12 Tips to Save on Restaurants and Food
Use coupons. Go to Restaurant.com and enter in a coupon code that will get you a $25 voucher for only $2. You can find the coupon code by searching the keyword "restaurant.com" on the coupon site RetailMeNot. Buy a local Entertainment book worth $15 that will give you lots of "Buy One Get One Free" coupons for restaurants.
Don't eat out when you're dining solo. Try to save your meal excursions for when you're with friends and family. This means that if you're planning on grabbing a quick bite by yourself, it's better to prepare something at home to eat instead. A big part of the joy of eating out is ambiance and company, so save your money and skip grabbing quick meals when you're alone.
Ration meals with friends. Even if you're saving all your meals out for when you have company, don't be too liberal when you're scheduling them. Try to rotate among different people if you're planning on having one-on-one dinners and space it out. Remember you can always catch up with people over drinks or during a fun activity so don't feel bad about skipping dinner.
Opt for lunch. Oftentimes, the lunch menu is a lot cheaper than dinner. When meeting up with people, try to opt for lunch as your preferred meal. Be sure to also pick their lunch specials.
Pick the place. Remember not everyone is watching their budgets as carefully as you are, so try to be the one to offer a list of wallet-friendly (but good!) restaurant suggestions. Do your research on Yelp and narrow your search results by setting a limit with their price feature.
Hone your cooking skills. Maybe you don't like to make food at home because you just don't think it tastes good or it takes too much time and effort. Improve your cooking skills by experimenting with online recipes or even learning from a savvy friend, so eating homemade meals will become something you'll be looking forward to.
Earn rewards. Do your research on sites like Credit Card Guide to figure out which credit cards give you the best rewards for your diner bucks. Oftentimes, if you're a loyal member of a mileage program, you can even earn some miles by eating at the restaurants the airline partners up with. For example, Southwest has a Rapid Rewards Dining program that credits three points for every dollar spent with their restaurant partners.
Skip the drinks. Soda, alcohol and other nontap water drinks tend to be overpriced at restaurants. Get water with your meal, and if you're really itching for a particular drink, wait until dinner's over and head to a convenient store to buy it.
Make meals out of leftovers. Bring back a doggy bag and try to make an entirely new meal out of your leftovers. For example, when I had leftover steak one time, I chopped it up and stir-fried it with veggies for a brand-new dish.
Order appetizers. Ask the waiter how big the appetizers are at the restaurant or look at what the people near you are eating. Sometimes an appetizer itself is big enough for a meal!
Order plates to share. If you're out with a group—and out to get the most bang for your buck, order a couple of plates to share. Often times, portions are big enough for two, or even three, and besides, sharing means you'll get to taste a little bit of everything—without plunking down extra cash.
Get daily deals. Sites like Groupon sell restaurant gift certificates for less than face value—so you could score a $25 coupon, but pay only $10. Just make sure you get the most out of your daily deal coupons with these tips.
Ten Ways To Save Money Eating Out At Restaurants
My wife and I love to eat out at restaurants. Thanks to a recent look at how I spend my money, 8.8% of my income actually goes towards eating out every month in fact. But, I do not make any apologies for it. My wife and I simply hate cooking and love eating out at restaurants. It is something that we love to do, and so my wife and I make a conscious effort to budget eating out at restaurants to so much. We all know that it can be very expensive, but you can also save money while still eating out a lot. You simply have to make smart decisions while you are at the restaurant.
Below are ten of the best ways to save money eating out at restaurants…
Ways To Save Money Eating Out At Restaurants
1. Buy Restaurant.com Gift Cards –
With Restaurant.com, you can purchase gift cards to over 18,000 restaurants across the country for pennies on the dollar. For as little as $10, you can receive a $25 Restaurant.com gift card that can be used in tons of locations near you. I was completely blown away by how much I saved using Restaurant.com the first time. Now I'm hooked.
2. Discount Cards – My children are constantly selling discount cards to local area restaurants for their school's fundraiser. These cards often cost $10 or so, but I have literally made my money back after the first use. Our favorite restaurants around town offer 25% off of your meal or even a buy one, get one free entre. This is a great way to save throughout the year. We even went as far as purchase some from other friends whose kids attend different schools because the deals on the other discount cards were so good.
3. Weekly Specials – One thing that many people may not realize or utilize are weekly specials that almost all restaurants are implementing these days. Pay attention to the restaurants that you frequent most often. When do they have 10 cent wing night? When do they have kids eat free night? We keep a running list of which restaurants in our area have which types of deals on certain days. My wife and I often wait to the last minute to decide where to eat, but it helps us save money eating out when we know who offers deals and when.
4. Friend Your Favorites – Just like you can like Money Q&A on Facebook, you can like most restaurants on Facebook as well. Even mom and pop locations now are finding their way online in an effort to drum up more business. This is a great opportunity for you to find new deals and coupons online. Many restaurants offer great deals and coupons for newsletter subscribers too. Do not be bashful when signing up for these newsletters to get a great deal. If you are worried about spam, set up a new free email account just for these newsletters.
5. Portion Control – Another great way to save money eating out at restaurants is to practice portion control. Now more than ever, portions at restaurants have grown considerably and are huge. Portion control can come in a variety of methods. When I asked several great personal finance bloggers, Beating Broke mentioned sharing portions with members of your party. Hunter from Financially Consumed recommended to be sure to take leftovers home if it is too much. That alone to me is like saving 50% on each meal if I can pay once and wind up with two meals out of it.
6. Have A Spending Plan – Okay I won't call this setting a budget, but you have to have some idea as to how much you can spend per month on eating out. Are you willing to spend $100 per week? What happens if you blow that on one meal? Are you going to go home the other six nights and eat Ramon Noodles? That's the kind of discipline it unfortunately takes. It is okay to spend a lot of money on something that you love, but you have to set limits before hand and stick to them.
7. Check Out Groupon – YFS from Your Finances Simplified recommended using Groupon or Living Social to find great deals on restaurants in your area. Like Restaurant.com, using Groupon and Living Social are great resources to save money eating out at restaurants. In my local area, our daily newspaper is even trying to start a service on the newspaper's website similar to Groupon that offers very specific deals only in our immediate area.
8. Go Out For Lunch Instead – We all know that lunch at restaurants is typically less expensive than dinner. Eating lunch instead of dinner is a great way to save money while eating out at restaurants. This is a favorite tactic of the Prairie Eco Thrifter who also points out that the portions at lunch are much smaller too which will not only help your wallet but also your waistline.
9. Buy An Entertainment Book – I hadn't thought of this idea of buying an Entertainment Book until Jason from Live Real, Now mentioned it to me. I remember Ryan from Cash Money Life has always praised the deals available in the Entertainment book as well. I haven't even seen one since I was a little kid and my mother would buy them. I know that they still exist and a great resource to save money eating out at restaurants.
10. Drink Water – Several of the friends that I polled for this article such as Eric from Dollar Versity mentioned drinking only water in an effort to save money. This is a great tip since alcoholic drinks are expensive and can quickly make your bill spiral out of control. I also learned this lesson the hard way with my youngest son who orders chocolate milk everywhere we go, and most restaurants do not offer free refills on milk like they do for soda. Three milks later, not only does he have a stomachache, but I have a bloated bill from the restaurant as well.
Dining on a dime
Eating out at restaurants can be an expensive habit or an economical one, depending on your expertise in the bargaining department. In an economy as annoyingly dismal as this one is, why spend any more money than you must?
Keep the following tips in mind the next time you're in the mood to be wined and dined.
1. First and foremost, get happy. Seriously, have you ever studied happy-hour menus where you live? Even if you don't drink, it still can be worth it to do a little sleuth work and find the best happy hours in your area. Many of them offer dirt-cheap drinks and food — even at really swanky places with fabulous views. Why not go there at the right time of day and spend $5, instead of the gazillions you might spend eating dinner during the peak dinner rush? In addition to happy-hour deals, many restaurants offer special deals that aren't listed on their menus, and it never hurts to ask about them before you place your order. You typically can find the best deals Monday through Thursday.
2. Call ahead of time to seek out discounts.Call ahead of time to seek out discounts. Children and senior citizens often qualify for fantastic deals at restaurants. Remember to seek out special sections for children or seniors on the menu, and find out whether the restaurant offers special price deals or free meals for kids on certain nights of the week. Also, remember that many restaurants offer early-bird specials for people who show up while the night is still young, typically from 4 to 6 p.m. These menus can really come in handy and help you avoid big dinner bills when you're vacationing as a family.
3. Check reputable coupon-code sites. Restaurant meals may not initially strike you as something that could qualify for the kinds of coupon codes you can find on the Internet, but don't be fooled: There are deals to be had. To find a coupon code, you can simply do a quick Internet search for the name of the restaurant that interests you. That can lead to frustration sometimes, though, because you're likely to stumble upon codes that have expired. Codes are regularly verified and updated on CurrentCodes.com and DealHunting.com. Other sites that are worth checking include include FatWallet.com, CouponChief.com, CouponMountain.com, Rather-Be-Shopping.com, RetailMeNot.com and SlickDeals.com. (When browsing by category on these sites, click on "Food" or "Food and beverage" if you can't find a "Restaurant" category.)
Important note about coupons: Remember, this economy is hard on everyone — including your server. Even in flush times, if you use a coupon, be sure to tip your waiter or waitress based on the full bill price, not the reduced bill price.
4. Remember good, old-fashioned paper coupons, too. Carefully peruse your mail, local newspapers, the Yellow Pages and area magazines for good coupons, especially two-for-one deals. You also can buy books of restaurant coupons that are valid for one year, but be sure to flip through the book first. It won't be worth your money if you don't like any of the restaurants or deals offered.
5. Pretendyou're a tourist. Another great place for finding coupons that can be truly mind-blowing is your local visitors' bureau. Swing by and pick up publications packed with special discounts and coupons for tourists. Locals can always take advantage of these deals but often overlook them.
6. If you simply want to go out on the town, you can have a blast at one or more great restaurants without actually ordering dinner anywhere. You could order coffee or a drink and an appetizer or dessert at one or more expensive cafés or restaurants or dark, romantic bistros. This is a tried-and-true way to have a fun night out and savor the atmosphere without emptying your wallet.
7. Order water with your meal and save a bundle on beverages. It's one of the healthiest drinks you can opt for, and you can always ask to have a twist of lemon or a slice of cucumber added for free. If you want a drink-drink, just plan to have a nightcap at home for pennies on the dollar — literally.
8. Go out for lunch instead of dinner. The same meal can cost 50 percent less on the lunch menu than at dinnertime. If you're on a budget but still want to go out, make a lunch date with a friend. Depending on what you order, you can bring part of your meal home and have dinner that night and/or lunch for the next day.
9. Check out the combo meals. Combination meals can cost less than several a la carte items, even at fast-food restaurants. Still, do the math first to make sure you're truly getting a good deal.
10. Visit a new restaurant. New restaurant owners and wait staff are usually eager to provide quality service and special deals at decent prices so they can develop a base of steady customers. Get in early and be treated like royalty.
7 Tips To Save Money At Restaurants
Eating out at restuarants can be quite costly, especially if you are like me and want to try new places all the time! Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, there are lots of great ways to save money at some of the best restaurants in your city! Here are some of my favourite money saving tips for eating out:
1) Check The Daily Specials
Many restaurants offer specials to attract customers to them on the slower days of the week. This can be anything from 1/2 price deals, no corkage fees, specific item sales, drink specials and other promotions. Finding these deals can be time consuming as you need to check each restaurants' website for their individual specials, but fortunately my friend Tiffany has made this easier on her site ShesSoSavvy.ca. If you look in the top right corner of her site you will see a restaurant specials search field that will list all of the daily specials for restaurants in a specific area of the city. Her site is exclusive to Toronto, so if you are reading this from another city in Canada you will need to actually check the website for each of the restaurants you are considering. Here is a screenshot of what you will find on She's So Savvy:
ShesSoSavvy Example Screenshot
2) Group Deals
This strategy takes some planning as you have to keep your eye out for deals at specific restaurants. Basically the best way to monitor these kinds of deals is to use a group deal aggregator (this one is from RedFlagDeals.com) to view all of the deals from the various group buying sites in one place. When you find a restaurant you want to try, buy the deal and save around 50% off on your bill!
3) Time-Sensitive Deals
If you don't like planning in advance for your meals, there is a cool new way for you to save money on a restaurant you plan to visit within a few hours: Now Deals. Many of the sites that offer group deals (as metioned above) have started to offer time-sensitive deals that must be used typically within 12 hours in a specific window of time. My favourite site for these kind of deals is Groupon (click the NOW DEALS on their site) because they have the largest selection of these kinds of deals. Restaurants offer these deals as a way to attract new customers on a day or time where they typically are not busy. The deals typically range anywhere from $5-$20 and usually will get you around 50% off your meal. I have used these before and have found some restaurants that I would never have tried otherwise (see my Chefydrews review).
Another great way to get exclusive specials at restaurants is with Foursquare. For those not familiar, Foursquare is a location based application that runs on your smartphone that allows you to notify your friends where you are at any given moment. This may sound creepy to you, but you can even create an account on Foursquare just to get specials offered by restauarants. For example, my friend Mackenzie has a restaurant called Fuel House and they offer a free order of fries to all new customers that check-in using Foursquare.
5) Social Media
Twitter and Facebook are both great places for restaurants to notify their customers about their specials or run limited time promotions. By following your favourite places on Twitter or Facebook you will often learn about promotions that are limited to social media. The restaurants also use social media as a way to notify their customers about special events where you will sometimes receive some free items just for showing up!
6) Read Money Saving Forums
Lastly, there are various online discussion groups (forums) where people talk about ways to save money. My favourite site, and the biggest in Canada, for this is RedFlagDeals.com. On their site they have a special section of their HOT DEALS forum which is dedicated entirely to food deals. You need to check back often though as many of these deals are time-sensitive and are often only posted on the day they become active.
7) Foodie Money Saving Clubs
Finally there are a few clubs where you can join to save money on food at certain restaurants. The two biggest that I know about in Toronto are called Dining Date Night (a link to a review of their site from my friend Stella) and Tuesday Foodie (which I have but have still yet to try). With these clubs you typically pay a small upfront fee which in return will get you around 30% off your entire bill at certain restaurants.