Follow these tips to save some big money at restaurants
I thought I'd compile a few tips for saving money at restaurants. Before I get started I'd like to recognize a couple of things. First, one of the best way to save money at restaurants is to avoid them. Cooking at home is usually the cheapest way to eat. Second, many people consider restaurant time as "pampering time" - and thus not something to be skimped on. That's fine if it's fits within your budget and your means. If not, perhaps these tips can help you save a few dollars.
- Be an Early Bird - Some people joke that only senior citizen take advantage of early bird specials at many restaurants. There's no rule that you have to be a certain age. It's perfectly fine to eat an early dinner - it might even open things up for an evening snack. As a bonus, you may even be in time for happy hour.
- Go for Lunch not Dinner - Lunch menus are often a good deal cheaper than dinner menus. Some Asian places that I like often have tremendous lunch deals for around $7.00 a plate. I've noticed it's often only a slightly smaller option than the $12 or $13 dinner. I've always had too much food anyway.
- Turn One Meal into Two - Amongst friends, I'm famous for this magic act. At Olive Garden, I'll take advantage of the delicious salad and breadsticks - and eat only a small portion of my entree. I will bring the rest home and I've got lunch for another night. This also works well at many steakhouses. A quick look at my local Outback Steakhouse menu shows that I could get an 8 oz. prime rib for a penny shy of $17... while a 16 oz. is just $5 more ($21.99). That's more than $2 an ounce for the first 8, but less than 63 cents an oz for the last 8 ounces.
- Split a Meal - It's the same idea as above, but in this case you split your dinner with someone else. Some restaurants discourage this by charging a fee for such a thing. I understand fees for some kind of extra service or a penalty for being late, but I never got the split-plate fee. It seems like restaurant is simply saying, "We don't care about our customers."
- Eat on off-nights - I noticed that the local Chevy's Fresh Mex offers free children's meals on Tuesdays. Restaurants generally do most of their business on Fridays and Saturdays. You won't likely find a deal then, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are very good candidates for a deal.
- Take Advantage of Coupons - A lot of restaurants in my area send me coupons in the mail. Occasionally they are of the type of Buy One, Get One Free. That's a good savings for a couple. If your area doesn't have that look towards an Entertainment Book or Restaurant.com. I've heard that in the UK you can find good coupons from VoucherStar.
- Look For a Restaurant Without a Liquor License - Of course it's much cheap to save the drinks for home, but many people prefer wine with their meal. I've found a few local places that for some reason don't have a liquor license. They allow you to bring your own wine and not pay a corkage fee.
- Drink Water - Most restaurants won't bat an eye at giving you water with a couple of lemons. I have a friend who adds a little Splenda packet to finish off a free lemonade.
- Consider a Mid-range Restaurant - Some chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday's and Applebee's are hurting for customers now. They've lowered their prices and some have introduced some under $10 meals.
- Consider Taco Bell's Fresco Menu - I know it sounds really cheap and probably not that appetizing for a dinner out. I found it to be a lot tastier than it appears. It scores extra points for me because it's not only cheap, but it's fairly healthy and convenient. Subway's Five Dollar Foot-long campaign also weighs fits the bill for my tastes. Plus the commercials for a "yum rocket" just makes me laugh every time I hear it.
It may be easy to think that you are skimping too much when you follow these tips. Instead of focusing on the skimping, I think about how much money I'm saving and how how many more times I could go out to eat on my budget.
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