It's easy to see the appeal of dining out: good food, nice ambiance, and someone else has to do the dishes. But all that delicious convenience can be expensive.
In fact, the average American spends about $3,365 a year, or roughly $280 a month, on dining, according to a sample budget based on the latest spending data available from the location intelligence firm Esri.
But there are some easy ways to offset these costs if you use the right credit card. We analyzed 34 popular rewards cards using an average American's annual budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best options based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
Choose a card from our list and you could earn you over $100 a year on restaurant spending. Some also offer excellent rewards on grocery shopping, too, in case you want to eat in from time to time.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top credit cards for restaurants and dining out:
4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then it drops to 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases
35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
See rates and fees
Who's this for? The American Express® Gold Card is an ideal credit card for food lovers, offering a high 4X Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Cardholders also earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on the American Express Travel website and 1X Membership Rewards® points on all other purchases.
Membership Rewards® points value varies depending on how cardholders redeem them. You can use them in a variety of ways, from paying with points at checkout to redeeming for gift cards or a statement credit to booking travel. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)
Beyond rewards points, this card offers great additional perks that help offset the $250 annual fee. Cardholders can benefit from an annual $120 dining credit ($10 a month) at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations. In addition, there's a $100 annual airline fee credit for transactions like seat upgrades and checked bags.
If you take advantage of all the annual credits, the annual fee is effectively $30. This card also provides money-saving Amex Offers that can earn you a statement credit or additional Membership Rewards® points at select businesses. For example, a recent offer for Il Mulino restaurant in New York City gives cardholders a $20 statement credit if they spend $100 of more. These offers are location-based and additional terms apply.
3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
18.99% to 25.99%, based on your credit score
5%, minimum $5
Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is geared toward foodies and frequent travelers who are looking for luxurious perks, such as free airport lounge access and complimentary hotel room upgrades. Cardholders earn a competitive 3X points on dining and travel worldwide.
The value of Chase rewards points varies depending on how you use them. If you redeem points for cash and gift cards, each point is worth $.01, which means that 100 points equals $1 in redemption value. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)
This card has a unique benefit where all points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 redeemed toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This perk is a great way to get the most value for your rewards.
While this card has a robust rewards program, it also comes with a steep $450 annual fee. All the card's added credits and benefits provided by Chase can help offset the annual cost. The $300 annual travel credit effectively reduces the annual fee to $150. Cardholders can take advantage of a Priority Pass™ Select membership that has a value of about $429. They also get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit of up to $100 every four years.
4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through May 31, 2020, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
$95, waived the first year
0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months that your account is open
16.24% to 25.24%
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card is one of the few cash back cards that offers unlimited 4% cash back on dining purchases. This card allows you to maximize rewards on fast food, restaurants, ice cream trips and more. Plus, you can enjoy foodie-centric perks, such as free Postmates Unlimited membership through December 2019, which gets you free delivery on orders over $15.
This card is also a good choice for people who regularly attend entertainment events, such as concerts and plays, since those transactions earn unlimited 4% cash back. Additionally, you get exclusive access to premier culinary experiences, sports and music events, such as the NYC Wine and Food Festival and iHeartRadio Music Festival.
If you buy a lot of resale event tickets, consider using this card since you earn 8% cash back on all Vivid Seats ticket purchases through May 31, 2020.
3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases
30,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
15.74% to 27.74%
Introductory fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each balance transfer, whichever is greater, for 120 days from account opening. After that, up to 5% for each balance transfer, with a minimum of $5
Who's this for? Whether you dine out or eat in, this card is a great way to maximize dining rewards — all with no annual fee. The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a well-rounded card that offers unlimited 3X points per dollar spent on dining out, ordering in, travel and a number of streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio Inc. and Spotify Premium.
Frequent travelers will like this card because it gives you points not just on flights and hotels but also car rentals, homestays and ridesharing services. There are no blackout dates on flights booked through Go Far® Rewards.
Cardholders can take advantage of a cell phone protection for damage to or theft of your phone up to $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12-month period ($25 deductible applies and you must pay your cell phone bill with your card to qualify).
This card provides strong financing options with a year of no interest on purchases and balance transfers. (After the introductory period there's a 15.74% to 27.74% variable APR.) If you have expected upcoming expenses that you want to pay for over time, or you're looking to consolidate debt, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card can help you finance debt without incurring interest charges.
3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
Earn a one-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
0% APR for first 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
15.74% to 25.74%
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? Food lovers who want to earn more rewards at restaurants but don't want to pay an annual fee should consider the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, which provides one of the highest rewards rates on dining at 3%.
New cardholders can also benefit from one of the best welcome bonuses available now — $150 after you spend $500 within the first three months of account opening, which works out to 30% cash back.
In addition, there's an introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers — great for financing new purchases or refinancing debt. After that, it's 16.24% to 26.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
Similar to the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, this card is also good for consumers who enjoy attending concerts, sporting events, plays and other entertainment events, offering 3% cash back on those purchases as well as access to exclusive events. Compared to the Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, the SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card holders earn 1% less cash back on dining and entertainment purchases, but benefit from no annual fee.
To determine which cards offer the best value for dining out, CNBC Select analyzed 34 of the most popular credit cards offered by the biggest banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join and offer bonus rewards on dining out. Bonus rewards means a cardholder earns 2% or 2 points per dollar in a given category. In this case, restaurants.
We compared each card on a range of features, including cash-back rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit score and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.
CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2018 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $21,852 in retail spending. This budget is comprised of the most common spending categories, including groceries ($5,019), gas ($2,394), dining out ($3,365), travel ($2,154), utilities ($4,959) and general purchases ($3,961). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.
CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.
It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)
Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.
While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.