7 Tips for Eating Out on the Cheap

Eating out can be a lovely way to treat yourself. So heed these expert tips and start stretching your restaurant budget even further!

If you want to save money, you should be cooking for yourself and eating at home. You already know that. Everyone knows that. You’ve read that advice ten million times before.

But sometimes you really want to eat out. Whether it’s because you don’t have the time to cook, you’re going out on a date, or you just want to treat yourself, sometimes the allure of a meal you didn’t have to make is just too great to avoid.

But even if you’re going to be eating out, you could still do it in a more affordable way. That’s why we spoke to the experts to find out how you can eat out more for less.

1. Look out for dinner deals.

There are a lot of restaurants out there. More than three thousand, probably. So how do restaurants compete with each other? Many of them offer deals. Deals that you can take advantage of!

“First of all, if you are going to spend money on eating out I would always recommend doing a quick scan online for deals and discounts with chain restaurants,” suggested Yaz Purnell (@yazpurnell), money blogger at The Wallet Moth.

“You will almost always find a few restaurants with two-for-one deals or discounts at certain times, so this is a quick and easy way to make eating out cheaper instantly.”

2. Do your research.

Almost every restaurant has their menus online these days. If they didn’t, how could you even be sure they’re actually a restaurant and not just some kind of silverware gallery?

And looking online in advance will keep you from the potentially awkward “oh no” moment of opening up a paper menu to find the prices all have a digit or two beyond what you were expecting.

“Check out the prices ahead of time,” advised Doug Keller, marketing manager at Payless Power (@paylesspower). “Before you even head out to a restaurant be sure to give them a quick look up online.

“This will allow you to check out the prices of the dishes and prioritize which ones will allow you to keep the cost down. And if things seem a bit too steep, going somewhere else is always an option.

“Looking things up beforehand can also enable you to have your meal picked out before you even step in and can enable you to skip the process of scanning through the menu, which may also help reduce the urge to spend more than necessary.”

3. Save together, splurge apart.

Going out as a couple or a group isn’t just more fun. It can also save you money.

“If you go in a group or as a pair, you can easily save money when eating out by sharing a starter and a dessert rather than ordering one each,” Purnell explained.

“Alternatively, if you eat out and don’t finish your meal, don’t be ashamed to ask to take your leftovers home with you and save them for dinner the next day. If you’re paying for the meal, you should always get your money’s worth!”

4. Loyalty programs.

Variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to affordability, sometimes consistency can be helpful. Here’s a personal example of why, courtesy of attorney Sean Smallwood (@smallwoodpa):

“Since we have five kids at age five and under and own a business we have zero time for cooking. We have found that Outback, Bonefish, Carrabba’s, and Fleming’s are all owned by the same company. This company offers reward points every time you dine with them and every three or four times you dine you get 50 percent off your next meal.

“We will order to-go from Outback, Carrabba’s, and Bonefish and then when Mom and I get a date night we will use our 50 percent off rewards at Fleming’s which is an upscale Steakhouse.”

Many loyalty programs also give you free or discounted food for your birthday. Check out some of the best in our blog post: 50 Places That Will Give You Free Stuff on Your Birthday.

5. Monitor your drinking …

Just like you can drink a lot of your calories, you can drink away a lot of your money.

“It’s easy to spend the bulk of your bill on drinks without even realizing it,” warned Michael Minter, managing partner of Mintco Financial (@MintcoFinancial). “Limit yourself to one drink and skip out on the post-meal coffee (you can make one for yourself at home!).

“Also, if you’re out with a friend of similar tastes, split a bottle of wine with them instead of buying by the glass. It’s likely to be cheaper in the long run.”

You could also consider skipping the booze altogether.

“Beer, wine, and cocktails are a profit center for restaurants,” explained Laura Longwell, who blogs at Travel Addicts (@TravelerAddicts). “You can avoid the steep markup on alcohol by ordering soda or, better yet, water. For most diners, cutting alcohol will cut your check between 20 to 35 percent.”

6. … but sit by the bar.

Wait, why would you sit by the bar if you’re trying to limit or avoid your alcohol consumption? Here’s what Longwell told us:

“Head to the Bar. Many restaurants, particularly nicer restaurants, have a bar-only menu. It will feature many of the same items from the main dining room, but at deeply discounted prices as well as special items served only in the bar.

“At many restaurants, you can knock over 50 percent off your check just by eating in the bar.”

7. Consider the appetizer.

Sure, if you’re super hungry it might make sense to get something big. But otherwise…

“While appetizers are typically thought of as a starter before the meal, they themselves can also be consumed as entrees,” Keller told us.

“Not only can they include a greater variety of foods such as seafood, poppers, and sliders, they typically come at a lower cost than entrees while still having sizeable portions.”

Hopefully, this advice will help you save when you’re going out. Bon appetit! If you want to read more about saving money, check out these related posts from OppLoans:

What are your best tips for eating out on the cheap? We want to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Douglas Keller has been a financial expert for 20 years, helping people reach financial stability. He works for Payless Power (@paylesspower) where he continues to help people save money on their bills every month.
Laura Longwell is a writer and photographer sharing her experiences on her popular travel blog, Travel Addicts (@TravelerAddicts). She focuses on helping working professionals maximize their limited vacation time with advice about what to eat, drink, see, and do around the U.S. and the world.
Michael Minter is a managing partner of Mintco Financial (@MintcoFinancial). He has written a book, been on TV, written articles, spoken at seminars, schools, and colleges. His dream is to reach as many people as he can to teach about a Personal Financial Plan.
Yaz Purnell (@yazpurnell) is the founder of The Wallet Moth, a personal finance blog that focuses on sustainable changes anyone can make to create your dream lifestyle.
Sean Smallwood (@smallwoodpa) is a father of six and founder of Sean Smallwood, P.A. an Orlando, FL family law firm. When he is not in court Sean loves spending time at home changing diapers and helping little ones with homework.

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