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Expert stacking: How I earned $80 in cash back and rewards from one dinner

April 15, 2021
7 min read
Table set at a nice restaurant
Expert stacking: How I earned $80 in cash back and rewards from one dinner
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My girlfriend's birthday was in early March — shortly after indoor dining reopened in New York City.

After months of eating outside or in our apartment, we were vaccinated and comfortable enough to go back inside a restaurant and have our first meal out in NYC since indoor dining closed again in December.

She decided on a steakhouse, so I started researching some of the best (reasonably priced) in New York City. I landed on Empire Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan after asking around for recommendations online. We had a great time; the food was excellent and the drinks were great. I can't wait to go back for another special occasion.

The damage, however, was $281.60 after tip. Not terrible for a steak dinner, sides and drinks for two, but it's a steep bill nonetheless. Thankfully, I was able to get my effective cost down to roughly $200 by creatively stacking a handful of offers and using the right credit card to pay for our meal.

In this article, I'll show you how dining out one evening earned me roughly $80 in value. I'll break down the services I stacked and discuss the card I used to pay for the meal. In the process, I'll show you how you can maximize your own dining expenses.

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How I earned $80 on a single restaurant charge

My girlfriend's birthday dinner at Empire Steakhouse. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

The key to earning more rewards on your dining is stacking multiple promotions like dining programs, cash-back apps and booking reservations with a lucrative booking service. Here's a breakdown of how I stacked rewards on my girlfriend's birthday dinner and how much I earned per service. Again, the total tab was $281.60 after tax and tip.

Booking a reservation with Seated: $18 in gift cards

(Screenshot courtesy of Seated)

Seated is an app that rewards you on restaurant reservations, pickup and delivery. You'll earn a certain percentage of your total bill back in the form of rewards dollars. These can be redeemed for gift cards at merchants like Apple, Amazon, Delta Air Lines, Uber and others. I personally redeem my rewards for Delta and Uber gift cards.

Different restaurants give a different amount of cash back, and it varies daily. I booked our reservation at Empire Steakhouse through Seated when the restaurant offered 8% back before tip. I simply booked my reservation and uploaded a photo of the receipt to the platform after I paid the bill. The $18 reward was credited to my Seated account shortly thereafter.

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(Screenshot courtesy of Seated)

This was a simply-earned $18 and sure beat the 100 points I would've earned with OpenTable. I highly recommend downloading Seated and checking if your restaurant of choice participates before you book a restaurant reservation. The app also has walk-in rewards you can earn if you're already sitting down for a meal.

Related: App review: Seated rewards for dining out

Linking my credit card to Dosh: $14.08 cash back

(Screenshot courtesy of Dosh)

Dosh awards cash back when you swipe your credit card at participating merchants. Simply link your desired card to the Dosh app and you'll start earning cash back automatically. The amount you'll earn depends on the merchant you're shopping with and you can cash out your rewards through PayPal or Venmo when you have at least $25 in your account. Cash back is earned in addition to your credit card rewards.

(Screenshot courtesy of Dosh)

Empire Steakhouse offers 5% cash back through Dosh, and the award is calculated post-tip. In the end, I scored $14.08 cash back from this purchase alone. This is as good as a $14.08 discount since I cashed out the reward and applied it to my American Express bill at the end of the month.

Related: Use these tips to maximize earnings on your next food delivery order

Used Alaska Mileage Plan Dining: 1,408 Alaska miles, worth $25.34

(Photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock)

Empire Steakhouse also participates in Rewards Network. This company runs airline and hotel dining programs that award points and miles pay for meals at select restaurants with a linked card. I use the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining Program regularly because I find Alaska miles to be the most valuable airline miles.

I'm a VIP member with Alaska Dining, so I earned 5x points per dollar spent on our post-tip tab through the program. I ended up earning 1,408 points through the program, equal to $25.34 under TPG's most recent valuation. Again, these points are earned in addition to the points earned with my credit card, Dosh and Seated.

(Screenshot courtesy of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Dining Rewards)

Most major airlines have their own dining rewards programs. Sign up with the program whose miles you value the most and link your credit cards. Then, you'll earn bonus miles whenever you dine out at a participating restaurant. This can lead to a nice haul of miles when paying for expensive dinners for work or on special occasions.

Related: 10 restaurant loyalty programs that are worth joining

Paid with my Amex Gold card: 1,126 Amex points, worth $22.53

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

The American Express® Gold Card has long been one of my favorite cards for dining at restaurants and grocery expenses at U.S. supermarkets. It earns 4x points per dollar spent on restaurant purchases, which is a cool 8% return based on TPG's 2.0 cents per point valuation of American Express Membership Rewards points. It's easy to get more value from these points if you redeem for aspirational flights, like Lufthansa first class or Qatar Airways Qsuites.

Since the bill was $281.60, I earned roughly 1,126 Amex points. This is equal to $22.53 per out valuations, bringing me to a grand total of $79.95 in value from our dinner at Empire Steakhouse.

(Screenshot courtesy of American Express)

Interested in opening an Amex Gold card? Here's the current welcome offer:

  • American Express® Gold Card: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months of account opening. However, some readers have been targeted for up to 75,000-point bonus by using the CardMatch tool (offer subject to change at any time). Terms apply.

Related: Great for foodies: American Express Gold card review

Bottom line

A night out at a fancy restaurant can be expensive, but you can stack your rewards to offset some of the cost. In this case, I was able to get $79.95 — or 28% of the bill — back in various rewards currencies. Some points, some cash back and some gift cards. Bookmark this article and refer to it the next time you're planning a night out — you may end up earning a ton of rewards in the process.

Feature photo by arturasker/Shutterstock

Featured image by (Photo by arturasker/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.