During Restaurant Week, get Amex Credit for Dining Out in New York

Next Monday, January 16, New York is kicking-off its 4-week-long Restaurant Week. As mentioned in my previous post, from Monday through Friday, January 16 to February 10, several restaurants in the city will be offering 3-course fixed-price meals for $24.07 during lunchtime and $35 during dinner.

Just like last year, American Express will be one of the event’s major sponsors – but this time with a much simpler promotion for restaurant guests. If you are an Amex cardholder, you can earn a $20 credit on your next billing statement after dining 3 times at any NYC Restaurant Week participating restaurant. You can mix and match the restaurants as long as they’re on the list. Last year’s promotion required a foursquare account and “synching” your Amex card, but this time all you have to do is sign up on the Restaurant Week/Amex webpage.

This offer is limited to the first 15,000 people who sign up, and each cardholder can only earn one $20 statement credit during the promotion period. Prepaid cards and corporate cards are not eligible for the promotion, nor are payments made through Amex’s “expresspay” feature. But if you are a regular Amex consumer or business card holder, this offer can be a fairly good deal. The minimum spend for your dine out to count for the credit is $24, but if you’re choosing from the Restaurant Week menu you’ve already got that covered. And getting $20 for spending $72 (plus tax) on 3 3-course lunches isn’t bad at all. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but $20 gets you pretty close to a fourth Restaurant Week one.

AMEX offers $20 for 3 Restaurant Week dines in NY

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January Restaurant Weeks: Eat Well and Save Money

As your stomach recovers from holiday overstuffing, you might not be too inclined to eat out. But restaurant associations in several major cities are doing their best to change your mind this January with a Restaurant Week. These “weeks,” which nowadays tend to last much longer (see New York’s eight-week “restaurant week” last summer), may be a great time to visit higher-end restaurants you’ve been meaning to check out – or to go to your local restaurant and trade in “the usual” for a 3- or 4-course meal. Participating restaurants offer fixed price meals for lunch and/or dinner, and more and more interesting restaurants have joined in on Restaurant Week throughout the years.

Below is a list of cities hosting Restaurant Week this January – with California and South Carolina both promoting state-wide events. All of these have their own dates and fixed prices, so check not only for your city but also to see whether your January travel plans match up with another Restaurant Week as well.

City Restaurant Week Dates Lunch Dinner
Alexandria (metro DC) January 13-22 $35
Baltimore January 20-29 $20.12 or 15.12 (3- or 2-course) $30.12
Charleston January 12-22 $20-40* $20-40*
Los Angeles January 22-27
January 29-February 3
$16-28* $26-44*
New York January 16-Feb 10 (M-F) $24.07 $35
Philadelphia January 22-27
January 29-February 3
$20 $30
Sacramento January 9-18 $30
San Diego January 15-20 $10-20* $20-$40*
San Francisco January 15-31 $17.95 $34.95
Toronto January 27-February 9 C$15-25* C$25-45*
Washington, DC January 9-15 $20.12 $35.12
Vancouver January 20-February 5 C$18-38*

*pricing varies by restaurant

While most participating restaurants don’t require reservations, Restaurant Week tends to bring in a lot of customers, especially to the more upscale restaurants, so it’s worth making a reservation if you can. Besides, with OpenTable co-sponsoring several of these events, participating restaurants tend to also be members of the online reservations program.

To ease the guilt from dining out after a food-packed holiday, consider the OpenTable points you’ll earn from making your reservation online and how much you’ll save at that restaurant you’ve been meaning check out when you take advantage of its Restaurant Week fixed-price menu instead. Bon Appétit!

New York + Restaurant Week + AMEX + foursquare = $5 off

If you’re in New York this summer, make sure to check out its Restaurant Week event. What originally started as a week in which higher-end restaurants offer affordable fixed-price deals has been extended in several cities, such as Boston and Philly, into two-week events. But New York has taken it to a new extreme – the city’s 2011 Restaurant Week was scheduled for July 11-24, but has since been extended for another six weeks.  The NYC Restaurant Week Extension runs from July 25th to September 5th (excluding Saturdays and, depending on the restaurant, Sundays as well) with lunch specials for $24.07 and dinner for $35.

And American Express and the social media enterprise foursquare have stepped in to make this summer deal even sweeter. If you are a foursquare member, you can get a $5 credit on your Amex statement when you use your Amex card at a participating restaurant.

To get the credit, you have to register (“sync”) your Amex card to your foursquare account, and “check-in” at a participating restaurant during the Restaurant Week Extension period. When you do so, you will automatically get an offer on your phone. After accepting the offer (“Load to Card”), if you spend $24 or more – which you probably will, considering that the lunch deal is $24.07 and dinner is more expensive anyway – and pay with your Amex card, you should get a $5 credit on your credit card statement within 5 business days.

If you don’t have a foursquare account, you can download the program onto your phone for free. Note, however, that Prepaid and Corporate Amex cards and payments using Amex’s ExpressPay feature are not eligible for this offer. And if you have multiple Amex cards, you can only have one “synched” with your foursquare account at a time. Also, you can only earn one of these $5 statement credits per participating restaurant, though there’s no limit to how many credits you can earn if you go to a different restaurant each time. Almost all restaurants in participating in the Restaurant Week Extension are part of the Amex/foursquare statement credit offer, but for a list, click here.

If are in New York before Labor Day, be sure to check their Restaurant Week Extension offer. The list of participating restaurants may be a good place to start if you’re just looking for a place to eat. And even if you already have your dining plans set, you never know – you could find out that the restaurant you are visiting just happens to be participating as well. Then don’t forget to check-in and use your Amex card to get $5 back.

Take-Out May Help You Save Money

“Take-out or eat in?” “Sliced or not?” At a café, we usually answer these questions with an eye to convenience: Do I want to go home and eat on my couch in front of my TV or should I just eat here since I’m already here anyway? And should I have them slice the bagel for me, or do I want to make this a quick stop and can deal with the slicing myself? In some states, your decision will also determine the tax rate and, ultimately, how much you actually spend.

I first found out about the ‘take-out’ tax exemption a few months ago, while ordering some frozen yogurt at a Pinkberry in California. The cashier asked if we would be eating in or out, and when my friend and I hesitated for a moment, he explained that if we ate in, the standard food tax (of at least 7.25%, but higher depending on the county) would apply while if we ate out – including at the benches just a few steps out the door – our yogurts would be tax-free. It wasn’t unbearably hot, so we decided to eat out.

In California, while groceries are tax-free, food served at restaurants, bars, and other places with seating in the premises or close by (e.g., food court seating) is taxable. However, if you order food from these places to go, they may or may not be taxed. Generally, if (1) a business makes at least 80% of its sales through food and (2) it is a drive-in restaurant or at least 80% of its sales are consumed in its premises and/or are hot food items, the business can choose whether to tax certain take-out items or not. Specifically, cold food products (e.g., ice cream and cold sandwiches), hot bakery goods (e.g., fresh from the oven bread), and hot beverages (e.g., hot coffee, tea, and cappuccino) ordered to go may be exempt from sales tax if the business so chooses. Keep in mind, though, that this decision is per establishment, so that, even if one of the stores in a chain makes these sales tax-free, you cannot assume all their other stores do the same.

Starbucks Receipt

As you can see in my receipt for a recent purchase at Starbucks in NY, the 8.875% sales tax was applied to my iced mocha (3.65 x .08875 = 0.32), but not to my marble loaf, since the marble loaf is cold and was not prepared on the premises for my consumption.

Californian food establishments that do not satisfy the two requirements above, such as most ice-cream stores and coffee shops, should always waive sales taxes on these items if ordered for take-out: hot beverages, non-carbonated cold beverages (e.g., juice and iced tea), cold food products, and hot bakery items. Note that soda and alcoholic beverages are always taxable in California, even if ordered to go.

If this break-down seems confusing or arbitrary, consider New York’s tax-exempt food categories, which are different if sold at a “food store” or at a restaurant, deli or similar establishment. Just as in California, hot food items, food sold for consumption in the premises, and carbonated drinks sold at food stores are taxable in New York State. But all sandwiches (hot and cold), candy and confectionery, and “prepared” items are also subject to sales tax, whether ordered to-go or not. “What is a ‘prepared item’,” you ask? Anything that has been handled by the seller or at the establishment so that it is ready to eat as is, such as food on a plate, ice-cream, or self-serve food from a deli. This key description, in fact, earned the Brugger’s Bagels chain an audit last year: while regular bagels are tax-free, sliced bagels are taxable in New York, since slicing makes them ready to eat (I assume none of the tax collectors tear their bagels for eating).

At restaurants, diners, food carts, and similar establishments in New York, the only food items that are tax-exempt when ordered to-go are food and drinks that are unheated and sold in “the same way (in the same form, condition, quantities, and packaging)” as in a supermarket or grocery store. That is, coffee is not tax exempt since it is not cold, iced coffee is not exempt since it does not come the same way as it would at a grocery store (unless you are buying one of those bottled or canned Starbucks drinks), and bagels are only exempt if you’re buying them packaged as they would be in a store.

To sum up, in California, if you want to avoid taxes on bakery items, non-alcoholic and non-carbonated drinks, or cold food products, always choose take-out. If this is a store that mostly serves take-out or cold items, your purchase will be tax-free. If it isn’t, it’ll vary by store but there’s still a chance you won’t have to pay taxes on it anyway. In New York, on the other hand, getting your take-out food purchase to be tax-free may be harder, but, generally, avoid soda and sandwiches, and slice bagels yourself.

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On Amtrak: Ride Two or Three, Get a Summer One Free

Money Under Your Futon has covered the Amtrak Guest Rewards program several times before, noting that it is a spending-based rather than miles-based program, as it gives points according to the price of the ticket rather than the distance traveled.  The number of points needed for a free ticket also varies by line, with the Northeastern and the Acela being two of the most expensive points-wise.  But until March 13, 2010, riding on the Northeastern – which goes through Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston – or its expressed version, the Acela, may turn out to be a good deal: Amtrak is offering a free Northeastern round-trip ticket for the summer if you take 2 round-trips (or 4 one-way trips) between January 7 and March 13, 2010.  On the Acela, it takes 3 round-trips (or 6 one-way trips) to earn an Acela round-trip ticket for the summer.

Without this promotion, earning enough points for a free trip on the Northeastern or the Acela takes quite a while: to accumulate points, Amtrak Guest Rewards gives one point for every dollar spent on a regular Amtrak ticket and 500 points on the Acela; but a one-way trip on the Northeastern usually requires 3,000 points, and, on the Acela, a business class ticket (there are only business and first class seats on the Acela) goes for 8,000 points.  That is, for a free one-way ticket, you usually have to spend $1500 on Amtrak or take 16 one-way trips on Acela (or a mix between the two).  In contrast, with the current promotion, you only need 2 trips on the Northeastern or 3 trips on the Acela to earn a free round-trip ticket on the respective train.

For both promotions, the qualifying trips must be taken by March 13, 2010, and the free ticket will be valid for travel from June 1, 2010 and August 31, 2010.  Taking advantage of these deals may require some forward planning (and having an idea of your summer plans), but at least enrollment is easy.  To register for them, just log into your Amtrak Guest Rewards and, under the “promotion registration” tab, enter code 10810 for the Northeastern and/or 10710 for the Acela.

August Is Restaurant Month

I hope you have worked up an appetite this summer, because Restaurant Week has finally arrived this summer.  This semi-annual affair first started in the 1980s and has hence become one of the most highly-anticipated events of the season.  Prices this year (depending on the city) are set at $20.09-24.07 for the prix-fixe lunch and $33.09-35 for dinner.  If you have never participated at a Restaurant Week, I highly encourage you to try this year.  If you do your research in advance (for which Zagat is a great resource), you might be getting a three-course culinary masterpiece at some of the finest restaurants in town at a fraction of the usual cost.

While the official NYC’s official Restaurant Week was supposed to have ended on July 31st, it has now been extended through Labor Day (click here for more information).  And Boston and DC are having their Restaurant Weeks from August 9-21 and August 24-30, respectively.  Experience tells us that these dates will most likely be extended as well.  Once you have created a list of restaurants to check out, be sure to make your reservations at OpenTable so you can collect points for a gift certificate for your next meal.  Happy Eating!