I am a huge fan of eating out. Chefs make better food than I do AND I don’t have to do any dishes! The main problem with eating out is the cost — it can be much more expensive than making your meals yourself. To indulge in meals out and save a little cash while doing it, try these tips.
1) Order water. TAP water. Soft drinks and alcohol are seriously marked up at restaurants. Just order water and do your soda and alcohol drinking at home.
Don’t fall for the water upsell either. It is unnecessary to purchase bottled or sparkling water. Tap water at restaurants is filtered, so it’s perfectly fine.
2) Use sites like Groupon, Scoutmob, or Restaurant.com. Use a site like Groupon for deep discounts on food and alcohol. Maybe you pay half price, maybe you save even more! Remember to read the restrictions, sometimes there are rules for what you can and cannot order.
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Scoutmob is only available in the major U.S. cities, but it’s an awesome app to save money if you live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Portland, and the like. It’s full of coupons for 50% off local restaurants.
3) Use regular coupons. Didn’t know restaurants had coupons? They do! Often times, you can get coupons emailed to you by signing up for the email list with your favorite restaurants. You might also get good deals by liking them on Facebook or following them on Twitter. Every major (and most minor) restaurants embrace social media and offer deals for their fans. Jump on that!
Occasionally restaurant coupons for both chains and independent restaurants are available in mailing inserts. Don’t throw these out, they are the best junk mail out there.
Another tip is to sign up for the birthday clubs at all your favorite restaurants. You will get lots of free food during your birthday month. Free is awesome! A few places to start — Benihana, Au Bon Pain, and Baskin Robbins.
4) Decide what you want ahead of time. Most restaurants have the menu with prices on their website. By deciding on your family’s price range and each choosing what you want ahead of time within the budget, there will be no awkwardness from your six-year-old trying to order the surf-n-turf.
Once you make your decision, stick to it (or something cheaper). Don’t make this decision while hungry or you will be completely convinced that you need an appetizer, entree, and dessert.
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5) Order appetizers. Not in addition to entrees, that would cost way more. Appetizers are usually cheaper than entrees (especially during happy hour!) and better portioned for a meal. The majority of restaurants have ridiculously large portions, scale it down with an appetizer.
Appetizers are also great for family style eating. Each person in your party can order a different appetizer and you can share. Variety and saving money? Sign me up!
6) Speaking of happy hour, go to it! Not only does happy hour mean reasonably priced drinks, it also usually means discounted appetizers or meals. Try to plan your dinner around that 2 or 3 hour window to save some serious cash!
Also, check into discounted bar menus. Some restaurants have bar menus with cheaper prices than the traditional menu. If that’s the case, hop on up, you are sitting at the bar tonight!
7) Halve your meals. Chances are, you don’t need to pound your entire entree in one sitting. When your meal comes, ask for a box and halve it right away. Now you won’t overeat and you’ve turned one meal into two! If you choose to bring your leftovers into work, make sure they are not heavy on garlic, curry, or any other strong smelling spice. Your coworkers will totally hate you for the rest of the day.
Whatever you do, don’t leave food on your plate. Okay, there are some things that don’t heat up well (french fries, anyone?) but the majority of the things can be enjoyed later. Wasting food is wasting money, box it up!
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8) Order the lunch portion. Lunch portions are smaller AND cheaper so try ordering the lunch portion the next time you go out. If lunch portions are only available at lunchtime, then do lunch out instead of dinner.
9) Don’t tip! And by that, I mean go to places where you aren’t expected to tip, like fast food style restaurants. That’s an instant savings of 15-20%!
Do not go out to sit down restaurants and skip tipping. Your server is making like three dollars an hour. If you don’t have enough to tip, you don’t have enough to eat out.
10) Know the specials. Many restaurants have specials other than happy hour. My old favorite pizza place had half off pizzas every Monday! Find out the specials at your favorite places and dine out accordingly.
11) Pre-game. Food, not drink. By eating a small snack before dining out, you can curb hunger and order less (or keep more as leftovers). Going to dinner starving will surely cause you to over order so pregame a bit so your eyes and stomach are both in agreement on how much you want.
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12) Split your meal. If you are eating out with a friend, family member, or significant other, split your entree to save cash. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you don’t need to eat the entire entree to be satisfied. Restaurant portions are huge, there is absolutely no reason you need to take in that many calories in one sitting.
Dining out is a great opportunity to skip cooking and cleaning and spend time socializing with loved ones. Use the above tips to avoid breaking the bank for your next meal.
What are you favorite tips for eating out on the cheap? Do you agree that eating the entire entree at most restaurants is crazy?