published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

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

by Ellen Phillips

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.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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