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For Restaurant Deals, Tap Your Phone Screen: 7 Apps for Frugal Foodies

phone: Ian Muttoo

If you want to get a good deal on your next dinner out, never mind the print out coupons — just bring your phone.

Social-media savvy restaurants have turned to a variety of social networking, coupon and geo-tagging phone apps, offering cell-toting visitors specials and free food. All it takes is a few taps on your phone screen and then giving your server a quick glance at the resulting deal.

No fancy smartphone? There are low-tech options, too. The Pizza Kitchen in Knoxville, Tenn., lets people opt in to receive offers via text message. (In the first week alone, 60 people signed up, a spokesman says.)

While the programs below are a great starting point, don’t forget to check out your favorite restaurants directly. Many, like Downtown Truckee, Calif.’s Squeeze In, have their own apps. Owner Misty Young says that strategy helps the restaurant stand out from competitors and keeps customers loyal to the restaurant’s EggHead Breakfast Club rewards program rather than another app-developer’s. “Only a ‘somebody’ has their own app — anyone can use Foursquare,” she says. (They’re there, too, of course, but save the deals for their own program.)

Where do you get your best mobile deals? Add a comment below.

Facebook

Just pulling up this free social networking site on your phone’s browser can lead to savings. Deals exclusive to Facebook fans of a restaurant count for plenty of our Dining on a Dime mentions. HuHot Mongolian Grill in Appleton, Wis., recently offered half-priced meals on different days for people who are under 5-feet tall, or came toting a thesaurus.

Use the site’s free app, Facebook Places, to check in, and you can get extra deals, too. (It’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows 7 and other devices.) Chipotle recently offered visitors buy-one, get-one-free entrees.

Foursquare

Check-in via the free app (on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm and other devices) when you arrive to unlock special deals. El Gaucho in Portland, Ore., for example, offers a free Bananas Foster Flambee ($10) with every entrée purchase, and Turner Fisheries offers a 20% discount. Some use the app to supplement store rewards. New York-based Tasti D-Lite awards an extra point per purchase when you sign up to link the app and its program so that you automatically check in when you’re paying.

Mayors – the person with the most check-ins at the location over 60 days – may get even better deals. McCormick & Schmick’s offers people who check-in during happy hour and buy a drink a free item from a selection of bar foods. But the mayor gets a free dinner entrée with the purchase of a second.

LuxCode

The free iPhone-based reward program lets consumers receive downloadable, personalized 2D barcodes to local businesses — primarily in and near Boston, for now. Servers scan them tableside straight from your phone to claim the discount. Fire + Ice offers 10% off and Monsoon Indian Bistro, buy-one, get-one-free entrees.

Scvngr

Earn points on this free iPhone and Android app for checking in when you visit a location, take a picture there or perform challenges the retailer sets up, like turning your foil burrito wrapper into an origami masterpiece. Redeem points for discounts. Finale Desserterie & Bakery Café in Cambridge, Mass., offers game players 10% off when they accumulate three points, BOGO pastry at 25 points and a free plated dessert at 35 points.

Twitter

Following the right restaurants on the free social networking site — accessible from any smartphone — can yield extra discounts and deals. The latest trend: code words that, said to a server, get you that day’s special. SunDance Café in Sacramento, Calif., recently offered a free bottled drink with any sandwich purchase to visitors who said the code word “Starman.”

YWaiter

A free iPhone and Android app, YWaiter lets you place takeout and dine-in orders straight from your phone. (Right now, partners are primarily in or near Phoenix, Ariz.) Placing an order often entitles you to an extra discount, too. Majerles Sports Grill gives app users an extra 15%, while Baby Kay’s Cajun Kitchen knocks off 10%.

Yelp Check-ins

The latest version of the popular business review and recommendation site’s free app (available on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm, Windows 7 and other devices) now lets you check in when you arrive at a venue, with special offers when you mention Yelp to your server. That gets you a free glass of Champagne at Relax on Cloud 9 in New York, for example, and 25% off appetizers and drinks at The Spot Lounge in San Francisco.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.