Friends dining out at restaurant

How to Find the Best Credit Card for Dining Out

Published February 28, 2022
4 min read

Whether you’re dining out, picking up, or at home waiting for delivery, a dining rewards credit card can help you earn rewards on your next meal. But there’s more to look at than how much cash back or points you receive per dollar you spend. To find the best card for your wallet, you’ll want to review the fine print and consider all the cards’ benefits and drawbacks.

What are dining credit cards?

Dining credit cards are a type of rewards credit card that gives you bonus rewards (either bonus points or cash back) on dining purchases. You might want a dining rewards card if you tend to eat at restaurants often. These cards can also pair well with another type of rewards card, such as a travel rewards card or cash back card. Then, use whichever card offers you the most rewards depending on what you’re buying.

Compare dining credit cards’ main features and fees

Credit cards can offer a long list of benefits, including security features and other perks. But focusing on dining-related rewards and features, consider the:

  • Welcome bonus. A large sign-up or welcome bonus can be a great way to earn bonus rewards. But be wary of opening a card that requires a large minimum spend. Overspending or carrying a balance might not be a worthwhile tradeoff.
  • Dining rewards rates. Look at whether you’ll earn cash back rewards or rewards points and the amount you’ll get for each dollar you spend. Also, look to see if there’s a maximum amount of rewards you can earn on combined purchases in the card’s dining category.
  • Annual fee. Many cards with generous rewards programs may come with an annual fee. You’ll have to pay this every year, even if those benefits don’t continue or if you don’t use them. The annual fee could increase in the future.

You may also want to be aware of other fees, such as a foreign transaction fee if you want a card for your dining travel purchases on your next trip abroad. There are also fees you can avoid by limiting how you use the card, such as balance transfer fees.

Find out what qualifies as a dining purchase

Whether you’ll earn dining rewards on your purchase can depend on what the card issuer includes within the category and the store’s merchant category code (MCC).

A restaurant purchase may count as eligible purchases whether you’re eating in or pickup up food. However, even if you’re buying food, a purchase at an event, hotel café, gas station, or somewhere else that isn’t a restaurant might not be a qualifying purchase. Instead, the transactions might be coded based on the larger company—for example, food at hotels could count as hotel purchases.

Food delivery app purchases may or may not count as eligible purchases in the dining category. It can depend on the app and card issuer. If there’s a dining credit card that you think will be a good fit and you often use these apps, you may want to search online to learn about other cardholders’ experiences.

Review the redemption options

The dining credit card designation generally refers to the rewards you’ll earn on dining purchases. And while some cards may come with other dining-related benefits, the rewards redemption options will depend on the card’s rewards program.

Points-based programs may let you choose from different options, but the value of each reward point can depend on the program and your choice.

With cash back rewards, check to see if each dollar in cash back rewards will always be worth a dollar. It can vary from issuer to issuer. And you may be able to redeem your rewards for a statement credit, check, bank transfer or gift card. Be sure to review the program’s rules to see if there are any limitations, such as a minimum redemption requirement.

Get pre-approved before applying

Once you’ve narrowed in on a few of your top choices, it’s time to apply. But applying for a new credit card can lead to a hard inquiry, which could hurt your credit score even if the issuer denies your application.

Some credit card issuers will show you if you’re pre-approved for different cards before you fill out an application. Checking for  pre-approved offers can be a good idea when it only requires a soft credit inquiry, the type that doesn’t hurt your credit score. But if you apply for a pre-approved offer, a hard inquiry will likely be placed on your credit report.

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