I love eating out! I don’t care if it’s date night with my hubby or a girl’s night out, it’s just fun! I even like family night out with the girls, as long as nobody is tired or grumpy (myself included). However, now that I’m a stay-at-home-mom, we don’t have the extra “fun money” that we used to and I have to think more about our budget. That doesn’t mean that we never go out anymore (let’s not get crazy here), it just means that we don’t go out quite as much as we used to.
If you’re like us and need to work on saving money when you eat out, here are some tips that can help the next time you have a special night planned (or if you just don’t feel like cooking).
1. Don’t Go Famished
Just like grocery shopping, you don’t want to be completely starved when you go out to eat. I know when my hubby and I do this, we end up ordering WAY TOO MUCH food and don’t end up eating it all. Of course, you do want to be hungry when you go, but eat a little snack first if you think there’s a chance you could order everything on the menu.
2. Order an appetizer for your entrée
I know this isn’t doable for most men…my hubby would never be satisfied with that. However, there are plenty of times when I just order an appetizer if I’m not hungry enough for a full meal. Sometimes you can even order two appetizers and still pay less than you would for an entrée.
3. Split A Meal
My hubby used to bring meals home from the restaurant he manages and not only was there plenty to share, we’d even have leftovers! Not all restaurants serve portions that huge but many times the entrees are enough for two people. You just have to be able to agree on what you’re ordering!
4. Drink Water
Now if it’s a special night out, we’ll splurge for some red wine. However, it we’re just going out to lunch somewhere or having an early dinner with the kids, I’ll order water. It just kills me to pay $3.00 for a soda or tea, even if refills are free. It also defeats the purpose if you order a bottled water…don’t do that. I’ve always ordered plain tap water and it hasn’t killed me yet!
5. Order the house wine
If I’m drinking wine, I almost always order the house wine. If you are truly a wine connoisseur, that probably won’t work for you. However, if you’re looking to save a few bucks, it’s almost always the best deal.
6. Dine in the bar area
Some restaurants have special bar menus that are much cheaper than the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out and usually if it’s a nice restaurant, the bar area is just as nice (and you may even have live music…my favorite restaurant almost always has a piano player singing old Billy Joel songs).
7. Check out the Happy Hour and Nightly Deals
Some restaurants offer deals on certain nights of the week that might be worth looking into. Usually you’ll find the best deals on a weeknight since they obviously won’t need the business as much on a Friday or Saturday. You should also check out the happy hour specials if they have them. I once had a very inexpensive meal that consisted of 50 cent oysters and $5 house wine. It may not have covered all the food groups but it sure was delicious (and wine is made of grapes so that definitely counts as a fruit)!
8. Find a spot where kids eat free
If it’s a family night, find a restaurant where kids eat free. There are a ton to choose from and here is a great list of Kids Eat Free restaurants from The Frugal Ginger. That way when they take three bites and decide they’re full, like they always do, you won’t feel like you’ve just wasted your money.
9. Eat out on your birthday
It’s no secret that many restaurants offer free food on your birthday so why not take advantage of it. Maybe even go out for lunch AND dinner! Brad’s Deals has a list of restaurants that offer free meals, apps or desserts for your special day!
10. Join your favorite restaurant’s mailing list
This is how you’ll find out about special deals that you might not hear about otherwise. They will often send you a special coupon or give you a discount for your birthday as well. My birthday is coming up and I’ve already received an e-mail good for a free dessert at my favorite restaurant! I usually don’t order dessert but I’m certainly not going to turn down a free one!
11. Follow your favorite restaurant on social media
Just as you can find out about special deals by joining the e-mail list, restaurants often post special offers on Facebook as well. It’s worth a “like” if you’re going to save a few dollars!
12. Check out Restaurants.com/Groupon/Living Social
You may not always find the specific restaurant you’re looking for but if you are flexible, you can find some great deals!
13. Order Curbside Service
If you’re more interested in the food than the atmosphere, try ordering food to-go. Many restaurants now have curbside service so that you don’t even have to get out of the car…especially nice if you have kids with you! You’ll save the extra money that you would have otherwise spent on drinks and tips so it may be worth it!
Wow…now I really feel like going out to eat! Do you have any other secrets for saving money when you go out? I’d love to hear about them!