While shopping at the supermarket and cooking at home is the best way to keep your food costs low, we all know there are times when we just want (or need) to dine out, whether it’s at a fast food joint or a nice restaurant. Saving money while dining out can be a real challenge, but it is possible. Here are some easy ways to save:
- Coupons, coupons, coupons
I always use a coupon whenever I can to dine out. This can be a simple fast food one for a free drink, buy one get one meal (to share) at a chain restaurant, or a discounted meal or item at a nicer restaurant. Coupons are available online, in newspapers, in magazines, in weekly or monthly neighborhood “shoppers”, and with an Entertainment.com membership (which has a fee, but has lots of dining discounts). Discount gift certificates can be found at Restaurant.com. Even the bottom or back of your receipt may have a discount or freebie for your next visit if you answer a few survey questions (online or by phone) about their service.
- Loyalty or discount cards
Some chain restaurants, and even some independent restaurants, have loyalty cards which can get you free items, discounts and promotions, including specials for your birthday or anniversary.
- Kids eat free
Take advantage of restaurants which offer free kids dining with your adult meals, or even just kid’s menus which are lower in cost.
- Senior discounts
Ask about senior discounts like a percentage off your meal, or free coffee or tea. Some places even have a special senior menu.
- Free refills and value sizes
Most major fast food chains offer free refills on soft drinks. If so, always buy the smallest size drink so you can get free refills and save the cost of a larger drink. Also check to see if there is a “value menu”. Three smaller hamburgers might cost less, and give you more food, than one regular sized one.
- Buffets and family style dining
Find a restaurant that offers buffet dining and you can have a variety of different foods at one price. In a family style restaurant, you can order things that can be shared rather than a portion served separately to each person. This gives everyone the opportunity to try tasty items without a la carte costs.
- Off peak “early bird” or “late night” dining
Many places will offer discounts on early dinners or snacks and late night dining, since that’s normally a quieter time for them. Also, off days like Tuesdays or Wednesdays may have specials like “pasta night” or “burger night” where these items are discounted from the regular menu.
- Ask for half portions or share an entrée
Most restaurants try to fill you up with large portions so it’s seen as a value. Some restaurants are willing to serve you half portions for half price is you’re a light eater. Or you can try sharing an entrée with a spouse or friend (although there may be a small charge for sharing). If they’re not willing to serve a half portion, you can always take home the leftovers and use them for another meal or snack at home.
- Enjoy happy hour
Restaurants with bars often have “happy hour” with drink specials and reduced price appetizers. Share some appetizers with a friend instead of ordering an entrée and save.
- Have dessert elsewhere
Skip the overpriced dessert menu and go to an ice cream shop for a sundae or to your supermarket’s bakery for a treat. Better yet, make dessert at home.
- Be a teetotaler
Skip the empty calories and high prices of alcoholic drinks when you dine out. Most mid-range restaurants offer free refills on soft drinks. But for the most savings, order water (with lemon if you like) for free. Drinks are a huge profit-maker for restaurants and saving that cost equals dollars in your pocket, without taking away from your meal enjoyment.
It doesn’t hurt to splurge once in awhile, but if you want to stick to a budget when you dine out, and save your money for bigger and better things, try some of these tips. So now it’s your turn: what’s your favorite way to save when eating out?