Tastecard, Dine, Meerkat Meals, Gourmet Society and Hi-Life Diners Club all offer 2-4-1 dining or up to 50% off your meal. They sound great – but are they worth shelling out for?
You know me, I’m always looking for deals and discounts, and dining cards seem like a fantastic way to save some cash when eating out. But could you just be paying for something you don’t really need?
Rather than review them individually, I’ve compared what you get with each of the options and shared not just how much they cost, but whether they represent good value for money.
What restaurant discount cards are available?
There are currently seven main options:
- Gourmet Society
- Hi-Life Diners Club
- Meerkat Meals
- Vodafone Eat Local
How do dining cards work?
Sign up for one of the memberships and you’ll have access to discounts at thousands of restaurants in the UK. You can find out which restaurants are participating and what you’ll save via their websites and apps.
Once you join you’ll either be sent a physical card to put in your wallet or a digital card you access via an app on your phone.
Some restaurants require you to book in advance, but plenty allow you to just turn up. Let them know you’ve got one of these cards, present it when you ask for the bill, and you should get the money off your meal. Easy.
What discounts are available?
The offers used to be quite different, but now they are pretty similar. If there’s more than one type of deal it often depends on the individual restaurant which one applies.
- Tastecard: 2 for 1 or 50% off
- Dine: 2 for 1, 50% off or 25% off total bill
- Meerkat Meals: 2 for 1 on starters, mains and desserts (Sunday to Thursday only)
- Gourmet Society: 25% off the whole bill including drinks, two for one meals or 50% off food
- Hi-Life: 20% off the whole bill
- Stevie: various deals including 2 for 1 meals or free wine with meal
- Vodafone Eat Local: 25% off the whole bill including drinks, two for one meals or 50% off food
Anything to watch out for?
A few things you need to be aware of:
- There are often exclusions on weekends, and some restaurants don’t let you use the card in December
- Many restaurants have a limit of two people per card, though some let you use more than one card on a table.
- You might also have to book in advance with most cards – I’ve been told I can’t use the card on arrival even if the restaurant was empty! Hi-Life is the only one the explicitly says you don’t need to book.
- They will auto-renew! Make sure you cancel soon after you buy the card to avoid this as full-price is often (though not always) a rip-off. You’ll still be able to use it for the length of your membership and you can then look for a better deal if you choose to renew.
- I’ve had restaurants I’ve visited tell me they’re no longer accepting the cards, even though they’re still listed, so it’s worth checking before you turn up – especially during the pandemic.
Where can you eat?
You’ll find some restaurants on all or most of the memberships, while others will only be on one.
Ultimately, which is best comes down to where you live and the type of place you want to eat. So if your local fave you often eat at is only with one membership, then that’s possibly the best for you.
There are plenty of chains too. Pizza Express, Dominos, Frankie and Benny’s and others all appear on one or more.
You can check which restaurants are near you through the various websites and apps
What free trials are there?
Half of the memberships offer free or £1 trials, with periods ranging from 30-days up to 90-days. Seeing as so many of the restaurants and offers are similar across the different memberships you could easily get six or seven months of savings for just a few quid.
Check out the latest Tastecard and other dining card deals here. Typical free trial offers include:
- 90 days Tastecard for free
- 90 days Gourmet Society for £1
- 30 days Hi-Life for free
Which is cheapest?
|Dining membership||Free trial?||Annual cost|
|Tastecard||Yes (latest here)||£32.99 (via offer)|
|Gourmet Society||Yes (latest here)||£34.99|
|Meerkat Meals||No||£1 (via hack)|
|Vodafone Eat Local||No||Free with mobile contract|
A year of Meerkat Meals can be picked up for around £1 using a simple little trick – and you get Meerkat Movies too. The downside is you can only use it from Sunday through to Thursday.
The Vodafone Eat Local app is free for Vodafone customers until 26 July 2021. You can get a year of this via the My Vodafone app, which you can get even if you’re another network via this trick – though you will need to pay £10. I’ve not been able to check this out as even the press office doesn’t have details about the offers. But since it’s “powered by” Gourmet Society I’d expect the offers will be very similar if not the same.
With the others, an annual membership is likely to be the most cost-effective once you’ve had the free trials.
There are so many deals throughout the year that you shouldn’t have to pay more than £39.99 for Gourmet Society or Tastecard. However, I’d hold off until you see an offer for £30 or £35.
At the top end of the scale, Hi-Life is £69.99 a year, and I’ve not spotted any cheaper deals.
You can also choose to pay month by month for some of the memberships, which works out more expensive over a year, but possibly cheaper if you only need it a few times a year.
What extras can you get?
You can add on Tastecard+ which has more discounts on cinema tickets, hotels and days out. However, most of the deals do tend to include Tastecard+ as standard – but check first. I think it’s exactly the same offering for Gourmet Society Plus, while Dine and Steve also have discounts.
The cinema offers tend to be “up to 40% off” at most major chains and some independents. This is pretty good, but as my ultimate guide to ways to save at the movies shows, there are other ways to save – often with bigger discounts. And you have to be careful that your local cinema doesn’t have an offer that beats this.
There are also option to save on movie rentals which are worth using if you regularly stream new releases.
Most also have extra offers, such as days out and theatre tickets – though from the ones I looked at I think you can find better deals elsewhere.
Should you get a restaurant discount card?
I think these memberships can each be really good value – but it mainly depends on five factors:
If you have paid around £30 to £35 you only need to eat out two or three times to break even. As long as you’d do that anyway, it’s a no-lose situation and you will start saving afterwards. If you think you’ll use the cinema discounts too, then even better.
Two for one is great for two people, not for three. And though one card might give you 50% off food, another might give 25% off food and drink. Depending on how much you spend on booze, you might find the lower discount actually saves you more money.
The restaurants near you
It’s always worth checking what’s available near where you live and work as these are the places you’re more likely to visit – and then check if there are other savings you can get for free.
The £1 Meerkat Meals for one year is a great option – but not if you want to eat out on Friday or Saturday, Likewise, if your favourite restaurant only allows a discount for two people yet you’re a family of four, you’ll lose out.
Will you actually use it?
I found that when I lived in London there were so many quality restaurants I wanted to eat at that I rarely used my membership cards. I’d rather enjoy my meal or try something new than go somewhere simply because there was 50% off.
Even now I live in Yorkshire, I had a Meerkat Meals pass for the year (pre pandemic) and I didn’t even use it once.
But of course, if your fave place to eat is listed then these can be brilliant ways to spend less when eating out.
Andy’s top tip
I’d recommend taking out the trials rather than buying one straight away. This will help you see just how much you will use one. If it’s not much, then you know these might not be for you.
And you’ve always got the option with most to take out a monthly membership. Though your savings per meal will be less, you’ll be better off in the long run.
Do try, if you can, do support local restaurants though over the chains. So many are shutting their doors that our support can make a big difference.