25 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out

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I really enjoy eating out, but will admit that it is something I rarely do, because it gets pricey quickly. When a reader offered to share with you these ideas about how to save money while eating out, so it becomes more affordable, I was really excited, because hey- who doesn't want to be able to do that? 
Recently I did eat out more than I have in the past, and I found myself using some of these tips which made a big difference, especially 3.

I often find myself asking, what do I want to do for dinner? Sometimes, cooking just isn’t appealing and, especially on the weekends, I want to try something a bit different. I love eating out, I mean, who doesn’t? No cooking, being able to spend quality time with family or chatting away the hours with your closest friends. However, generally it does come with a hefty price tag and is therefore something that’s avoided unless it’s a super special occasion. However, for those occasions when you can’t avoid eating out, there’s no reason to spend a fortune and with these great tips, you’re sure to have a great time safe in the knowledge that your bank balance hasn’t taken a beating.

1. Collect coupons – This is an easy way to save money as you can simply collect a few coupons and use them when you want to treat yourself to a nice meal out. Some supermarkets also offer coupons for restaurants when you have collected a certain number of points with them, which makes it even easier for you to save money.

2. Make the most of early bird offers – Sometimes restaurants will give special offers or different meal options available at reduced prices when you go before they get busy. Make the most of this by booking between 4 – 7pm and look out for ‘pre-theater’ deals as they’re sometimes called.

3. Share side dishes – Nowadays, portion sizes at restaurants can be huge and difficult to finish. Try sharing side dishes between two people instead of ordering one each. One portion of large fries is usually more than enough for two.

4. Order a takeaway – Many restaurants that have a takeaway facility usually offer significant discounts on their full menu prices, which is something to look out for. Takeaway portions tend to be bigger too which means you can order less, save money and have leftovers for a tasty meal the next day too. To have a look at the range of restaurants to choose from click here – or click here if you’re reading in the UK.

5. Sign up for newsletters – Many chain restaurants will often have a newsletter that you can sign up for and they’ll send you vouchers or special offers every now and again. So if you like eating at a particular place, make sure you sign up to receive their offers.

6. Go to a buffet restaurant – Although not as nice as a more formal sit-down dinner, you’ll definitely get the most for your money at an all you can eat buffet. Many of these restaurants offer food from around the world so there’s something for everyone but at a much lower price.

7. Sign up for a loyalty card – To keep you wanting to come back, restaurants offer loyalty cards which can help take a bit of money off your bill when you’ve saved up enough points. Some will give you money off every time you visit which is even better.

8. Order tap water – Ordering alcohol with dinner can add a substantial amount to your bill so stick to soft drinks to keep the bill to a minimum. You could even skip the expense altogether and ask for tap water, as restaurants usually don’t charge for this.

9. Eat out at lunch – Eating out at dinner is usually twice as expensive as eating out at lunch so plan to have a lunch date instead of a dinner date to save yourself a bit of money while still enjoying a nice meal.

10. Kids eat free – Many restaurants offer family deals which give you a free children’s meal when purchasing a full price adult meal. This can save you a lot of money so look out for the days and times you can take advantage of these family-friendly offers and your favorite places.

Penny here again. 

Here's some other tips that I'd add to this list. 

11. Read reviews – I truly believe that spending money on nice things can still be frugal, as long as you appreciate where the money went, and it doesn't feel like it was frittered away on things you didn't even enjoy. Some of the worst restaurant experiences I had were when we spent money at a restaurant and the food was sub-par, because then, not only did we spent a lot of money, but on things that were a waste. Checking out an establishment well first before eating there to make sure your money will be well spent. Don't just assume that a hefty price tag means the food is better- sometimes cheaper restaurants are extremely delicious and expensive ones not at all.
On that note –  if you are at a restaurant and when you taste the food, you really dislike it, or when it arrives it looks completely unappetizing, don't just suffer in silence and then pay for the full meal. Let the waitstaff know immediately what the issue is (but it should be a real issue, don't just be an annoying customer) and ask them if they can give you a different dish instead. 

12. Price compare –  Find out before going to a restaurant if it is pricier or cheaper, so you don't get sticker shock when you get there and then feel like you have to eat there, despite the price, since you already are there. Within the restaurant, price compare the various dishes and see if you can choose something from the cheaper options. Many restaurants have their menus and prices available online, which can help narrow down your search for restaurants and come prepared.

13. Make a budget for the meal –  When going to a restaurant, you might pick something cheaper, and another thing, and another, and before long, you realize that you spent much more on dinner than you'd planned. Instead of doing that, decide before the meal how much you plan on spending total (including the tip) and then work backwards from there, only placing your orders once you figured out the total, so you don't go over budget. 

14. To appetizer or not to appetizer –  Feel free to ask the serving people what size the different appetizers are. Depending on the restaurant, sometimes two or three appetizers is enough food to fully satisfy you, without needing a main meal, and be even cheaper. And sometimes it works the opposite way- the appetizers are tiny and overpriced unsatisfying portions, so it isn't worth ordering them. There is no need for a multi-course meal since you are just eating out. Consider whether you need an appetizer in addition to the main meal, or if just one or the other will suffice.

15. Don't arrive starved – However true the adage about not going grocery shopping hungry, this is even more true when eating out. Of course, that doesn't mean you should eat a full meal at home before coming out to the restaurant (which could miss the entire point of going out), but just don't have it be the first thing you eat all day, or you may be tempted to buy everything on the menu. A snack before the meal (even just a fruit) can save money at the restaurant.

16. Skip dessert – Desserts at restaurants often get very pricey- consider skipping them. However, if you do want a dessert after your meal, you can stop at a bakery or some similar place after finishing your meal and buy a dessert for cheaper than most restaurants offer them.

17. Or do just desserts – If you're eating out for a date or special occasion, and not because you don't have the energy to cook, another money saving idea is to eat supper at home and go out just for dessert and/or drinks.

18. Take advantage of freebies – Some restaurants supply free bread and salads with yor meals- take advantage of them and fill up on them in addition to your dinner. These are meant to be eaten. Don't be a pig though – these are meant to be eaten alongside your purchased meal. Just eat them as well so you don't need to buy so many dishes to fill you up, especially if you're coming to the restaurant hungry.

19. Don't knock street food – Yes, ambience makes a difference, but depending on your reason for eating out, getting street food, either from vendors or "hole in the walll shops" instead of fancier sit down restaurants can fill your belly with delicious foods for a fraction of the cost.

20. Order with your stomach, not eyes – I've been guilty of coming to restaurants and ordering a few items because they each sounded so good, and I was sure I wanted them all, and then being so stuffed that I didn't have room to finish my food. That is a waste of money. Even if it means sitting in the restaurant longer, I'd suggest ordering one thing at time, seeing after you eat the first dish, if you're hungry enough to order another one, because often our eyes are larger than our stomachs. 

21. Ethnic restaurants
 – While exotic restaurants often charge a hefty price tag when they are geared towards foodies, if you find restaurants from ethnic minorities geared towards the people from that ethnicity, to give them a taste of home (and not geared towards outsiders), you can often get extremely delicious and different food for low costs. For example, my husband and I went to a local Ethiopian  restaurant run by Ethiopians with Ethiopian clientele in mind. We were the only non Ethiopians there- everyone there was surprised to see us coming in to eat (and asked us questions about how we heard about it, and if we enjoy Ethiopian food), and we got such an amazing meal with a very low price tag. I've had the same happen with local Indian establishments. Whatever ethnic minority you have in your area- see if they have local restaurants and you may be delighted.

22. Picnic it – If you want to eat out for a special occasion and don't want to be doing any cooking, consider buying some ready to eat food from a grocery store or takeout place, buying some disposables, and making a picnic out of it. When we did this, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and indulged more than we do at restaurants, and the price tag didn't come anywhere near the price of such a meal at a restaurant. 

23. Groupon – If you know you have a special occasion coming up where you'd like to eat out, keep an eye out on groupon in the month preceding it.  You may get lucky like we did. There's a delicious all you can eat steakhouse (with 10 different types of meats served, one course after another) that I'd heard about for a while and wanted to go, but the price was way above our budget. However, we got a groupon deal for it that made it two for the price of one, and therefore cost less than a typical restaurant meal for us, which was superb. 

24. Website Discounts – Some local restaurant review websites offer an automatic 10% discount towards any restaurant on their website so long as you print up the coupon first and bring it to the restaurant. Find out if there are any local restaurant review places that do that.

25. Doggy bag it – If after you eat your meal, you find you are full but you still have leftovers, don't be ashamed to ask them to pack it up for you to take home. You may even get another meal out of it. When I used to live in New York, there was a restaurant that I loved to frequent with delicious food, and their standard dinner was so big that I always ate half and brought home ther other half which ended up being a complete meal.

How often do you go out to eat? Is it something you do regularly, or only for special occasions? What are your tips to save money while eating out?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Whenever we go out, we always have dessert and drinks waiting for us at home. This way date night is a 2 part event (at least), the last part of the meal is more intimate and private, and the bonus is that we save money!

  2. What a lovely idea! If you're at home for dessert you can then have a glass of wine or a brandy / calvados without having to think of 'drinking & driving', all you have to do.. is load the dishwasher!

  3. We really enjoy eating out; probably do it once or twice a week. First I order discount gift cards online for the restaurant, then sign up for the loyalty/email list (when they usually send a free coupon!), and lastly order something cheaper without ordering drinks, appetizers or dessert. The result is usually 15% off with the discounted card AND coupon. After you use the email incentive coupon, you can find other coupons online or in ads. If I'm really lucky, I'll be able to use an Ibotta rebate at the same time and shave off another $5.00.

    Unfortunately I can usually only use one coupon per visit. But stacking the coupon with discount gift cards and/or rebates will put a dent in the bill. I've also found that many restaurants send out "free item" coupons that you use during the entire MONTH of your birthday, not just on the exact day. If you sign up for enough lists, you can celebrate your birthday for a long time. ;)

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