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

Apr 15, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

How I earned $80 on a single restaurant charge

Dinner at Empire Steakhouse in NYC
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

Seated app rewards partner list and app screen shot
(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.

Seated reservation for Empire Steakhouse
(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

Dosh app partner list screenshot
(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.

Dosh earning at Empire Steakhouse
(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

Alaska Airlines plane landing in San Jose
(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.

Empire Steakhouse earnings with Alaska Mileage Plan Dining rewards
(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

Amex Gold card
(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.

Empire Steakhouse Amex Gold earning
(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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.