Here are 10 glorious tips to help you make the most out of dining out.
When we’re eyeing our budget, spending on entertainment is normally one of the first items that people cut back on. But I was determined to figure out a way to eat out a couple of times a month, just to step out of my usual routine of doing the family cooking for most days of the week. In so doing, I discovered that dining out cheaply was actually more affordable and easier than I thought! Here is a compilation of some of my favorite tips on eating out for less.
How I Save Money When Dining Out
1. Watch the frequency of your visits to restaurants.
I just mentioned that I would love a break from home cooking once in a while. If you make it a habit to eat out often, perhaps several times a week or more, you may wonder why you’re low on coin by the end of the month. Those who enjoy urban living and city life may dwell near restaurant enclaves and eschew the ownership of a car in favor of living in the middle of entertainment and food venues. But the convenience of simply walking to the nearest dining spot may also weigh down your wallet. Just be aware of how much you are indeed spending on this budget category.
2. Have kids? Take advantage of events where children eat for free.
Several major restaurant chains and dining franchises have great offers for families: kids can eat free on certain nights. Look for deals at restaurants such as IHOP and the Ground Round. I also notice that several local restaurants would offer the same deal to compete with the big guys. That gives our family more affordable options.
Recently, we enjoyed a meal at the Ground Round for under $40 with tip — our table was laden with steak, burgers and dessert. Because the kids were in there for free, it was possible to eat out well for less.
3. Use gift cards for points.
I participate in several online points websites. I earn points for all types of online activities including surfing, reading email, shopping and even taking surveys.
Often, restaurant gift cards are offered in exchange for points earned at websites such as Creation Rewards and My Points. I recently took a survey and got three $25 gift cards to Chili’s Bar & Grill. We used one card to go out to lunch while I gave away another two as Christmas gifts to other families who don’t get to eat out often. I know these are gifts they’ll appreciate!
4. Use rewards cards for points as well!
Don’t forget your rewards credit AND debit cards — many of them offer points that are redeemable for restaurant visits or may provide you outright bonuses on sign ups. Usually, additional rewards points are associated with spending at eateries, so you can use your restaurant visit to collect flexible points for additional savings elsewhere. As an example, check out Perkstreet Financial promotions for special “Perkstreet PowerPerks”, which are revolving benefits that often feature eateries.
5. Share a meal.
Does a $3 plate charge put you off from sharing meals? Don’t let it. After all, it’s often the case that the only item you can get at a restaurant for $3 is a beverage or small bowl of soup. If spending $3 saves the cost of a $15 meal (especially when the portions are large), then it’s well worth it!
If you do decide to order individual meals, don’t forsake the doggie bag. In days gone by, people brought the leftovers home for the family pet. But these days, we’re a lot more practical: leftovers can be stretched into another meal.
6. Enjoy a leftover bonanza.
If you’ve got a family with a hearty appetite, then you may rarely share meals. But could it be because we’re so accustomed to having our eyes work the dining table to tell us we’re hungry, rather than letting our tummies do the talking?
Sometimes, we may even order a little extra of our favorite meal to be packed as leftovers. If so, then why not make a family event out of it? I try to be creative. During these situations, I heat everything and serve it all together buffet-style, calling it our “Leftover Bonanza.” My family actually looks forward to these occasions, and it saves me a night of cooking. We even avoid finagling about money! The key is in the presentation.
7. Use the Entertainment Book and be a coupon hound.
Every year we purchase an Entertainment Book (which we spotlight in this article as well). Look for special offers and coupon codes to get the book for up to half price. For a minimal investment, your family gets a great assortment of coupons for restaurants, movie theaters and other entertainment venues.
I first purchased the book 20 years ago as a law office manager. I used the Entertainment card to take clients out to lunch. Now the book has evolved to include family-friendly activities such as museums and amusement parks as well as fast food restaurants and ice cream parlors.
Whether we want a quick burger on the go or wish to plan a day in NYC at the museums, the Entertainment Book makes it possible for us to cover more ground for much less.
I would also suggest that you go beyond the Entertainment Book. Be a coupon hound. Before we go anywhere, I go to the venue’s website to search for coupons. You’ll often find a special page of money-saving coupons for website visitors. We recently scored a free trip to a water park by using a coupon and by going after 4 PM. It cost us less than half the usual price.
Peruse your local publications, too. We recently scored a buy one, get one free ice cream deal to treat the kids after their annual holiday concert.
8. Use restaurant vouchers.
We also take advantage of deals at Restaurant.com. You can purchase a $25 or $50 voucher toward a meal at a local restaurant. The vouchers are half priced or less. Once, I spent only $1.50 for a $25 voucher!
Make sure to call the restaurant before purchasing the voucher. I learned that some restaurants stop participating in the program and might not accept a voucher after some time. This can be pretty frustrating, so don’t sit on your vouchers for too long. Call the restaurant ahead of time to confirm that they still honor Restaurant.com certificates and to determine which days they are good for. Note that restaurants may not allow you to use the discount vouchers on holidays.
9. Take it to go.
When you dine in, you need to purchase a beverage and tip the waitress. You may even be tempted to order more from the menu when you’re seated, enjoying the ambiance. As an alternative, how about going to a local restaurant for take out, then finding a scenic venue to enjoy your meal? In our case, we like to bring a jug of homemade iced tea with cups and forks so we can eat at the park or beach. The family enjoys dining al fresco for less! We don’t have to tip or buy beverages so we can keep costs down.
10. Skip the booze.
That frothy pina colada looks tempting, but what about the $10 price tag? You might want a glass of pinot grigio with your pasta but do you really want to spend $7 for it? You could purchase an entire bottle of wine for that price!
Skip the booze when you dine out. You’ll save significantly. You’ll want to avoid drinking and driving anyway. Purchase a bottle to share at home after the kids go to bed. You’ll be safer, more comfortable and you’ll spend much less than if you drink at the restaurant.
What are your tips for saving at restaurants?
Created November 16, 2008. Updated October 10, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.