15 restaurant loyalty programs that are worth joining — including a new ‘pancake bank’
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on Aug. 7, 2021.
School night tussles, ballet lessons, soccer practice. It sometimes feels like dinner prep takes a back seat when the afternoon hours are peppered with 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.
While small, local places may have some of the best food (so eat there when you can), the chain restaurants usually have the most popular and rewarding loyalty programs. And these types of programs are only becoming more widespread. Several major fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King introduced new loyalty programs over the years. Meanwhile, IHOP just announced the details of its new “pancake bank” rewards program.
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 place to dine while on the road.
Burger King Royalty Perks
In September, Burger King began rolling out its Royal Perks loyalty program. It offers 10 “crowns” for every $1 spent with the chain. Rewards range from 250 points to 1,400 points and can be redeemed for most menu items. Members also receive free daily perks, like upsizing drinks or fries, as well as 2x crowns through the full month of your birthday.
You can join the program through Burger King’s website or the BK App with as little information as your first name and email.
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, Red after 4,000 points and Signature after 10,000 points. Silver members earn 11 points per dollar spent, Red members earn 12 and Signature members earn 13.
Even better? All members qualify for a free birthday reward.
A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich will cost you 600 points, which is earned by spending $60 at the Member level. A Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich may sell for around $3.78, including tax. At that price, the return is $0.0063 per point.
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 with a tap. 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 Wi-Fi
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.
Dunkin Donuts DD Perks
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
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.paner
The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) has offered its MyHOP rewards program for a while now. Members get free pancakes on their birthdays and on their annual sign-up anniversary. Plus, you might be treated to special offers throughout the year. However, there has been no way to earn points on your pancakes — until now.
Come April, MyHOP will be replaced by the crypto-themed “International Bank of Pancakes.” Members will earn one PanCoin for every $5 spent. PanCoins can then be redeemed for pancakes at a rate of one coin per pancake, or traded in the “Stack Market” for other rewards like menu items and merchandise.
Although the program isn’t live yet, you can sign up now through IHOP’s website or mobile app to achieve “founding member” status and unlock special benefits. To sign up, you need to provide your basic contact information, birthday and location of the nearest IHOP.
McDonald’s introduced its new rewards program in summer 2021, replacing its previous McCafe Rewards program that was limited to coffee purchases. The McDonald’s Rewards program offers 100 points for every $1 spent at McDonald’s. Rewards start at just 1,500 points for a McChicken, hash browns, vanilla cone or cheeseburger.
In other words, it takes just $15 worth of spending to earn enough points for a reward. Rewards go as high as 6,000 points for a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder with Cheese or Happy Meal, to name a few.
If you’re new to McDonald’s Rewards, you can earn a free order of large fries just by downloading the app and joining the program.
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 MileagePlus miles at the same time.
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.
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).
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.
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 purchases charged to a gift card or a preloaded Starbucks account. Members earn 1 Starbucks Star per dollar the purchase if the order is paid for with a credit card, debit card or cash.
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 if you pay with a Starbucks gift card.
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
You’ll even earn stars at Starbucks locations in major U.S. airports, Target locations and even some grocery stores.
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, valid for anything off the menu.
- 30 points – Free non-alcoholic beverage
- 50 points – Free dessert
- 75 points – Free appetizer
- 100 points – Free burger, sandwich, or salad
- 150 points – Free classic entree
- 175 points — Free premium entree or shareable
- 250 points — Free Tsunami cake
Plus, enjoy a free dessert with the purchase of an entree on your birthday.
Wendy’s recently introduced its reward program and it offers a fairly generous reward structure. Members earn 10 points per dollar spent on all Wendy’s purchases.
These points expire 365 days after they’re earned, but that shouldn’t be an issue since there are many great options for using your rewards.
- Small Frosty – 150 points
- 4 piece Chicken Nuggets – 150 points
- Sausage Biscuit – 200 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 scanning an app at the drive-through!
Related: Best credit cards for dining out
To maximize the times when your family just has to eat out, be sure to also join an airline dining program and link your credit card that offers additional rewards at restaurants. When eating out, TPG is partial to the American Express® Gold Card, which awards 4 points per dollar at restaurants and comes with a monthly $10 Uber Cash (up to $120 annually), valid on UberEats orders in the U.S. (Card must be added in Uber account to receive Uber Cash benefit; enrollment required).
Alternately, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on every dollar spent on dining.
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.
Additional reporting by Poornima Apte, Samantha Rosen and Benji Stawski.
Featured photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images.
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