Eating in is a great and easy money saver, but it’s not always an available option, nor is it always exciting (though I do have some suggestions on how you can spice it up). A nice restaurant meal can be a welcome and affordable indulgence if you know when and where to look.
Set a Budget.
Before you start the hunt for you dining locale, decide how much you’re willing to spend. Setting a budget can help you narrow your search significantly, particularly when you’re in unfamiliar places (on business, vacation, etc). A quick glance at the number of dollar signs on Yelp or in your guidebook can be your first filter. Then double check menus online to make sure they’re in line with your price point and your appetite.
Couponing isn’t just for the grocery store, with services like Groupon and Restaurant.com, you can get discounts on everything from your corner bodega to the finest dining establishments in town. Sometimes, even the coupons themselves go on sale; meaning you can purchase a $25 restaurant voucher for just a few bucks! But be sure to read the fine print.
Coupons generally have a number of restrictions, ranging from dates and times they can be used to food and drink they can be used for to minimum and maximum order values and redemptions. You don’t want to show up anticipating filet mignon and find out that the coupon you have is only applicable to a limited pre fixe menu of pasta with garlic and olive oil or a grilled chicken breast.
Opt for Lunch Specials.
Midweek lunch specials are a great way to enjoy dining out without the night and weekend pricing.
Save the Drinks for Dessert.
Sticking to tap water during your meal can shave a significant amount off your total bill and may also be a better choice if you have to drive home afterwards. Once you’re settled back home or in your hotel, enjoy a nightcap without the restaurant mark up. Even non-alcoholic beverages like coffee and soda can increase a bill by quite a bit once the extra tax and tip are factored in.
Go for Happy Hour.
If you’d really like that pre-dinner cocktail, check out the happy hour specials. They’re not always limited to alcohol either. Often times restaurants will have special “food happy hour” menus or other promotions like half-priced appetizers.
Try An Appetizer as an Entrée.
Sometimes an appetizer is enough for an entire meal. Check out the size of the dishes around you or ask the waiter how big the apps are to gauge whether you might be able to make a meal out of one of the smaller plates.
Save Dessert for Dessert.
Dessert is another treat to hold off on till you get home. Waiting will also give you a bit more time to digest your meal and see if you’re even hungry for those extra calories.
It’s no secret that restaurant portions are often two to three times a recommended serving size. Split the meal and you can save on your health and your bill. If you can’t find someone to share with, package the other half for later and make two meals out of one.
Consider Low Cost Cuisine.
Certain types of cuisine are more affordable than others. For instance, Asian noodle and vegetable based cuisines like Chinese and Thai often have excellent deals, whereas heavier, meat based cuisines tend to carry a heftier price tag.
Double Check The Bill.
Not only will you want to make sure that the bill is accurate, but you’ll also want to note whether the specials and discounts you used were applied correctly. Double check to see whether tip is included or if you need to leave your own. Remember to tip on the pre-discounted value of your meal.
How do you save when eating out? Have you used any of these strategies?