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.
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Scroll down the page to find the lowest prices for each of the cards.
How do they work?
Sign up to one of these memberships and you’ll have access to discounts at thousands of restaurants in the UK. There are currently a few different options which each offer slightly different discounts.
- Meerkat Meals
- Gourmet Society
- Hi-Life Diners Club
- Table Now
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
- Gourmet Society: 25% off the whole bill including drinks, two for one meals or 50% off food
- Hi-Life: 20% off the whole bill
- Table Now: 25% or 30% off the total bill, 30% or 50% off food, or 2 for 1
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.
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 these links.
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. Typical offers include:
- 90 days Tastecard for £1
- 90 days Gourmet Society for £1
- 30 days Hi-Life
Which is cheapest?
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 Sunday through to Thursday.
Dine is also given away free to anyone who has a mobile phone SIM from Three. You just need to log in to the Wuntu app.
With the others an annual membership is likely to be the most cost-effective. Never pay full price, which is around £70. Even if you thought you’d use your membership enough to make this money back, you don’t need to.
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.
TableNow is newer and I’ve not tested it out, but it does have a great Pay as you dine option. So there’s no membership commitment but you pay £2.50 each time you want to use it.
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.
With Tastecard the cinema ticket deal is up to 40% off at Cineworld, Odeon, Vue, Showcase, Picturehouse, Empire and The Light. 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 on that beats this.
Dine also offers similar discounts on cinema tickets but only at Vue, Odeon, Showcase, The Light and some smaller chains.
All three 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.
I think they can each be really good value – but it mainly depends on three things:
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.
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. Pizza Express for example is the kind of place you can almost always save money at via a vouchercode site.
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’ve had a Meerkat Meals pass for the last year and I’ve not used it once. Dine launched on Three just a month or so ago, and I’ve not used that either!!
So I’d recommend taking out the trials to 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.
But of course, if your fave place to eat is listed then these can be brilliant ways to spend less when eating out.
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.