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Before I was married, I was not someone who was into budgets. Times were good and I dined out quite a bit without much regard for cost. I even justified the costs saying that my time was valuable and that it didn’t make sense to spend time budgeting.
As I have matured, I have realized that while I could eat out more often, it’s not always the best long term financial plan – unless you do it the frugal way. Here are several ways that my wife and I have learned to save money on our eating out expenses:
- Share Meals. Many restaurants serve portions large enough that two people can eat for the price of one. The Cheesecake Factory is one place where we always know we can get a decent sized meal.
- Make Two Meals Out of One. Sometimes we just aren’t in the mood for the same things. The other night we went out and my wife wanted fajitas and I wanted fish. I attempted to make two meals out of the fish, but did not succeed (I ate it all) but my wife did make two meals out of her fajitas.
- Drink Water. I apologize in advance to the restaurant owners because I know there is lots of profit in sodas. First, sodas just aren’t good for you. The amount of sugar in one 16 ounce soda is about half of the daily recommended sugar intake. If you get a refill, cancel all sugar for the rest of the day. Secondly, sodas are expensive. My wife and I have often looked at each other and said “how is that price right?” then we looked and saw that two drinks at $2.99 each made a big difference with those $7.99 early dinner specials. Speaking of which…
- Look for Early Dinner Specials. Restaurants get slow after the lunch rush and before dinner. As a result, many have started to offer early dinner specials. Years ago when I was a server in a restaurant, I learned of this trend and still see it today. My wife and I frequent Texas RoadHouse and enjoy getting a nice meal for $7.99 (steak, salad and a side.)
- Daily Deal Sites. I have become a fan of daily deal sites and I often use them to find great new places to eat. I confess, I will even use them for a restaurant I already go to, and hopefully they appreciate just having me come back. I kind of feel guilty like I am taking money from them, but an offer is an offer.
- Email Specials. If the restaurant you enjoy has an email list, by all means, get on it. They will often use the email list to show appreciation to their customers by offering specials via email. Flancer’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Mesa (where I live) and they are really good about email and Facebook offers. Of course, their food is worth paying full price for. 🙂
- Text Specials. Restaurants use text messaging to send specials, and it’s a great way for them to get people to come in during the slow times. If you get on their text list, you will be one of the first to know about what’s hot.
- Facebook. As I mentioned, one of our local restaurants does a great job of offering coupons on Facebook. Many restaurants are now offering these as well. One in particular that stands out is Buca Di Beppo as I have received their coupons via Facebook as well.
- Have a Birthday. Did you know that you can get hundreds of dollars worth of free food for your birthday? I know because I did it one year. I made sure to sign up for every local restaurant that was giving away free food. And I enjoyed it!
- Have an Anniversary. Similar to the birthday club, some restaurants (like Kabuki) will bless you with a coupon for your anniversary.
- Become a Frequent Diner. Many restaurants have a frequent diner program where you get a free meal after eating “x” amount of meals or spending “x” amount of dollars.
- Old Fashioned Coupons. I know I am not the only one who gets lots of coupon magazines. While they seem to be flooded with family dentists, I have seen a fair amount of restaurant deals and have used them to try out new local restaurants.
- Kids Eat Free. There are lots of restaurants that have a kids eat free night where kids can get a free meal with the purchase of your meal. We don’t have kids yet, but I know many of my readers do, so I had to throw that in.
In closing, I will say there are a few ways you don’t want to try to save money. The first is sharing a drink and getting free refills. If you do this and feel a little bad it’s because the voice inside of you is trying to remind you that you are actually stealing. The second is the tip. As a former server, I have to speak up for those still in the trenches and say never discount a tip because you got a discount. Always tip on what the full amount of the meal would have been. Make sure the tip is in your budget, or order take out. And 15% is a starting point; if you can’t tip 15%, you need to be having a discussion about poor service (not why you don’t feel you should have to tip.) The one exception is if you are eating at a buffet, then you can drop it to 10% assuming they get you refills on your drinks. If you don’t agree, you probably should not be eating out at a full service restaurant. A 20% or greater tip is standard anywhere in the US for tips to show your gratitude for outstanding service.
Please share any other advice you have on frugal dining out or share some of the great deals you’ve gotten recently with our readers by commenting below.
This post was featured in Carnival of Personal Finance #346 – Hosted by The Jenny Pincher!