I've recently discovered the joy of belonging to a special club that gives you discounts at restaurants of half off (and sometimes more). I want to share this saving opportunity with those who are not yet aware so they can save money at restaurants too. It doesn't cost anything to join and it's not a rewards system. It's called the e-mail club. It's actually not one club — it's quite a few different clubs at different restaurants, but joining them can yield substantial savings.

Many restaurants have an option on their website to join their e-mail club. By entering your e-mail address and some information about yourself (mostly your zip code and birthday — no Social Security number or anything like that) you can join their club and begin to receive coupons to their restaurant. Yes, you will most likely also receive promotional e-mails from them advertising specials they may run or new menu items, but usually you can get a pretty good discount out of them as well. Many e-mail clubs offer a coupon right off the bat just for signing up. Most of the clubs offer a special on your birthday and some offer one on your anniversary. Here are the types of discounts I've encountered most often and a few of the places I've used them at recently.

Buy One Get One Free: When most people go out to eat, they go with someone else (often a spouse or date) so a buy one get one free coupon will cut your bill in half. My father-in-law's birthday party was recently held at an Old Country Buffet where you pay one flat fee for unlimited food, drink and dessert. When I went to their website, I saw an option to join their e-club and get a free meal. About 2 days after I signed up I received a buy one get one free coupon for dinner and my husband and I were able to both eat for only $12. We will also get additional buy one get one free coupons on my birthday and on our anniversary.

Free Meal: If you are just going out with friends instead of a spouse, then perhaps a flat out free meal is better for you. When I signed my husband up for the Red Robin e-club, he got a coupon for a free gourmet burger on his birthday. We went together and I still ordered and paid for my meal, but the two of us still ate for the price of one.

Free Dessert: Some restaurants may not be as generous as to give an entire meal away for free, but they may offer a free dessert with purchase of a meal. This can be a nice free treat at the end of a celebratory meal.

Free appetizer: Similar to the free dessert, some restaurants will only offer a free appetizer instead of a free meal. However, if dining with someone else, one of you could eat the appetizer for a meal and the other can order a regular meal off the menu or you can split both and still only end up paying for one meal.

Free Ice-Cream: I didn't include this with free dessert because usually you have to order a meal in order to get free dessert. But popular ice-cream chains offer a flat out free ice-cream treat on your birthday — no purchase necessary. My husband and I look forward to going to Cold Stone Creamery for our free ice-cream for our birthdays and just recently we signed up for Baskin Robbins e-mail club and will get free ice-cream for our birthdays there too.

Discount: While many restaurants don't offer anything free on your birthday, some will at least give you a coupon for a small discount on your meal. For instance Red Lobster will give you a $4 off coupon, which is better than nothing.

When I found my first buy one get one free coupon, I honestly searched the yellow pages for restaurants in my city and went to every restaurant website that I I had an interest in dining at and checked to see if they had an e-club. Surprisingly, about 75% of them did. I signed up near my birthday and watched the offers pour into my e-mail inbox. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Usually when you receive a birthday coupon, you don't actually have to go on your birthday. You will receive the coupon anytime from 2 weeks before your birthday to your actual birthday and usually have a 2 week window to use it in. This allows you to take advantage of more than one offer.
  • If you hate the junk mail that e-mail clubs cause (they swear they won't sell your address, but they might send you promotional stuff) then create another e-mail address specifically for this. You can check it periodically and more often around your birthday when you are waiting for coupons to come.
  • Read the fine print — some restaurants require a minimum purchase in order to use the coupon.
  • Many fast food restaurants offer an e-club as well. Often they will send out coupons to get one of their newest menu items for free, just to try it out.

I think one of the best presents is an opportunity to save money, so birthday coupons are welcome in my e-mail inbox anytime. It gives my husband and me a great opportunity to go out to eat (which we don't do often) and not have to spend a fortune.

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