Switzerland has one of the most diverse and vibrant culinary scenes in the world. Whether you are enjoying the ski slopes or grabbing takeaways in the city, great dining experiences are rarely more than a short walk away. In addition to being a literal melting pot of local creations and Italian, French, Austrian and German cuisine, Swiss restaurants and take-aways also serve up ethnic foods and modern fusion to suit the most adventurous palate.
A food lover’s paradise? For those with a very healthy bank balance - it certainly is. But don’t let the high cost of eating out in Switzerland limit you to home food, leftovers and hanging out in your living room. There are numerous ways to enjoy great dining at prices that can match (or beat) those in other countries. You can find some of them here.
1. Use coupons
Switzerland may not be known as a coupon culture, but coupons are absolutely the easiest way to enjoy more dining for less in this country. Many Swiss restaurants run specials, and coupon websites make it easy to find these. Groupon’s Swiss website may have closed up shop in 2016, but Deindeal is still going strong and regularly lists coupons for dining deals at restaurants across Switzerland. Count on deals that shave up to 50% off regular menu prices, on average, particularly off multi-course meals and all-you-can-eats.
Coupons are updated regularly, and aside from saving you money, chasing these deals is also a great way to explore new restaurants.
2. Join a 2-for-1 dining club
Who really enjoys visiting a restaurant alone? Luckily, in an effort to win new customers, a number of Swiss restaurants participate in programs which let two people enjoy a meal while only paying for one. Divide that bill with a dining buddy and dining out suddenly seems a lot more affordable. The most popular (and powerful) 2-for-1 coupon programs include Prozentbuch (German-speaking Switzerland), Easy Dining (central Switzerland) and La Clé (Western Switzerland).
The Prozentbuch for Bern costs CHF 44.90 and those for Zurich, Basel and Luzern cost CHF 49.90. That's approximately the price of one decent restaurant meal. Each of these gives you around 40 vouchers for 2-for-1 dining deals at different restaurants.
La Clé voucher booklets cost around 80 Swiss francs, but cover several cities, provide a lot of vouchers and include a culinary guide in addition to vouchers. Easy Dining is an app-based subscription which lets you eat at 55 restaurants across central Switzerland and benefit from a 50% discount on your bill for two people (excluding drinks). Easy Dining membership costs 65 francs per year.
3. Take advantage of membership discounts
Your bank accounts, health insurance policies, auto club memberships, credit cards and association memberships may just be the key to trimming your dining check.
If you have a TCS membership, for example, you are entitled to discounts (6% to 10%) at a number of unique restaurants and chain outlets (including Marchè and Hard Rock Cafe).
If you use an American Express card (like a Credit Suisse Bonviva Amex card), you benefit from special deals like 2-for-1 deals or beverages on the house at select restaurants through the American Express Selects program.
Students with STUcard debit cards can get discounts at around 80 restaurants and restaurant chain outlets just by using their card to pay. STUcard discount partners include Migros Takeaway, Subway, McDonalds, Holy Cow, Hitzberger, Domino's Pizza and many more.
4. Buy unused restaurant vouchers
Switzerland has a thriving second-hand market and buying unwanted restaurant vouchers is the perfect way to score cheaper dining experiences. Online flea markets and auctions like Ricardo, Tutti, Ebay and Anibis provide prime hunting grounds for deal-hungry gourmets.
Although the restaurant selection can be a bit of a hit-and-miss, it’s worth keeping tabs on voucher sales because unused vouchers typically sell for around 50%-60% of their face value. What’s more, there is nothing to stop you from bargaining for a better deal. Because many of those selling unwanted vouchers received them as gifts or loyalty rewards, they are often happy enough to get something for them rather than holding onto them until they expire.
5. Check into discounts on takeaways
In Switzerland, the VAT rate you pay at sit-down restaurants is much higher than the VAT you pay for takeaways (these benefit from the same low VAT as grocery stores). If you are ordering food from a restaurant to go, ask them if they offer a discount on takeaways.
Many Swiss restaurants offer automatic takeaway discounts as high as 20%, which goes much further than the difference in VAT.
6. Use Reka checks to pay
Reka checks are accepted as payment at face value by over 1500 restaurants and take-away outlets across Switzerland. You can find these using the Reka Guide website or app. Coop restaurants, Marché and Mövenpick restaurants, restaurants owned by Candrian Catering (many stand-alone restaurants and Burger King outlets) and many more accept Reka checks. Reka checks can be purchased at larger Coop supermarkets for 3% off their face value and Reka applies a 2% discount on Reka card balance top-ups. Using Reka to pay at restaurants which accept it translates into 3% (Reka checks) or 2% (Reka card) off your dining purchases. Many employers and associations offer their employees or members even higher discounts on Reka checks (or Reka card balances).
If you are flexible in your choice of restaurants and enjoy new dining experiences, the opportunities to enjoy great food at reasonable prices in Switzerland are plentiful.