It’s no secret that I love food! Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life; it’s not uncommon for me to spend all day thinking about what I’m going to eat. Especially if I find some good restaurant discounts.
I can spend hours imagining a bowl of homemade pasta or a few slices of my favourite pizza (the pizza no one likes, Puttanesca with olives, capers and anchovies).
Then I think about dessert, ice cream cake or cream and jam-filled doughnuts; how I manage to stay slim surprises all my family and me. Sadly, in reality, there’s much thinking and not much eating.
One of my favourite pass times is meal planning (preferably cooked by someone else). But with the cost of eating out on the rise, I have been looking for exciting ways to finance my eating habit without taking away all the pleasure of dining out.
Here’s what I’ve found so far:
Cashback can help to finance your pizza habit!
You’re missing out on free money if you’re not using a cashback site. With TopCashBack, you can get cash back on your restaurant bill. You can do this simply by following the link to the restaurant’s website before you make your booking.
There are loads of restaurants to choose from, and the amount of cashback varies from place to place. For example, at the moment, you can get 5% cash back at Nando’s (via Deliveroo), £12 cashback at Able and Cole and £7.87 back with a tastecard – the tastecard gives you a discount at all sorts of watering holes.
To maximise your chances of getting cashback, it’s worth checking the site before you book, as offers are constantly changing. You can also sign up for free email alerts to never miss a deal.
Get free (or cheap) food with restaurant discounts
If you’re looking for restaurant discounts, there are lots of websites that offer deals and vouchers. One of my favourites is freestuff, where you can find freebies, enter competitions, and restaurant offers all in one place.
You can get a free Starbucks coffee (with reward points), 20% off your bill at Yo Sushi (with a discount code), and a complimentary bottle of wine or fizz when you spend £20 or more at Prezzo. Yes, you heard me right; they said free wine! We love Prezzo deals.
There are also lots of offers for kids’ meals at Miller and Carter with a discount code. So if you’re planning a family outing, it’s worth checking out the site before you go.
There are many great restaurant discounts if you’re a student (or you know one). For example, Nando offers 20% off for students, and Pizza Express has a similar deal. Check out Student Beans for loads of great offers on all sorts of stuff.
If you’re not a student but a member of the NHS, British Airways or the AA, you can get great discounts at restaurants including Frankie & Benny’s and Zizzi. I wrote an entire blog about my cousin Angela (a pediatric nurse) and all the deals and free stuff available for NHS workers; you can read it here.
There are plenty of restaurant discounts, vouchers and incentives, but there are some details you need to know to make the most of all the free stuff.
Organisation and not getting caught out
I got caught out recently on a night out with some friends when I proudly produced a 2-for-1 cocktail voucher (at my insistence, we all had one).
You guessed it; the waitress did not know what I was talking about – Quelle horreur! There were NO 2-for-1 cocktails that night. Here is what you should do to stop making a right Charlie of yourself:
- Check the T&Cs (terms and conditions) to ensure the deal is still valid at the time you want to visit because discount offers are frequently time-sensitive.
- See if the restaurant has a policy statement about when you should present the voucher. Some don’t mind if you only show it when you pay, but others can be really antsy about you having to show it when you arrive or reserve the table.
- Ensure the discount is valid for the entire table (or be prepared that it may not be). Standard kids-eat-free promotions only apply when one adult main is purchased; so, if you have two kids, you’ll need to buy two adult mains for each child to receive a £1 meal. But not always.
- Be nice; often, being pleasant is enough for a server to grant you an invalid voucher, especially if you’re a repeat customer.
Be thankful for the service
Tip well – this is controversial, but please bear with me on this. Waiting is an underpaid and undervalued job (in the UK), and the staff may only get some of their tips.
If you’re in a group and the team has looked after you, leaving a slightly bigger tip (preferably in cash) is worth leaving. Then the next time you go with an expired voucher, you should be quids in.
The other thing to think about if you want to score a discount is think about the day and time you want to eat out. You’re unlikely to get a deal or be able to use a voucher at peak times.
Monday in the catering trade was always slow (not so much now with people working from home on Monday and Friday), so it’s worth checking out the deal days. Sign up for all the newsletters from your favourite eating houses and take advantage of blue Monday, tricky Tuesday, Whump day, thirsty Thursday and preview Friday, and hangover Sunday. All great restaurant discounts!
Okay, I made up most of those names, but you get the idea. There is a marvellous way to get free food and have a story or two to recall to your friends on thirsty Thursday. Become a mystery shopper.
Become a mystery food shopper
Would you like to eat at restaurants for cash? It sounds like a dream. If you start mystery shopping, this dream can come true for you and could be a pleasant side hustle.
Many restaurants employ mystery diners to ensure their patrons receive excellent food and even better service. They will pay you to dine at their establishments and give them feedback. The food may only be covered in some circumstances. But in other circumstances both food and time will be paid for.
You should know that agencies will provide a set sum to dine in a restaurant. Remember that you might need more than this amount to cover the expense. In cases like this, it’s probably not worth considering unless you would eat in that restaurant anyway.
Now for my funny story ( I have changed the names and places to protect the identity of the innocent), I took a mystery-shopping gig at an upmarket London restaurant. The agency gave me £100, which I thought was pretty good for lunchtime.
As it turned out, the menu didn’t have any prices on it – only dishes ( I should have known any restaurant with no menu costs would be costly). So, I ordered what sounded like the most reasonable thing they had (an Arnold Bennette omelette) and added sparkling water and a coffee.
The bill came to over £150, and I had to put my hand in my pocket for an extra £50. There was no laughing at that point; me, out of pocket, wasn’t funny. But on the next table was a C-list celebrity doing the same thing (mystery shopping, not acting).
They say actors are starving, but I think this guy was on daytime TV! All I can say about that is The Sun pay £200 for gossipy bits like this (not that I would stoop so low). And the no prices concept did not catch on (luckily).
Mystery Shopping and how it works
Here are some mystery shopper agencies:
– Market Force
– Gapbuster (mainly Mcdonald’s mystery shopping)
– Customer Perceptions
Generally, food mystery shopping is carried out in fast food restaurants, and you will unlikely visit upmarket establishments (that’s why they have soft openings). Although some major department stores and food establishments have secret shopping panels, it’s worth shopping around.
While mystery shopping sounds like an easy ride, It’s more complex than you think.
To get paid, you must be able to ask the right questions without raising suspicion. For example, you may have to ask the following:
– How was the food?
– Was it fresh and good quality?
– How were you greeted on arrival?
– Was your server attentive and polite throughout the meal?
– You might be asked to get your server’s name.
– Did they upsell you any additional products or services?
– What was the overall experience like?
– Would you recommend the restaurant to your friends and family?
– How likely are you to return? (not likely when you’ve supplemented your bill).
All the above questions seem normal, but you’ll often be asked to take photos and review the toilets or kitchen. You can only wander into a professional kitchen a few times before you get thrown out onto the street without your dinner (or handbag).
For all those reasons, I have decided mystery shopping is not for me. I’m sticking to restaurant discounts, voucher codes and competitions to feed my dreams.