What Do Card Issuers Count as Dining Purchases?

by Brittney Myers | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on June 1, 2021

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A woman sitting in a restaurant and tapping her smart phone on a payment reader.

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Earning bonus rewards on your favorite food may depend on your issuer.

Credit card rewards for dining purchases are a long-standing tradition, harkening back decades to the dining cards of yore. Today, you can find cards that offer bonus rewards on dining purchases from just about every issuer.

Unfortunately, every card with dining rewards has a different definition of what counts as a dining purchase. Generally, issuers rely on merchant codes -- four-digit numbers that describe what the business does -- to decide what is a restaurant (and what isn't).

But while these codes tend to be similar across issuers, which merchant codes are included in a given category can vary greatly. For example, some issuers might count bars as part of dining, while others only include eateries. Here's a look at what several major issuers have to say on the topic.

American Express

Several popular American Express credit cards offer bonus rewards on dining purchases, a couple at very high rates. Some Amex cards specify U.S. restaurants only, but most Amex travel cards provide bonus dining rewards on restaurants worldwide.

On paper, Amex is pretty restrictive about what counts as a restaurant. Cardholders can earn bonus rewards at regular sit-down restaurants and fast-food restaurants. You can also expect bonus rewards from a number of third-party delivery services, especially Uber Eats and Grubhub, which are associated with several Amex cards through statement credit offers.

Amex also lists a number of merchants that won't count as dining:

  • Bars
  • Nightclubs
  • Convenience stores
  • Supermarkets
  • Grocery stores
  • Cafeterias
  • Caterers
  • Theater clubs
  • Breweries
  • Bakeries
  • Meeting venues

Amex also states that restaurants inside of other businesses may not be eligible for dining rewards if their merchant code is "retail" instead of "restaurant."

Bank of America

Bank of America is also somewhat limited in its definition of dining. But, unlike Amex, it does count your bar tab. Specifically, Bank of America's dining category includes:

  • Full-service restaurants
  • Fast food
  • Bars or taverns

Again, while not specifically listed, many popular restaurant delivery services will also qualify for bonus dining rewards. The issuer doesn't list exclusions, so other types of dining establishments, such as bakeries or cafes, may or may not qualify based on their merchant codes.

Capital One

Capital One credit cards that earn bonus dining rewards can do so at a wide range of merchants, including:

  • Full-service restaurants
  • Fast-food restaurants
  • Bars
  • Cafes
  • Bakeries

The list published by Capital One ends with "and more," so you can likely expect that additional, similar establishments would also qualify as part of the dining category -- though it's up in the air what those may be. In practice, restaurant delivery services generally qualify, though meal kits generally do not.

Chase

Most Chase credit cards actually earn bonus rewards on dining purchases, but, according to Chase, the category itself is limited to regular sit-down restaurants and fast-food establishments. The list of merchants that don't qualify is larger, including:

  • Restaurants inside other businesses (like at stadiums or casinos)
  • Bakeries
  • Caterers
  • Dairy-product stores

Whether bars, cafes, and other similar businesses qualify for dining rewards varies based on the specific merchant code. Anecdotally, most bars and coffee shops will often qualify. And many restaurant delivery services usually count -- Chase even has a partnership with DoorDash, offering discounted memberships with several of its cards.

Citibank

Citi credit cards have some of the best dining rewards rates, but the issuer offers the same vague list as several other issuers. Qualifying merchants include:

  • Full-service restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Fast-food restaurants

While Citi doesn't have partnerships with particular restaurant delivery services, the issuer will count most of the popular services as dining for rewards purposes. Merchants that are specifically excluded from earning dining rewards include bakeries, caterers, and restaurants inside other establishments (such as ballparks and theme parks).

Discover

Several Discover credit cards offer dining rewards, though it may be limited to one quarter a year for some cards. The list of eligible merchants provided by Discover includes:

  • Full-service restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Cafeterias
  • Fast-food restaurants

Restaurant delivery services classified as restaurants will be eligible for bonus rewards. Discover doesn't list ineligible merchants, so it's unclear if the card will offer bonus rewards for bars, bakeries, or other merchants.

U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank has two types of dining categories depending on your specific card. For some cards, the dining category is general and includes:

  • Full-service restaurants
  • Fast-food restaurants
  • Bars

But some U.S. Bank cards that let you choose your own categories may separate fast food from other types of dining options. In the latter case, only fast-food restaurants count for that category, while the restaurant category includes full-service restaurants and restaurant delivery services.

You won't know until you try

As you can see, there's a lot of ambiguity in issuer definitions of dining. In the end, the only real way to see how an issuer will classify a given business is to make a purchase. Once the transaction hits your account, you should be able to see what kind of rewards it earned.

If you made a purchase that didn't earn dining rewards but you think it should have, you can try reaching out to your issuer to have the business reclassified, but the success of this approach is very much YMMV (your mileage may vary).

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