Eating out is great, but I feel guilty about doing so unless it is done on a budget. Here's a post by Swapnil, a British reader, who loves to inspire people to develop a realistic savings plan and pursue their financial goals.
I love to dine out. Having said that it’s not just about satisfying my taste buds, but since I am a foodie, this lets me experiment and actually experience the vicarious pleasure that I feel while watching different food shows.
For some people, this kind of indulgence means breaking the bank. They turn down any plans of dining out to meet their personal budget. The common piece of advice to such people is to get their own ingredients and do the cooking at home. The plan does sound interesting in the first place, but there is only so much you can do. After a stressful and hectic day, you certainly deserve the occasional pampering instead of dreading the idea of cooking a new fancy dish at home.
While I love cooking and I am a DIY person, but I don’t sacrifice or say no to these indulgences just to fulfil my cost-cutting agendas, rather I pick the smarter way to dine out. You can easily keep the budget under control by making smart choices. I'll begin with tips on how doing it. The hungry patrons like me who enjoy gulping restaurant meals can adopt these:
1. Nibble on a snack: Before you head out, gorge on some snacks. You don’t have to satiate yourself, but enough so that you are not starving by the time you reach the restaurant. This may sound a little crazy, but it works. Once you reach the restaurant, you wouldn’t order more than you can eat. This is a form of portion control. Besides, there are restaurants where you are offered huge portions. In such cases, I do not shy away from getting the leftovers packed. I have been able to enjoy two meals by just paying once for the dish.
2. Check voucher websites: Numerous websites such as Groupon or tastecard.co.uk offer great deals on restaurants. These are amazing resources to save money dining out at restaurants. I typically check these websites to see if I am missing any deals in my area. Deals such as 2 meals for price of 1 and others truly make these resources handy.
3. Go out for lunch: Unless you have decided to go on a romantic date (assuming you will do that at night), you can always opt for lunch instead. Since many people do not opt for a lunch at a restaurant since they are generally stuck in offices, these are typically less expensive than dinner. Also, the lunch portions are typically huge, offering you a lot more for what you pay.
4. Avail Cashbacks: Your savings are not just restricted to the time of payment of your restaurant meal. You can go for a cash back credit card that can get you cash back ranging between 1% to 5% of the money spent. There are some cash back cards which offer a flat-rate discount on certain items that you buy. This requires some research at your end since different cash back credit cards come up with different offers but this is certainly a good way to maximize your rewards.
5. Check for local deals: With the proliferation of social media, restaurants have eyed the different social platforms to engage with their customers. Whether it’s the restaurant website or Facebook page, you will often find them running some kind of contest, selling discounted gift cards and others promote themselves. The bug has not just bitten the online retail or fashion stores, but a number of restaurants give you discounts, lucrative deals, access to special vouchers if you like the Facebook page or subscribe to their online newsletter. In fact, subscribing to such newsletters can come handy later as many restaurants send out vouchers routinely or even freebies through email on special occasions such as birthdays.
6. Entertainment books: If you do not want to go through the ordeal of hunting for vouchers everywhere, then simply buy an entertainment book. These books offer you a slew of vouchers for restaurants and other places all over the country. If you manage to combine these vouchers with another reward or discount, you are in for a treat.
7. Research in advance: For most of the restaurants, the menus are easily available online on their websites. At times when you cannot go for an extravagant restaurant, but are craving to savour a restaurant delicacy, you can narrow down a place with inexpensive dishes. Often, I take my time to research about the daily specials of the restaurant I want to visit. These dishes are cheaper and satisfy my cravings for the day.
8. Skip the drinks: Alcoholic drinks are quite expensive in restaurants since the markup on them is higher. A glass of beer would cost you around three - four times than what you would pay if you buy it from a liquor store. Moreover, it’s not just the alcohol, which is the problem; soft drinks have a higher markup. The idea is to go for tap water and avoid these whopping costs of cola and booze altogether. If you still want to go for booze, you can sip a cocktail at home instead.
9. Choose a combo meal: If you do not have anything specific on your mind, you can go for a combo meal instead of a la carte item. Many restaurants offer large portions of a la carte items and you might not want to eat it all at once. You can savour different items in a combo meal which comes at a reasonable price and sufficient quantities of different items.
10. Free kids meals: If you have kids, then all you need to do is make a list of restaurants where kids eat for free. This is one of the easiest ways to save money with minimal effort.
Thus focusing on what, where, when and how to eat will half the amount that you spend on the meals outside.
Hopefully these tips will help you see a difference in your restaurant bills.
See my disclaimer.