How to Get Half-Off Restaurant Meals While Traveling

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Try new restaurants and save money at the same time – just check the fine print first.

Some people are meticulous vacation planners, while others like to ditch the detailed itinerary and wing it. But a majority of travelers think about at least one thing in advance: food. A new survey from dining discount site Restaurant.com says 61 percent of respondents (out of more than 2,400) “search out local dining deals before vacationing.” Here are some other findings…

  • People want authentic food and value. Trying local flavors (66 percent) is as important as finding a good deal (65 percent).
  • But they’re still willing to spend. Despite dining out more than usual on vacation, and tons of ways to save on eating out ranging from discount gift certificates to eating early, restaurant meals average between $15 and $24 per person.
  • Online reviews are as trusted as locals. When looking for food suggestions, 29 percent ask someone from the area while 28 percent just look up reviews on sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon.
  • Big cities have big flavors. According to respondents, the best restaurant cities include New York City (67 percent), Las Vegas (36 percent), and New Orleans (34 percent).

How to save

Restaurant.com, of course, hopes you’ll “search out local dining deals” through them. And as we’ve written before, that’s actually not a bad idea.

If you’ve never heard of the site, they let you buy gift certificates for independent restaurants across the country far below face value – as much as 80 percent off if you have good timing (check on the first of the month). Restaurants do this to build new business, hoping they’ll get you hooked.

That means vacationers probably aren’t the target audience. But since you can’t stack certificates with other discounts, it’s a practical way to save when you’re traveling and don’t know the local deals. And if you don’t end up using a certificate, the site says, “Simply call Restaurant.com and we’ll exchange your certificate for one closer to home, no questions asked.”

But 80 percent off face value doesn’t mean you’ll save 80 percent on your meal – it’s more like half. As we’ve explained before, there are some catches you should know before you buy. Their certificates…

  • May come with restaurant-set conditions such as “you have to spend at least $35” or “there’s an automatic 18 percent tip.” (These will be disclosed before you buy, though.)
  • Cannot be used to pay for taxes, tips, or merchandise.
  • Cannot be combined with other gift certificates, gift cards, or coupons from Restaurant.com or elsewhere.
  • Are nonrefundable and nonreturnable.
  • Are only valid on dine-in meals unless otherwise noted.
  • Can only be redeemed once per month per restaurant. (So you can redeem certificates as often as you want, as long as you don’t use more than one at the same restaurant in a month.)

Despite those caveats, the certificates are a good way to save and test out local restaurants you might otherwise pass up for the big chains. Read the fine print and give it a go.

Stacy Johnson

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