Tell me if this exchange sounds familiar?
“We could go to X restaurant, it’s only $8 each.”
“Yeah, but by the time you add in drinks and tip, it’s still gonna be like $30”
We have this discussion a lot. Sometimes you want to eat out but while it sounds cheap ($8 a person), by the time you factor in drinks and tip (and sometimes a side!), you’re suddenly looking at double what you anticipated.
Thankfully there are many ways to shave money off your favorite dining experiences, whether you’re craving McDonalds or Olive Garden.
1.) Look for off brand taste-a-likes (copycat) convenience items
Sam’s Club was slammed recently when they came out with Chick-fil-a Nugget, Waffle Fry and Chicken Patty copycats. SavEars had mixed reviews, but for LESS than the cost of one meal at Chick-fila, we had 3 pounds of nuggets and 4 pounds of fries. I could have picked up several 2 liter drinks on the way home and thrown a party for less than what it would have cost my family of 3 to eat out. You can get a Chicken Nugget Dipping Sauce from Walmart that apparently tastes spot on to Chick-fil-a sauce for under $2 for the bottle (prices vary by region, of course).
You can also get Olive Garden salad dressing and croutons in your grocery store or Sam’s Club. Bring a little of that dining out flavor to your home made salad, for a fraction of the price. Just keep your eyes peeled and when in doubt, ask others what works for them or if they have ideas!
2.) No Drink
Soft drink prices are insane. We’ve personally been charged anywhere from $2.50-$4 for a single fountain soft drink. YIKES. Choosing water is a quick way to shave as much as $12 off our bill. I understand that some places have water that just doesn’t taste good- I like to keep a few flavor packets in my purse just in case. You can choose from a ton of flavors and the Great Value brand runs us under $1 for 8 individual packets. A huge savings!
3.) Order for pick up.
This is one of my favorite tips for a variety of reasons.
- Piggybacking on the tip above, you can skip the drink and just pour yourself whatever you’d like at home- for a fraction of the cost!
- No upselling. You get what you order and don’t get tempted to add an appetizer, or get the more expensive option because you see someone else with it.
- No Tip. Let me be perfectly clear, we do not save money on eating out at the expense of our server. If we go dine at a sit down establishment, they will receive a fair tip. That being said- if I order food and pick it up myself I don’t owe a tip. It can save you up to 20%!
- No Delivery fee. One of the things that irritates me the most is being charged a delivery fee- and then having to tip the driver as well. I don’t pretend to understand why I’m being charged a delivery fee if it doesn’t go to the person who is delivering the food, but that’s how it is. If I pick it up myself, I don’t have to worry about it- a few more bucks for the Disney fund.
4.) Take Home Leftovers.
If you do eat out, be sure to take your leftovers home- and consider that price per meal when deciding where to eat! There is a fancy chicken place near by that costs the same as our favorite mexican restaurant. The chicken place only feeds us for one meal, while we can easily get two meals from the mexican food, making it the better value for us.
5.) Buy discounted gift cards
Recently we posted a deal where you could get discounted giftcards for Hulu and Netflix, as well as other types of cards. Did you know often you can get restaurant cards on sale too? I saved 20% on a Subway gift card at Dollar General a few weeks ago. I got a $25 card for $20, which I counted as coming out of our dining out budget. When I pair it with deals, that $25 will stretch to at least 2 1/2 meals (utilizing sides and drinks we have at home) and $5 went into our savings. Keep an eye on the blog so we can let you know when these deals come along!
6.) Sign up for loyalty programs and restaurant apps
This tip works for a variety of reasons! More and more places are putting coupons on their apps like McDonalds and Subway. Recently McDonalds had $1 off a large fry, while their in-store deal was 10 chicken nuggets for $1.99. We were able to combine both these deals and split the fries and nuggets between two of us. We brought it home, popped open a can of Diet Dr. Pepper and ate for a fraction of the regular price. Even if the app doesn’t do exclusive deals, lots of places will track your purchases and give you rewards or free food when you hit thresholds. Some, like the Chick-fil-a app, throw out rewards just because. There are also restaurants that give you a special deal for just signing up- for instance, Zaxby’s will give you a free sandwich meal just for downloading the app! Don’t forget to keep an eye out for birthday freebies too.
7.) Submit to receipt apps
Certain receipt apps, like CoinOut will accept restaurant receipts! If you’re eating out anyway, you might as well make a few cents back.
8.) Check for special discounts
Student. Military. Teacher. Senior. You never know what kind of discount some places may have, but it never hurts to ask. This ties in closely with #9…
9.) Look for discount days
A local pizza place has $1.99 kids nights every Tuesday. In fact, a lot of places in my area either do discounts for kids, or kids eat free on Tuesdays. So if we want to eat out we try to make sure we go out to eat when the discounts are active. Even if it just saves $3, we’ve all seen how pennies make dollars. Around Veteran’s Day, there are often a lot of freebies and big discounts for military personnel, both active and retired. Chipotle does Teacher Appreciation Week, pizza places love to do “Pi Day (3.14)” discounts- and of course, we can’t forget Chick-fil-a’s famous Dress Like A Cow day!
10.) Take advantage of free extras
This is an easy one! We joke that we can get 3-4 meals off one meal out at Olive Garden because we love the salad that comes to the table so much. Often by the time the food arrives, I’m only able to take a few bites before I’m full, because of that fresh, lovely salad. When we visit Ruby Tuesday, I add the garden bar as a side. The it becomes the same situation as Olive Garden- I tend to fill up on my salad and take the meal I actually ordered home.
Do you have other ways to save on eating out? Be sure to drop me a comment and let me know what you do!