How to Save Money When You’re Dining Out
Most people have probably heard that opting to buy food at the grocery store and cook at home is a good way to save money. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to get out of the house and enjoy a meal with friends or family. But over time the cost of eating out can add up. Consider these tips for saving money the next time you dine out.
1. Skip the Drinks
One of the easiest ways to save a few dollars at a restaurant is to skip ordering drinks and ask for a glass of water instead. There is often a significant markup on beverages, says RachelCruze.com — even with free refills, you’ll likely be paying more than that drink is worth. And, at around $2 apiece, a family of four may spend an extra $8 if everybody orders a soda. Factor in tax and tip, and a round of fountain drinks can add a noticeable amount to your expense. To help keep your bill down, consider sticking to the free glass of water.
2. Share Meals
If you aren’t a big eater or if you’re going to a restaurant that has large portions, you might want to consider sharing a meal. So, instead of ordering individual entrees, consider splitting a few appetizers or an entree, says EatThis.com. You can still have a nice meal out, plenty of food and, potentially, a lower bill.
3. Consider Your Timing
Sometimes saving money is simply a matter of timing. Many restaurants have less expensive options on their lunch menu while the portions are only slightly smaller than at dinner, says EatThis.com. If you can get there just before they switch over to the dinner menu, you may be able to save money by eating dinner a little earlier. Another option is simply to go out for lunch instead of dinner.
Also, see if there are any deals throughout the week at your favorite restaurants. Some establishments offer “kids eat free” nights, weeknight specials or a half-price menu during specific hours, says RachelCruze.com.
4. Plan for Leftovers
When you do go out to eat, make plans for the leftovers. If you can’t finish the meal, box it up and take it home. Or, simply plan to save half your food for later, says RachelCruze.com. Use the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Spending a few extra dollars at the restaurant may not be as big of a deal if you’re making use of the leftovers — it’s like getting two meals for the price of one.
Dining out once in a while doesn’t have to break your budget. By planning ahead and ordering strategically, you may be able to save some money while enjoying a restaurant-cooked meal.
Originally published on February 7, 2011.