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Restaurant discount cards comparison: will they save you cash?
- Kevin Fullerton
- 28 September 2021
There are plenty of discount cards in the UK offering reduced prices on restaurant meals – but are they worth the subscription fee?
Restaurant discount cards are the perfect way to enjoy cut-price food when you're eating out. But that's not all they're for. Also known as discount dining cards, these subscription services have become an essential way for bargain hunters to look for cheap nights out at the cinema or low prices on hotel rooms.
Yet these discount cards come with a fee of their own – most will cost you an annual subscription of between £30 and £60 – so are they worth it? We've compiled this list of questions to help you make an informed decision on whether you should pay for a restaurant discount card.
What are restaurant discount cards?
Restaurant discount cards provide you with offers from a huge catalogue of eateries in exchange for an annual subscription fee, so you'll be able to eat out without a whopping bill landing on your table at the end of a meal. Which savings you can enjoy depends on the card you choose (we cover that in more detail below).
Nowadays, most companies won't literally send you a lump of plastic to store in your purse or wallet. Instead, you sign up for a scheme and download an app to show to participating venues.
Are dining cards exclusively for food?
As the market for restaurant discount cards has grown more competitive, so too have companies expanded the range of membership deals they provide, with offers available on cinemas, days out, nights at the theatre, streaming services and takeaway food.
Most discount card services also provide a second tier which offers a range of additional savings on retail outlets and other outings, as well as even greater reductions on restaurants.
What are best restaurant discount cards in the UK?
There are currently seven well regarded restaurant discount cards available in the UK:
- Dine Club
- Gourmet Society
- Hi-Life Diners Club
- Meerkat Meals
- Vodafone Eat Local
Beyond these options, there are also many regional discount cards available online.
What discounts are on offer?
Each card offers different deals:
- Restaurants on Tastecard's roster offer either two-for-one or 50% off deals
- Dine Club offers either two-for-one, 50% off or 25% off your bill
- Meerkat Meals offers two-for-one on meals
- The Gourmet Society offers either 25% off food and drink, two-for-one meals, or 50% off food
- Hi-Life offers 20% off the bill
- Stevie predominantly offer two-for-one on meals but has a wide variety of deals
- Vodafone Eat Local offers 25% off food and drink, 50% off food only, or two-for-one on meals
The deal you receive will depend on the restaurant you visit. Check ahead before booking.
Do restaurant discount cards offer free trials?
There are trial periods for most restaurant discount cards. Here are some of the best offers on the market right now:
- Tastecard – 60 day free trial. You can cancel the trial any point, giving you ample time to give it a test drive.
- The Gourmet Society – 60 day free trial. Again, we'd say that's more than enough time to have a few meals and decide if the card fits your lifestyle.
- Dine Club – one month free, then half price for a year.
There are plenty of other offers on restaurant discount cards throughout the year, so keep your eyes peeled.
Are there restrictions on restaurant discount cards?
Restaurants don't agree to give you discounts for the good of their health. They do it to lure in customers during times when they'd otherwise be quiet. It's for this reason that most venues participating in discount schemes don't accept cards on weekends, and many restaurants won't accept them over the festive period or on special occasions like Valentine's Day.
As you might expect, there are a few more restrictions on cards. Most will only accept discounts on parties of two, and you'll usually be expected to book in advance and let a restaurant know that you're a card holder.
Which restaurants are available?
Each card offers its own roster of restaurants to customers, but most provide discount codes for large chains like Pizza Hut, Zizzi, Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge, Pizza Express, Ask Italian and more. All discount card options we've listed above have search bars on their site, so you can find a restaurant to suit you and check for special dietary requirements like vegetarianism or veganism.
Some discount cards also have better coverage in some regions than others. We recommend checking out which restaurants are affiliated with discount cards in your area before you sign up to one.
Is a restaurant discount card the right choice for me?
There are plenty of benefits to signing up for a restaurant discount card, but you'll want to weigh your options before purchasing.
If you love nothing more than finding a variety of restaurants on your doorstep, or travel regularly for work and want to reduce your food expenses, then any dining card is perfect for you. And if you're a film buff, then the discounts on cinema tickets are a welcome feature. Similarly, the extra savings on hotels and evenings out are a boon if you're planning a staycation in the near future.
If you're more of a home bird, then saving cash on streaming and takeaways could persuade you to subscribe. Most of these features were added by discount card providers during the pandemic to persuade customers to retain their subscription, but they show no sign of disappearing from services soon.
But if you enjoy a more impulsive evening's dining then cards probably won't work for you, and you're unlikely to make the most of what a discount card has to offer in areas with little coverage.
We recommend trying a free trial before jumping into the deep end of a subscription to make sure a discount card fits with your lifestyle. Either way, it's time to enjoy some savings.