Discounts for restaurant regulars aren't a new phenomenon, but they're beefier than ever before. If you eat out often, you can slice 20 percent to 50 percent off the cost of your meals by joining one of the major discount dining programs.

In fact, the list of restaurants is the key to choosing the best program for you. It doesn't matter how much money you save if you don't like the food, so request a listing of participating restaurants before you enroll.These are our top picks:

BEST OVERALL

With the Transmedia card (800-422-5090), you pay a one-time membership fee of $4.95 to get a 20 percent discount on food and beverages at more than 7,000 restaurants nationwide. If you don't use the card at least once every six months, you'll be charged a $9.95 biannual maintenance fee. If you eat out more often than you eat at home, you may want to choose a "silver" membership instead, which costs $29.95 a year and boosts your discount to 25 percent.

What makes the Transmedia card popular with businessmen is that it's discreet. You register a credit card with Transmedia and pay using your Transmedia card, which looks like a credit card. Your charges will be billed to the account you've designated, and you'll receive the discount on your statement.

RUNNER-UP

The Dinner on Us Club (800-346-3241; $59.99 per year) offers discounts at 17,000 restaurants nationwide. An offshoot of the Entertainment coupon books sold by fund-raising groups, the club issues a card to use at restaurants for a free meal with the purchase of another.

Members also get a coupon book, called the Value Guide, that includes discounts for local fast-food restaurants, movies, shopping and entertainment.

Restaurants in 58 metropolitan areas participate. When traveling, you can call a toll-free number to find restaurants in the program.