Do you find yourself heading out to dinner rather than spending time cooking after a long day at work?

If so, you’re not the only one. In fact, Americans are eating out at rates never before seen: In 2012, 43 percent of U.S. household food expenditure was spent outside the home, compared to 26 percent in 1970. What’s more, people are spending more at bars and restaurants, for a total of $54.8 billion, than on groceries ($52.5 billion). The rise of “fast casual” restaurants is also behind this trend.

To make the most of this spending, consumers have numerous opportunities to maximize restaurant-related perks through a restaurant credit card and other reward programs. Here’s how.

Register for Dining Programs

These programs allow you to earn points or miles when you dine at participating restaurants. Some, for example, reward you a percentage based on what you spend annually (5% back on $250 spent, or as much as 15% back on spending over $750), while others reward you with miles.

To maximize your rewards on your spending, use your restaurant credit card at these outlets. If the dining program rewards you with cash back, you’ll get cash back from that program as well as from your credit card.

Use Coupons

Group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social also offer coupons and offers at hundreds of retailers nationwide. And that’s on top of discounts at local restaurants listed on these sites. lists hundreds of nationwide chains offering certificates to eager diners, while checking a local business’s Facebook page could also net you a discount for liking it.

By using these coupons and paying for your meal with your restaurant credit card, you’ll defray the initial cost of your evening out, and further do so by getting cash back on your card for the remainder you’ve spent. Be warned: many of these offers come with expiration dates or other restrictions such as a minimum spend before the discount kicks in, so be sure to understand the deals and discounts in full.

Gift Someone

Most chain restaurants and local mom-and-pop spots offer gift certificates in various denominations. By using your restaurant credit card to buy a gift card at the restaurant, you may still reap the rewards on that purchase for yourself as long as gift cards are eligible to earn rewards, so you can gift someone else and gift yourself. Plus, some restaurant credit cards offer portals to redeem the rewards you’ve earned on that credit card toward gift cards to restaurants, so check on your credit card issuer’s website for deal portals.

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