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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information. cheeck workplace monitoring
When it comes to bonus categories, TPG readers love getting extra points for dining (travel credit cards are, unsurprisingly, another top pick). While dining indoors at restaurants might be limited in some states, outdoor dining is generally allowed. Not to mention that taking out and ordering in is also possible and still earns bonus points.
If you’re spending a lot on dining, you should be using a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. If you play your cards right (pun intended), you could score a free meal at your favorite restaurant month after month.
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The best credit cards of 2021 for dining and restaurants
Finding the best card for your dining charges is not as easy as just looking at the earning rate on a card and deciding that 4x on dining is better than 3x. The value of the points or miles you’re earning is also an important part of the calculation. Three points per dollar on one card can actually be better than 4x points per dollar on another.
It’s also important to factor in the net cost of carrying the card in your wallet; many reward cards have high annual fees, but those are sometimes offset by annual travel and dining credits. Additionally, many cards now offer dining-focused perks such as exclusive access to reservations at certain restaurants and free or discounted food delivery.
So rather than forcing you to slog through every card in your wallet, we’ve done the math for you. For each of the best cards offering bonus rewards on dining, we calculated the bonus multiplier, the value of the points earned based on TPG point valuations, the annual fee and noted any special requirements about that card. Cash-back cards may be more useful for some readers and we’ll examine those as well. Here are the best options for the truly dedicated foodie.
In This Post
Comparing the best credit cards for dining and restaurants
|Credit card||Category bonus||Value of the points*||Total potential value earned per dollar spent||Annual fee||Sign-up bonus/welcome offer|
|American Express Gold Card||4x||2 cents||8 cents||$250 (see rates and fees)||Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months. (Terms apply)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||2x||2 cents||4 cents||$95||60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening|
|Citi Prestige Card||5x||1.7 cents||8.5 cents||$495||50,000 points after $4,000 in spending in the first 3 months|
|American Express Green Card||3x||2 cents||6 cents||$150 (see rates and fees)||30,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. (Terms apply)|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3x||2 cents||6 cents||$550||50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||7x||0.6 cents||4.2 cents||$450 (see rates and fees)||150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening.|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||4x||1 cent||4 cents||$95||$300 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card||6x||0.6 cents||3.6 cents||$95 (see rates and fees)||150,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on the card in the first three months.|
*Value of points based on TPG valuations and not provided by issuers
The information for the Citi Prestige Card, Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, Amex Green card, and Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best dining credit card details
Annual fee: $250 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months. Check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 60,000 to 75,000-point Gold Card offer (offers are subject to change at any time).
Earning rates: Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide, 4x points at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent each calendar year; then 1x), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com and 1x on everything else.
Analysis: The Amex Gold Card comes in a close second by earning 4x points per dollar on dining worldwide, which is an 8% return based on TPG’s valuation of Amex Membership Rewards points. In addition to this terrific return, the card offers up to $120 annual in dining credits that you can use at merchants such as Boxed, Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory and participating Shake Shack locations. Starting soon, cardholders will also receive up to $120 in annual Uber credits ($10 per month), which can be applied toward Uber Eats orders or rides. Plus, cardholders get 12 months of complimentary access to Eats Pass, valued at $10 per month, when you enroll by Dec. 31, 2021. American Express also acquired restaurant-booking service Resy, so cardmembers have more dining perks, including bonus points for bookings and preferred access to reservations. Read more about the Amex Gold card on our card hub.
APPLY HERE: American Express Gold Card
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $1,200 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards, according to TPG valuations.
Analysis: If you’re looking for a cheaper option that earns flexible rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred might be your choice. Although it only earns 2 points per dollar on dining, its $95 annual fee is also a lot lower than many other cards on this list. Plus, cardholders get a complimentary membership for the DoorDash DashPass unlimited delivery program, normally $9.99 a month, for at least a year.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Preferred
Annual fee: $495
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Earning rates: Earn 5x points on dining at restaurants and air travel, 3x points at hotels and cruise lines and 1x everywhere else.
Analysis: As you can see, the Citi Prestige leads the way with 5 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent at restaurants. Since TPG valuations peg the value of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, the Prestige provides an 8.5% return on restaurant spending. Citi defines restaurants as including “cafes, bars, lounges and fast food restaurants.” The Prestige earns 5x points on dining both in the U.S. and abroad, but its $495 annual fee may be a bit much for some. However, 5x earning on airfare, a $250 annual travel credit and other benefits increase the card’s potential value.
Video: Spend Money and Save– Purchases That Save You Money Every Day (Buzz60)
Annual fee: $150 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within three months from account opening.
Earning rates: Earn 3x points on global restaurants and travel, including transit, and 1x on everything else.
Analysis: The mid-tier American Express Green Card earns 3x points for dining worldwide, plus 3x for travel, which is defined broadly to include airfare, hotel rooms, car rentals, tour operators, travel agencies, campsites and home shares, plus transit that includes ride hailing, buses, taxis, metros, subways, tolls and more — and 1x on everything else. It doesn’t have any dining-specific perks like the Amex Gold, but it offers up to a $100 annual credit for your Clear membership and up to $100 in credits for lounge access purchased with LoungeBuddy, meaning that if you can utilize both those credits in full, you’ve more than covered the annual fee.
APPLY HERE: American Express Green Card
Annual fee: $550
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $750 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Earning rates: Earn 10x points on Lyft rides, 3x on travel and dining at restaurants and 1x spent on all other purchases worldwide.
Analysis: The 3x bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which ties for third with a 6% return, is valid for dining both in the U.S. and abroad. Dining is defined as “merchants in the restaurant category whose primary business is sit-down or eat-in dining, including fast food restaurants as well as fine dining establishments.” Chase has also partnered with DoorDash, the on-demand food platform, to offer both new and existing cardholders up to $60 in DoorDash statement credits throughout 2021. As a cardholder, you’ll also get at least one complimentary year of DashPass through DoorDash.
But keep in mind the card’s $550 annual fee. You can offset a large portion of that fee with the card’s $300 annual travel credit, but you should still consider whether the points you earn on the card are worth the money you’re paying each year for it.
APPLY HERE: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
Earning rates: Earn 14x points on eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio, 7x on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select rental agencies and at U.S. restaurants and 3x points on everything else. 3x on all other eligible purchases.
Analysis: This is an excellent card for Hilton loyalists, but it’s an expensive one if your hotel focus lies elsewhere. Its 7x return equates to a 4.2% return on dining, based on our valuations. This card also comes with access to Amex’s concierge service that may help you get a table at certain sought-after restaurants. Other benefits include an up to $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit, up to $250 annual airline incidental fee credit, complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, a free weekend night each year upon your account renewal and the ability to earn an additional free weekend night by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)
Welcome offer: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on the card in the first three months of account opening.
Earning rates: Earn 12x points on eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio, 6x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations and 3x points on all other eligible purchases.
Analysis: This card packs a punch for a relatively reasonable annual fee. It comes with automatic Hilton Honors Gold status, a free weekend night reward after spending $15,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year and 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits a year — all with no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
APPLY HERE: Hilton Surpass Amex
Annual fee: $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn a $300 cash bonus after spending $3,000 within the first three months.
Earning rates: Earn 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else.
Analysis: The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card is a decent contender, with a $95 annual fee. The Savor Cash earns 4% on all purchases that involve eating establishments — from restaurants to Starbucks to food trucks — so it’s a rewards credit card to consider if you’d rather deal with cash back instead of travel rewards.
Aside from offering a solid return, Capital One has been investing in more unique dining-focused benefits. For instance, in the past, it provided access to exclusive dining experiences organized by the James Beard Foundation.
How we choose the best dining credit cards
These card picks are based on numerous criteria: the points program value, welcome bonus, perks and more. Popular features on some of these dining credit cards include monthly dining credits and exclusive access to reservations at certain restaurants.
When choosing the right dining credit card, always consider the spending requirements for the sign-up bonus, since you won’t want to miss out on that. You should only apply if you’re able to comfortably meet the required spend.
Related: 10 best dining rewards programs
What counts as dining
Every card issuer applies different criteria to charges that will qualify for these bonuses. For instance, Chase defines dining quite broadly, including everything from conventional restaurants to coffee shops and even some bars that don’t serve food. American Express, on the other hand, typically only awards points for conventional restaurants and often not for independent coffee shops and bars. Some American Express cards also exclude foreign transactions from earning bonus points.
Several of the cards discussed offer dining bonuses that are supposed to exclude food delivery services. However, in practice, these services usually still code as dining or food merchants and do earn bonus points. Sometimes restaurants aren’t categorized correctly, so if you feel like an eligible dining purchase didn’t code correctly, you can always try contacting the card issuer and asking for an exception.
What is the best credit card for restaurants?
This depends on what your preferred reward is — points or cash back? If it’s points you’re after, then it’s hard to argue with the Amex Gold Card. With this, you’re looking at 4 x Membership Rewards points on restaurants including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases. For cash back, the Capital One Savor card is likely the best option with a healthy 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.
Do bars count as restaurants for credit cards?
This very much depends on the card issuer. But essentially, any establishment that serves (as opposed to sells) food or drinks counts. As long as a merchant classified itself in a restaurant category when applying to accept credit cards, the purchase will qualify. For example, bars (including ones that don’t serve food) and coffee shops such as Starbucks typically code as dining purchases. As a guide, the following count as qualifying “restaurants”: bars, cafes, breweries and juiceries. The following do not: Amazon restaurants, catering services and inflight drinks.
The Amex Gold Card and Citi Prestige take the cake here with a return of 8% or more on dining purchases. The Amex Green Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve tie for third place with a 6% return on dining worldwide. They all offer an unbeatable combination of a strong earning rate on dining purchases, a high point value and a reasonable net effective annual cost. But any of the cards on this list will get more value on dining purchases than a run-of-the-mill credit card, so make sure you pick the right card before you plan that night out — or a night in, since delivery services like Grubhub count as dining with many cards. There are also worthwhile cash-back cards for those who don’t want to collect and redeem points.
Featured photo by d3sign/Getty Images.
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For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, please click here.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best currently available credit cards for dining, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.