I love eating out. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but sometimes it’s really nice to just let someone else do the work. Dining out can take a huge bite out of my food budget if I’m not careful though and I’m sure you feel the same. I know that I personally budget my groceries and eating out budgets together so if I’m not paying attention to things, I can blow my grocery budget without even realizing it and be in real trouble. While the best way to save on eating out is to not eat out at all, we all know that sometimes it does happen. Luckily for most of us, there are a few pretty simple things that you can do to save when you do have to order out to keep things from getting too expensive.
Saving money on restaurants is one of those things that seems hard but really isn’t. With that said, it isn’t something you’re going to be able to do without thinking about it. Most of these ways to save on eating out all require you to put conscious thought into the actual act of saving money. They’re not set it and forget it ways to save although that would make life so much easier wouldn’t it? One other thing that can save you money when you eat out is to include ordering out in your menu plan. Knowing ahead of time that it is only acceptable to eat out on those days can help temper the “need” to do it on other days.
Ways to Save at Restaurants
As with anything, some of these ways may be over what you’re willing to do to save money. That’s totally okay. Skip the ones you don’t like and use the ones you do. Some will help you save every time you eat out while others will only be able to help sometimes. In any case, they’re all great practices to put into play. Once you’ve got these 9 down pat, consider picking up a current Entertainment Book to stack with it. Each one is filled with thousands of dollars worth of coupons and a lot of those are for restaurants.
Eat Earlier in the Day – Unless you’re eating at a fast food restaurant, most places will typically charge more for dinner hours than they will for lunch. This means that if you can eat earlier in the day, you’ll likely pay much less than you would if you ate out in the evening. This is also true for happy hours. Most of them are held in the late afternoon hours before their dinner rush comes in since these are usually very slow hours for business.
Look for Special Promotions – Speaking of eating earlier in the day, special promotions such as late-afternoon Happy Hours are great ways to eat restaurant-caliber food without paying dinner rush prices. Happy Hours aren’t just for beer and cocktails. A lot of places offer half-priced appetizers or discounts on meals as well. Other restaurant promotions may include: kids-eat-free nights, all-you-can-eat dishes (pasta/salad/etc.), Taco Tuesdays, and more. Use these promos to your advantage.
Use a Groupon – If you’re not a member of Groupon, you are seriously missing out on fantastic savings. Aside from the savings they offer on local events and past times, you can also find big savings on restaurants in your local area. We use Groupon for everything from dining out to going to the zoo and more.
Share an Entree – Restaurant portions are huge and are generally more than you will need to fill you up. Because of this, we all end up paying for way more than we actually need or will eat most of the time. How many times have you left half a plate of food on the table when you left the restaurant? Instead, split an entree with your spouse or whoever you are dining with. You’ll save the cost of buying a second dish and you won’t have any waste.
Use a gift card – If you’re not already earning free gift cards, you should be. They can be a fantastic way to not only save when you eat out, but to add extra money to your budget as well. I personally add over $225 to my budget every month using a very specific system to work my favorite sites each day. Once I reach the amount of cash that I need or want to have extra on hand, I move to cashing out in gift cards for various places, restaurants included.
Bring a Coupon – Unless you have your heart set on a particular restaurant that doesn’t offer coupons, you can probably find coupons online or in your local newspaper for restaurants in your area. The two main types are percentage discounts (5-15% off, usually) and dollar amount discounts (e.g. $10 off a bill of $50 or more). Some places also offer 2-for-1 deals or a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree. A lot of the time you can also score a coupon by signing up for a restaurants email list. Pizza Hut for instance gives you a free order of cheese bread when you sign up for theirs. Use these coupons and discounts to your advantage and save.
Order Water – Free refills aside, ordering drinks at a restaurant can get really pricey. It’s okay to splurge a little when it’s a special occasion, but if you’re dining out with the family “just because” then try to stick to ordering water. If you need to flavor it a bit, carry a water flavoring packet with you or ask for a lemon to be added. Most places will at no charge and you’ll enjoy your lemon water every bit as much as you would that soda or tea.
Order off of the kids menu – Along the same lines as sharing an entree, the kids menu can often be a great way to save. The portions are smaller which means that the costs are too. Plus? Your kids will get a kick out of seeing you eat off the same menu that they do! You’ll fill up just as easily and honestly? Who wouldn’t want your pancakes in a smile or tiny little corn dogs to much on? Kids food is so much more fun!
Skip Dessert – I know. It’s tempting. It’s also very expensive. In most restaurants, a dessert will run you $6.00 or more for what could only be described at a couple of bites. Unfortunately, a big part of being frugal is learning to differentiate between needs and wants and desserts definitely fall into the “wants” category. As with drinks, it’s okay to splurge for special occasions; otherwise, skip desserts when dining out with the family.
So there you have it. My 9 tips for saving big when eating out. They won’t work for everyone but honestly, money saving tips never do. Each person has their own place where they draw the line in the sand and that’s totally okay. Do you do anything to save at restaurants? I’d love to hear what you do! I’m always looking to save more money!