It is so easy to zip in a drive thru so you don’t have to deal with making dinner or the resulting mess. Going out to a nice restaurant is a form of entertainment and being waited on makes you feel nurtured and important. However, neither option is good for your budget. You can quickly sabotage your financial goals if you allow yourself to frequently succumb to the allure of dining out.
If you do go out to eat, there are a number of ways to save at your favorite restaurants.
Know how much a homemade dinner costs. Figure out how much it costs you to make 1 or 2 of your family’s favorite dishes. If you know that your recipe for spaghetti costs your family of 4 about $5, you’ll be less likely to want to go out and spend $35+ on spaghetti at an Italian restaurant.
Check the restaurant’s website. Before you head to your favorite restaurant, take a moment to check their website for coupons or special offers.
Join local restaurants’ email lists. There are several benefits from joining your favorite restaurant’s email list. When you join, you are often given a discount to use within the first 2 weeks. You will also receive coupons in your inbox throughout the year and the restaurant will let you know when they have special features on their website such as games, promotions, etc. You might even get a free meal or dessert on your birthday.
Join the restaurant’s text club. If the restaurant offers a text club, join it. They will often text exclusive coupons, specials, or events to their members.
Sign up for a restaurant’s rewards card. Find out if your favorite restaurant offers a rewards card. For example, if you regularly go to Starbuck’s you can buy a gift card, register it at Starbucks.com, and earn free drinks, special promotions, and more.
Follow your local restaurants on Facebook and Twitter. They often post coupons, promotions, and news that might interest you.
Complete the survey request on the restaurant receipt. Often the bottom of your restaurant receipt will have a place you can call or go online to complete a survey about your visit. Sometimes you can get a free dessert or appetizer by doing this, Other times you will be entered into a pool to win a cash prize.
Check your newspaper and junk mail flyers. The inserts in the newspaper and the junk mail flyers that you receive in the mail often have coupons for popular restaurants in your area. Even if you don’t think you will eat there, save them just in case.
Check with local schools. Call your local schools and ask if they run fundraisers during the year for coupon books or coupon cards. You can also check Facebook to see if you have a local group in your area where you can inquire about these promotions. To find your local group, try entering your city’s name and see what pops up.
Take advantage of kids’ reading programs. Local libraries will host a kids reading program in the summer. Sometimes the prizes are coupons for free kids meals at local restaurants.
Take advantage of days kids can eat free. Make a list of the days that restaurants in your area offer discount or free kids meals and keep it in your Couponing Binder. It does vary from city to city. I can usually find participating restaurants in my area by searching for my city name + kids eat free.
Take advantage of daily specials. Many restaurants feature a daily special and the savings on those particular meals can be significant. Always look at or ask for the specials before you order.
Check Groupon. Groupon offers discount deals for local restaurants. You might find an offer for $15 off a $30 meal or 2 meals for $20. Don’t forget to check the restaurant’s Yelp review before you purchase the deal.
Don’t purchase 2 combos. If you are feeding 2 adults at a fast food restaurant, purchase one combo and upsize it. Purchase a second entree and then split the upsized fry. They give you so much food that you can split it between 2 adults and be satisfied.
Don’t buy an entire kid’s meal. If you treat the kids to a fast food meal, bring along apple slices and fruit juice from home. You can purchase the entrees at the restaurant and split a large fry between all the kids. They feel like they are getting a treat but you spend less money out of your allowance.
Have an early dinner. Many restaurants end their lunch menu at 4 pm and if you can arrive 5-10 minutes before the cut off, you can still order off the lunch menu.
Order water. The cost of soda and iced tea at restaurants will quickly eat up your budget.
Look at the prices. Before you even look at the name of the entree, look at the price. If it is above your price point, skip to the next entree.
Take home your leftovers. Ask the server to bring a to-go box with your meal and immediately pack up half of your entree. After eating what remains on your plate, you can always eat from the to-go box if you are still hungry. With portions so large, you should be able to get 2 meals out of it!
Go out for dessert only. Instead of going out for an appetizer, entree, and dessert, just go out for dessert. My husband and I often do this on date night especially at the Cheesecake Factory.
Keep your restaurant coupons handy. If you do end up going out to eat, make sure you have your coupons with you. I keep my restaurant coupons in my purse-size coupon organizer so they are always with me.
Order an appetizer in place of an entree. It is acceptable to order an appetizer as your main course. Just let the waitress know that you would like it when the rest of your party gets their food. If you are a fan of quesadillas they are often found on the appetizer menu.
Share an entree. Instead of each person ordering their own entree, look for one that is large or contains 2 different items. If the restaurant has a bread service it is possible to eat the bread and half of the entree and leave feeling satisfied.
Go out for Mexican food. Most Mexican restaurants offer free chips and salsa; usually with unlimited refills. They also have larger portions so sharing is easy.
Purchase gift cards when they offer a bonus. Restaurants will offer an incentive if you purchase a gift card, especially around the holidays. Sometimes it is $10 off a $10 purchase or a bonus gift card for you to use. Take advantage of these deals and keep the gift card and the bonus for yourself.
Don’t order alcohol. Adult beverages can be a major budget buster. Avoid purchasing alcohol at a restaurant and instead enjoy a glass when you get home.
Split the check. Let the waiter know before you order who is going to be on each check. Never, ever, ever consent to evenly splitting the bill among everyone. You do not want to end up paying more than what your meal cost you.
Check in with your smartphone. Some restaurants participate with various check-in apps and will offer a discount or free food if you let them know you checked in. Ask your server if they are members of any of the apps.
Pick where you dine. If you are meeting a group of friends, suggest where you should eat based on cost and what discounts and coupons are available.
Visit during Happy Hour. Many restaurants offer Happy Hour menus. Even if you don’t drink, restaurants also offer inexpensive food; especially appetizers. Look up your favorite restaurant’s Happy Hour menu so you know what they offer.
Ask about specials. Before you order, ask your waiter if there are any unadvertised specials. One of my favorite local restaurants offers 2 meals for $14.99, but they don’t tell you about it unless you ask.
Dine Round Robin style. If you want to have an experience you can visit one restaurant for an appetizer, one for your entree, and one for your dessert. It is even better if you have coupons for each one.
Dine early in the week. Restaurants offer better discounts and incentives if you dine on their low-traffic days. Avoid dining out on Friday and Saturday when prices are higher. Coupons sometimes exclude these dates in the fine print and you’ll end up having to wait a while for a table.
Dine at the bar. Some restaurants offer a separate bar menu that can be considerably cheaper than the regular menu. If you are dining with your friends this might be a great way to save money. You don’t have to always dine at the actual bar. Many tables around the bar are usually considered part of the bar. If a restaurant is crowded you can usually get a seat at the bar with little to no wait.
Eat a snack before you dine out. If you usually find yourself ordering appetizers, large entrees, and dessert then you should have a snack about 30 minutes before you leave for the restaurant. You will order less and save more by taking advantage of this tactic.
Analyze kid’s meals. Instead of letting each kid order something off the kid’s menu, ask them what they both want to eat. Sometimes one adult entree is less than 2 kids’ meals. They can split the entree and drink water and you’ll end up paying less.
Eat dessert at home. Purchase a special dessert specifically for enjoying after you dine out at a restaurant. This will be substantially cheaper than if you allow everyone to choose a dessert at the restaurant. Plus, you’ll have something to look forward to.
Order something you can’t/won’t make. Instead of ordering an entree that you make frequently or could make at home for less, pick something more adventurous. While it won’t necessarily save you money, you will start to treat dining out as an special experience instead of necessity.
Order your food to-go. Instead of dining in the restaurant, order your food to-go and take it home. Plan to watch a movie and enjoy a delicious meal. You’ll save on the cost of beverages and the tip for to-go orders won’t be as much as when you dine in the restaurant.
Always double check your bill. Mistakes happen. Don’t pay your bill without verifying that everything is correct. Some restaurants automatically add the gratuity, even to smaller parties, so make sure you don’t end up double tipping your waiter.
Don’t scrimp on the tip. If you can’t afford to tip 18-20% on your meal, don’t go out to eat. Scrimping on the tip to save cash in your pocket is not acceptable. Your waiter works hard to provide for their family and you want to spread a little magic to them. If you use a coupon you should always tip on the full price cost of your meal and not what you paid after the discount.
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