Dear Rich Lifer,
When it comes to saving money, a category many people cut out right away is dining out. This makes sense – restaurant meals can be pricey, and when you add on tax and tips, they can break the budget quickly.
Luckily, if you use a little forethought, there are lots of ways you can save money and still indulge in a meal out now and then.
Here are a few of our favorites:
An easy money saving tip is to drink water instead of pricey soft drinks or alcohol, but sometimes you just want to enjoy a tasty beverage with your meal. Sodas can cost $4-5 apiece, though, and beer and wine is much more per serving. Instead of spending $8 each for a glass of house wine and a decent beer, look for local restaurants that will let you bring your own.
Yelp and Google reviews will usually mention if a restaurant allows you to bring your own, and while some places might charge a small corkage fee, it’s nominal compared to the price of buying a bottle from the restaurant – or worse, paying per glass prices.
Grab a Groupon
Sign up for Groupon emails for your area and scroll through the offers every few days. They often have coupons for great new restaurants as well as your old favorites, so buy them when you can and save them for when you want to enjoy a night out.
One word to the wise, though – look very carefully at the small print on your offer. Unlike gift cards, Groupon offers aren’t available at all times and they can expire, so be sure to play by the rules.
Eat Out at Happy Hour
I’m not saying you should sit at the bar and drink dollar beer and eat peanuts – that’s a fun experience in and of itself, but it’s not a meal.
Many nicer restaurants have a full Happy Hour menu with lots to choose from, and the pricing is a lot less than what you’d pay if you sat in the main portion of the restaurant. Because Happy Hour is usually so lively, you’re likely to get good service this way, too.
Double Dip Online
If you’re not totally set on a specific restaurant, go to Rakuten.com and look up Restaurant.com. If you shop through this portal, you can get a discounted gift card from Restaurant.com (like a $25 gift card for just $10!) AND you’ll get cash back on the purchase from Rakuten. You can enjoy many great local restaurants at a deep discount this way!
Shop in Advance
Next time you’re at Costco, look at the big kiosk of gift cards right in the middle of the store. You’ll probably find cards for some of your favorite restaurants – at an amazingly low price!
If you pick up a few discounted gift cards now, you can save them until you want to go out again – it will feel like you’re eating for free (and you’ll still be dining out on the cheap).
Go OUT to Eat
If you want to skip out on the restaurant experience, but still have the same delicious food, you can still save by ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant and eating it elsewhere.
Not only will you save by skipping on the drinks, appetizers, and desserts you might normally order, by taking food out, you’ll also save on the tip you’d normally pay. Even if you tip on to-go orders, it’s usually much less than the 20% you’d tip for the sit down experience.
Instead of going home to eat, though, you can make your takeout extra special by heading to a picnic table at a local park. This way, you can save while dining al fresco – and you still don’t have to cook anything!
Check Out the Senior Menu
While this might seem like an obvious option, many people overlook it because they assume there won’t be enough food or that the choices will be boring or bland. At many classic favorite eateries, the senior menu is a selection of the same exact items – they’re just at a lower price.
Take a look and see if what you want is there before looking at the standard-priced items.
Split a Meal
Let’s face it – at many restaurants, the dinner portions are out of control!
At On The Border, for example, their Dos Equis Fish Taco meal is over 2000 calories, and at The Cheesecake Factory, the Pasta Carbonara with Chicken clocks in at almost 2300 calories! Each of these dishes is your whole recommended daily allowance on just one plate!
Instead of overeating, or wasting half the food, split a bigger meal with your dinner companion. If you’re worried that you’ll still be hungry, add an inexpensive house salad to start. You’ll both be full and happy – for half the cost of two standard entrees.
Don’t Skip the Apps
I’m not talking about appetizers – I’m talking about savings apps on your smartphone. If you want fast food or to go to a fast casual restaurant, download the restaurant’s app before you go.
Many places will give you a free item just for downloading, and others will let you earn towards even more free food by placing your order through the app – this saves money and time, too.
Follow your Favorites and Get Rewards
If you have a favorite few restaurants, follow them all on social media and sign up for their rewards clubs via email. You’ll get money saving coupons and the inside scoop on when they’re having special events with discounts, too.
Sometimes, they’ll even reward their most loyal customers with free appetizers, and really, who doesn’t love free food?
So, even if you’re eating on a budget, there you have it, a ton of great ways you can save big while dining out. If you budget wisely, you can enjoy a meal out as often as you like without breaking the bank!
To a richer life,