Inflation is hitting us all pretty hard lately. If you’re a foodie like me, your restaurant bill comes with a side of indigestion. But I’m not about to cut back on one of my favourite indulgences ever. I just have to be more strategic about it. The right credit card for restaurant lovers can help portion control those prices and put money back where it belongs, in your pocket! Here are a few of my favourite credit cards for restaurants. Some of these cards are subject to annual fees, minimum spend amounts, and other terms and conditions. Always do your research and compare to find the best credit card for you. Take a bite out of inflation, and bon appetite!
American Express Cobalt Card
Annual Fee: $12.99/month
Interest Rate: 20.99%
The American Express Cobalt Card is the best overall credit card for restaurants and all things food, especially if you also love to travel. It’s a foodie’s dream that will land you 5x the points on purchases made at dine-in restaurants, fast food establishments, quick service restaurants, drinking establishments, and cafes. Not only that, but the AMEX Cobalt Card recently landed on our list of best credit cards for groceries, bagging you the same 5x the points on purchases at eligible grocery stores, and grocery delivery services like Instacart.
The aggressive 5 points per $1 on dining and groceries applies to the first $30,000 spent in that purchase category each year. If you exceed the $30,000 maximum annual spend on food, the earn rate drops down to 1 point per $1. But really, that’s a massive annual spend limit on all your eats and treats. You could earn up to 150,000 Amex Membership Rewards per year on just your food purchases alone.
With the American Express Cobalt Card, you also earn 3x the points on eligible streaming subscriptions like Netflix and Spotify, and 2x the points on eligible gas, transportation, and rideshare services. All other card purchases earn 1 point per $1.
So what are all those points actually worth? Well, if you strategically use them for travel expenses they translate into a pretty massive return on your food expenses. You’ll get the best redemption value on your points if you transfer them to the Aeroplan Program with Air Canada, then book your travel from there.
Your points transfer at a 1-to-1 ratio and can be worth up to $0.02 per point on travel booking and related expenses. That makes the return on your food purchases anywhere from 7% to 10% in dollar value through Aeroplan Points. No matter how you choose to redeem your points, even the lowest redemption value nets you a return of no less than 5% on your dining and grocery purchases. Other ways to cash in on your AMEX points include, but are not limited to:
- Travel anytime, anywhere, through any provider
- Transfer points to a travel partner
- Transfer points to a hotel partner
- Gift cards
- A credit on your statement
Scotiabank Gold American Express
Annual Fee: $120
Interest Rate: 19.99%
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card comes in a close second as one of the best travel rewards credit cards as well as one of the best credit cards for restaurants. You still earn the same great 5x the points on dining establishments like sit-down restaurants, fast food joints, drinking establishments as well as food subscription boxes and delivery services like Hello Fresh and SkipTheDishes. You also earn 5x the points at eligible grocery stores, and on entertainment purchases like Cineplex movie tickets! After all, dinner without a movie is like macaroni without cheese.
With inflation raising the cost of food and gas, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card helps you earn accelerated points on the two most expensive purchase categories right now. You’ll get 3x the points on eligible gas and transportation purchases, which include public transit and rideshares like Uber, as well as 3x the points on eligible streaming services. Having said that, the extra points earned on food, entertainment, gas, transportation, and streaming only apply to the first $50,000 in combined purchases per year across all those categories. If you exceed the maximum spend, the earn rate drops to 1 point per $1.
Scene+ points don’t have quite the same redemption value as the other travel rewards card, but the total annual spend limit is much higher than the next closest competitor. That gives you the opportunity to earn the extra points you need for the stuff you want. Again, you get the best redemption value on your points when redeemed for travel, which you can do through any carrier or provider you want. That translates to a 5% return on your food purchases when you cash those points in for your next get-away.
Card Hack: UberEats is classified as a travel service. That means you can use your points to have your favourite dish delivered right to your door without giving up that lip-smacking 5% return; aka a 5% discount on your food purchase. Keep in mind, the money you spend on UberEats will not earn the same 5 points per $1 because it won’t be categorized as a restaurant purchase. But if you didn’t have to put on pants and leave the house, I call it a win!
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card does not charge any foreign currency transaction fees, A key feature that helps make up for the lower redemption value on your points. This card is considered one of the best travel credit cards in Canada, and one of the best credit cards without foreign transaction fees.
BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite
Annual Fee: $120
Interest Rate: 20.99%
If that trendy new eatery doesn’t accept American Express, the BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Card is a great stand-in. This card will also give you 5 points per $1 spent at eligible dining establishments, grocery stores, gas stations, and on transportation. All other card purchases on your BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Card earn you 1 point per $1. For the globetrotting foodies, you get the best value when you redeem them for travel, making this bad-boy another one of the best credit cards for restaurants.
The accelerated earn rate of 5 points per $1 is applied to the first $50,000 of annual card purchases combined across all eligible spending categories. If you exceed the annual spend threshold, the earn rate drops down to 1 point per $1. Now, the redemption value of your BMO Rewards is not as high as the other cards, but that’s ok, BMO makes up for it with my favourite redemption feature ever; the chance to use free money to make more free money. Cha-ching!
The best way to redeem your BMO Rewards is to have the cash back value deposited into your BMO Investorline account. The cash back value of your points will be a little less than the redemption value on travel. But investing that money wisely will generate returns and effectively increase the value of those points over the long haul. Don’t believe me? Historically, the stock market has provided a 7% average rate of return over the last 20 years.
Let’s pretend you hit that $50,000 spending limit for the accelerated points categories, and earned 5 points on every single dollar. You would end up with at least 250,000 points worth roughly $1,500 in cash back to invest through your BMO Investorline account. Assuming an average rate of return of 7%, over the next 10 years that $1,500 could be worth about $3,000. Of course, actual market returns fluctuate widely from year to year.
The next best way to redeem your BMO Rewards is for travel expenses. The downside is that you can only redeem points for travel through the BMO Rewards program in-house travel agency, which can restrict your travel options. You can also redeem your points as a credit on your statement, or for gift cards and merchandise through the BMO Rewards website. However, that will net you the lowest rate of return on your purchases because the points redemption value is lower, and the value of your points varies across BMO partner retailers too.
Neo Financial Mastercard
Annual Fee: $0
Interest Rate: 19.99%
I have yet to see the Neo Financial Mastercard grace any list of best credit cards for restaurants, but here’s why I think this piece of plastic is a hidden gem. First of all, there is no annual fee. Second, this is a great card for anyone with a less than stellar credit score, or no credit history at all. Neo Financial also offers a Secured Mastercard that doesn’t require a hard credit check, and the security deposit is stupid cheap at just $50. Their secured card comes with all the same cash back rewards the regular Neo Mastercard has to offer, making it the first secured rewards card in Canada.
Cash back rewards work a little differently with the Neo Financial Mastercard. There aren’t purchase categories with specific cash back rates like the other cards. Instead, the rate of cash back you earn on each purchase varies among merchants. Neo Financial is partnered with thousands of retailers across Canada including restaurants, fast food joints, cafes, and more. When you shop with a Neo Financial partner, you’ll earn an average of 5% cash back with a guaranteed minimum 1% cash back no matter where you shop. If your average cash back rate dips below 1%, they’ll top up the difference.
Listen up, food snobs! I can call you that because I am one. Here’s why the Neo Financial Mastercard is especially amazing for the die-hard foodies. Earl’s Kitchen & Bar, Chop Steakhouse & Bar, Second Cup Cafe, and Boston Pizza are just some of the national restaurants that have partnered with Neo Financial to offer cash back perks. But even better, Neo has taken the time to scout out hidden gems and local favourites across Canada to help you find your new favourite snack-shack, right in your own backyard! If you love to travel, the Neo app will populate partner restaurants near you based on your location. You’ll find those awesome local favourites without looking like a clueless tourist.
Unlike other welcome offers, you don’t just get a one-time bonus on your first card purchase. Neo basically makes it rain with bonus cash back when you use your card to make a first purchase at most participating retailers. That means you’ll get up to 15% cash back when you buy that first cup of joe at your favourite cafe, and again when you buy your first lunch at that famous pizza place, and again when you buy the first round at a new local pub you found on the Neo app.
All those first purchases rack up insane bonus cash back rewards. Having said that, not all partner merchants offer bonus cash back on a first purchase, so make sure you scope out the Neo app to find the ones that do. Visit the rewards section in your Neo account and tap on the merchant you’re interested in to see if they offer a first-purchase bonus. Many partner retailers also put a cap and the dollar amount of cash back they’ll give you. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s usually pretty generous.
There is no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn and it’s credited to your account instantly upon purchase. There is no minimum amount to redeem your cash back, and you can choose between a credit on your statement or redeem for merchandise and other perks through the Neo website. Soon, you’ll be able to deposit your cash back balance into your Neo Financial Savings Account, which currently offers one of the highest interest rates in Canada at 1.45%. Other creative redemption options are in the works, so stay tuned.
Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa
Annual Fee: $0
Interest Rate: 19.99%
Purple is the new orange with the Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa. Again, I haven’t seen this one mentioned very often, which is a bummer for the foodies scoping out the best credit cards for restaurants. The Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa is a no-fee card that offers a pretty impressive 4% cash back rate on restaurant purchases. If you’re looking for an aggressive earn rate and simple rewards you can use however you want, look no further.
You’ll get 4% cash back on the first $5,000 you spend each month at eligible restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs, discotheques, and more. And you’ll get 1.5% cash back on the first $15,000 you spend per year at eligible grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies as well as on pre-authorized bill payments. Once you hit the maximum monthly spending limit on restaurants and the annual spending limit on gas, groceries, pharmacies and bills the cash back rate drops to an underwhelming 0.5%. It also applies to all other card purchases outside the accelerated cash back categories.
There is no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn. The downside is you can’t redeem them whenever you want. Your cash back rewards accumulate each month and are paid out once a year as a credit on your statement. But no annual fee and a 4% cash back rate is totally worth the wait in my books!
The Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa is especially great for those who are new to Canada and students. If you fall into either of those categories, there are different eligibility requirements for you, making the card more accessible to those with a limited credit history. On the application page, click the blue link “New to Canada or a Student?” Then apply under the “New to Canada Offer” or the “Studen Banking Offer.”
Tangerine World Mastercard
Annual Fee: $0
Interest Rate: 19.95%
The Tangerine World Mastercard has slipped down the list of best credit cards for restaurants, but still packs a punch for those who love any food they didn’t have to make. This no-fee cash back card offers 2% cash back in up to 3 purchase categories of your choice, and there are no spending maximums on those categories to worry about either. All other Tangerine World Mastercard purchases earn a lacklustre 0.5% cash back.
There is no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn and the money is credited to your statement every month. You don’t have to wait a year for it, and there is no minimum redemption amount. Normally, you only earn 2% cash back in 2 purchase categories. But if you open a Tangerine Savings Account and have your cash back balance deposited there, you get to choose a 3rd 2% cash back category. The purchase categories to choose from are:
- Recurring bill payments
- Home renovations
The Tangerine World Mastercard gives you total control to choose your cash back categories based on your unique spending habits. You can even change your 2% cash back categories up each month to flex and align with your changing needs. I especially love this card because there’s no complicated mental math or points conversion charts to worry about. You know you’re going to get 2% back in cold hard cash every month. Once the money hits your Tangerine account, you can spend it however you want, making the Tangerine World Mastercard one of the best cash back credit cards in Canada.
Shout Out: KOHO Mastercard® Prepaid Card
Annual Fee: $0
Interest Rate: 0%
Maybe you like the idea of a credit card more than you actually like credit cards. For the debt-wary, you don’t have to miss out on cash back perks either because the KOHO Mastercard® Prepaid Card (formerly KOHO prepaid Visa) has your back. The card is free when you open a KOHO No Brainer Cash Back Account. To use the card, you load it with your own money. It doesn’t require a credit check or credit history, it won’t affect your credit score, and you’ll never owe a balance or pay interest. You will, however, earn a modest 0.5% cash back rate on all your card purchases. Nothing to write home about, right? Wrong.
For just $9 a month, you can subscribe to KOHO Premium and enjoy an additional 2% on top of the base 0.5% rate, for a total of 2.5% cash back at restaurants, take out joints, and food delivery services! The bonus cash back also applies to groceries and transportation costs. All other card purchases earn 0.5% cash back. Plus, KOHO has partnered with merchants across Canada to give you up to 5% extra cash back when you shop with them. Some restaurants in their partner program include Harvey’s, DoorDash, Chef’s Plate, Baskin Robbins, and more!
Here’s an example: Baskin Robbins is an ice cream shop partnered with KOHO. They offer you a bonus 5% cash back when you make a purchase with your KOHO card. As a KOHO Premium member, you already get your base cash back rate of 0.5% plus an extra 2% cash back at restaurants. When you buy a hot-fudge sundae at Baskin Robbins with your KOHO card, you’ll actually get 7% cash back! (0.5% + 2% + 5% = 7%).
Cash back is earned instantly, deposited into your spendable account within 1-2 business days, and there is no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn. Once it hits your account, you can do whatever you want with it. Spend it, save it, transfer it to another account, it’s up to you. But if you save it, you’ll earn 1.2% interest on the balance. That’s one of the highest savings interest rates in Canada right now. Not to mention, KOHO is an incredible new neobank that offers virtually free daily banking services, creative features, and extra perks not offered by regular banks.