Phillips: Certificates and online gifts let you eat out for less

Phillips: Certificates and online gifts let you eat out for less

February 25th, 2012 by Ellen Phillips in Business Around the Region

Continuing with last week's column regarding dining free or on a penny ante amount, consider the following:

• Kids' Night offers - Go to www.out for a calendar showing where the little ones can eat for free or cheap every night of the week.

• Tapas-style meals - Many restaurants offer tapas (appetizer)-style dishes for $3 to $6 per order.

• Customer surveys - These surveys usually earn you a free meal, as well as giving the opportunity for some consumer input. For example, Arby's gives you a free roast beef sandwich and Burger King offers a free Whopper.

• Thank you rewards - I recently cashed in my Citibank business credit card's points and received several dining cards to Panera, Olive Garden and others. I doubt I'd ever earn enough points to fly free so I may as well eat free (or not-so-free when I take into consideration how much I originally spent for the service). Amex cashes in for The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang's or Bonefish Grill.

• AAA membership - Show your Triple A membership card for a 10 percent discount on food and non-booze beverages at chains like Hard Rock Café. Check for participating restaurants.

• Give Me More Stripes - This program, sponsored by TGI Friday, earns a certificate for every $100 you spend. Plus, you'll receive a coupon for a free appetizer.

• Happy Birthday - Reap rewards for your entire birthday month by going online to your favorite restaurants' sites. Ben and Jerry, for example, offers free ice cream, while Red Robin sends a voucher for a free burger. Many more establishments love to send happy eating birthday wishes.

• House wine - Skip this step to save on your bill. Not only are house wines usually marked up, but they're often lower-quality. You're better off selecting one of the cheapest options on the wine list, which likely is of higher quality.

Tax Tip: If you bought a big-ticket item, such as a boat or RV, before Dec. 31, the sales tax deduction becomes a nice advantage for Tennessee residents. Since we don't pay state income tax, check the IRS' tables and online calculator to figure the amount; just add the large sales tax amount to the amounts from Uncle Sam's tables or calculator.