Eating out is a treat for us. We do it often enough that our kids know how to properly act in a restaurant, but not so often that they expect it or ask for it. I’d say we probably dine out at a restaurant once a week, maybe once every other week all depending on how other things go (like eating at my in-laws or parents).
We love eating out, but we don’t want to dedicate a lot of money towards it. While it’s not something we will ever cut out completely, we keep it in check by following a few simple guidelines that let us stretch our budget a long way when it comes to our dining out.
- Check the local paper for coupons – Every week we get a local ‘community’ focused newspaper. In there are coupons that are specifically for us, as they’re usually within a 5-10 mile radius of our house. You can find deals in other publications, of course, but the community papers seem to do a lot of the legwork for you. We also have used the Entertainment Book, though it looks as if that is soon going to be a thing of the past.
- Look online – There are many sites online where you can look for deals. Groupon, Living Social, and restaurant.com are great sites to check out. For the latter, make sure you look up a coupon code, as you can often get their vouchers at 70-80% off, which makes a good deal even better!
- Kids eat free – If you have little kids, you know that their food can be expensive, and even more so if they’re having one of their picky days. Take the burden off by looking for nights when kids eat free.
- Look for daily specials – One restaurant close to us has a deal that runs six days a week, four hours per day, where any omelette on their menu is $3.95. The omelettes are good, and you also get a side of hash browns and toast. It fills you up and at a price that’s hard to beat. Look around for such deals.
- Get your food to-go – While eating out can be relaxing (plus there’s no dishes to do!), you can definitely stretch your dollar further by getting restaurant food in carry-out, and eating at home. The food is the same food you’ll eat at the restaurant, but you won’t have to pay the full tip (you should still plan on paying a small tip to the take-out person who brings your food), as well as drinks and other items that can add a lot to the bill.
- Speaking of drinks – If you eat out, try drinking water. Soft drinks can add a lot to the bill, and alcoholic drinks are even more expensive. We typically drink water, and that saves us at least $4 each time we go out. (Note: Since your server still has to spend time and effort filling your water glasses, plan on adding $0.50 per person that drinks water on top of your calculated tip).
- Split a plate – I’ve seen many articles where it’s been well documented that restaurants give you much more food than you should probably eat, and definitely more food than is usually served at home. Many people will eat too much, some people will take leftovers, but what about finding a dish that’s agreeable to two people and splitting it? Most places will happily do this, and if you let them know, they’ll even split it up before they bring it out. Even if they charge $1 or $2 extra to split it, you still save quite a bit versus paying for two entrees.
- Order an appetizer - Ordering something off of the appetizer usually provides plenty of food and it’s typically quite a bit cheaper than an entree. I love nachos and can often come away very happy with a full order of nachos for $3-4 less than an entree. The only caveat is that the appetizer menu often contains more fatty foods, so be careful here.
In the end, if you use some of the tips above, you can have a completely satisfying meal out but pay significantly less money.
What things do you do or have you seen done that can save you money on your dining out bill?Copyright 2013 Original content authorized only to appear on So You Think You Can Save. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.