonus-point offers and a partnership with Shell that offers 10 cents off per gallon for every five drinks purchases.

Because we know you’re eyeing a cup of Joe before your early morning flight, you can rest assured that you’ll still be earning points at the airport. Sometimes, depending on where you are, Dunkin’s coffee is the best thing around for miles.

Domino’s Piece of the Pie

(Image courtesy of Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)
(Image courtesy of Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.)

Domino’s Piece of the Pie program is pretty straightforward. Every time you place an order of at least $10 with Domino’s (tips and donations excluded), you’ll earn 10 points in the chain’s Piece of the Pie Rewards program. After you earn 60 points, you can redeem them for a free medium, two-topping pizza — although you can continue to earn points and cash out for multiple pizzas if you want. Just keep in mind that points expire after 180 days of account inactivity.

Related: How to earn 1,000 Southwest points the next time you dine out

IHOP 

Got kids who would like nothing better than a stack of silver dollars morning, noon and night? The MyHOP 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 into 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 the nearest IHOP.

IHOP
(Photo courtesy of IHOP)

Panera

We know, we know: You love the Passion Papa Green Tea, too. If you find yourself frequently grabbing Panera during your lunch breaks, do yourself a favor and sign up for its loyalty program. It’s called MyPanera and with it, you’ll have access to exclusive sneak peeks, menu updates and even information on local events.

Of course, you’ll also earn rewards for all the food you buy, although it’s not quite clear how you actually earn these rewards. While Panera doesn’t explicitly say how much you have to spend to get rewards, you’ll get closer to a free pastry or sweet after each visit.

Better yet, if you play your cards right and buy a Panera e-gift card through United’s MileagePlus X app, you’ll earn United miles at the same time.

(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Papa John’s Rewards

Pizza lovers, rejoice! The Papa John’s Rewards program Edition 2.0 offers points faster so you can indulge without too much guilt. Online, through the app or at participating stores, the rewards program offers 1 point per dollar spent. For 75 points, you get $10 in Papa Dough, which can be redeemed for anything at Papa John’s. 

Also, six purchases get you $10 in Pap Dough while 11 purchases get you $20 in PapaDough – as long as your average order is $14.

Related: Earn bonus points on takeout with these dining rewards programs

Pizza 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 (200 points) or a large ANY pizza (300 points). 

Image courtesy of Pizza Hut
Image courtesy of Pizza Hut

Red Robin Royalty

Loyalty = Royalty at Red Robin, which has lots of options for kid-friendly dining. Red Robin Royalty members every 10th item free, plus $20 toward a sixth visit after completing five visits within five weeks of signing up.

Members also get a free burger on their birthdays, along with “surprise rewards” all year round. Teacher or a veteran? These special categories of royalty get exclusive surprises when they sign up for the program.

Starbucks

Starbucks Reserve
Starbucks Reserve storefront in Palm Springs, CA (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

If you’re a coffee aficionado, joining the Starbucks loyalty program will get you a free coffee before you can say “Venti iced skinny hazelnut Macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip.” They made some changes to their rewards program back in April 2019

Under the new tiered structure, Starbucks Rewards members earn two Starbucks Stars per dollar on all purchases. All you have to do is load a credit or gift card into the Starbucks app and use it to pay for your food or beverage.

Say, for example, you get a simple Venti iced coffee for $2.95 and the spinach-and-feta breakfast wrap for $3.75 (plus tax). You’d earn 13 stars for that one visit alone.

Here’s a break-down of how you can redeem your Starbucks rewards:

  • 25 stars: Extra espresso shot, dairy substitute or additional flavor
  • 50 stars: Brewed hot coffee, hot tea or select bakery items
  • 150 stars: Handcrafted drink, hot breakfast or yogurt parfaits
  • 200 stars: Lunch sandwich, protein box or salad
  • 400 stars: Select merchandise or packaged coffee

While you’ll even earn stars at U.S. airports, Target locations and even some grocery stores, we’re still crossing our fingers (and toes) that more airports will allow mobile ordering in the (very) near future.

Related: Best credit cards to use at Starbucks

TGI Fridays

TGIFridays
(Photo courtesy of TGIFridays)

There is such a thing as instant gratification with TGI Fridays 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 anything off the menu. 

  • 50 points –  Free dessert
  • 80 points – Free sandwich or burger
  • 90 points – Free select burger
  • 100 points – Free chicken salad, select entree or $8 off food purchase
  • 150 points – Free ribs or steak entree

More goodies include a complimentary treat at every visit, a free dessert with the purchase of an entree on your birthday and a chance to preview new menu additions. Are the 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 after every third visit.

Wendy’s Rewards

A busy Wendy
(Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images)

Wendy’s recently introduced its reward program and it offers a fairly generous reward structure.  Members earn 10 points per $1 spent on all Wendy’s purchases. For a limited time, members earn 2x points on their first purchase.

These points expire 365 days after they’re earned, but that shouldn’t be an issue since there are so many great options for using your rewards.

  • Small Frosty – 150 points
  • 4 piece Chicken Nuggets – 150 points
  • Sausage Biscuit – 150 points
  • Small Seasoned Breakfast Potatoes – 200 points
  • Small Fry – 200 points
  • Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger – 300 points
  • Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit – 400 points
  • Breakfast Baconator – 450
  • Dave’s Single – 450
  • Premium Chicken Sandwich (Spicy, Homestyle or Grilled) – 500
  • Baconator – 700
  • Full-Sized Salad – 700

A full-sized salad costs about $8.50 depending on your store location. Since it takes $70 worth of spending to earn enough points for that salad, you’re getting about a 12% return on your spending. Not bad for simply scanning an app at the drive-through!

Bottom line

To maximize the times your family just has to eat out, be sure to also 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 restaurants. When eating out, TPG 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 take the time to do it. You’ll save some money and earn extra perks along the way.

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

Additional reporting by Samantha Rosen and Ariana Arghandewal

Featured image by rawpixel on Unsplash.

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