If you’re not ready to give up dining out at restaurants but need to know how to save money on eating out, this article is for you!
Let’s face it, we all LOVE to eat out. It’s fast, convenient, easy, and fun to gather together with friends and family to be served delicious food. But eating out can be a HUGE budget breaker if you partake in it too often. It’s quite shocking to see how much small, frequent purchases, $5 here or $10 there, can add up $100s by the end of the month.
Whether you’re trying to get out of debt fast or just pinch a few pennies, you don’t have to deprive yourself of eating out completely especially when you know how to save money at restaurants! We’ve compiled a list of our go-to tips and tricks to creatively save money from fast food to fine dining.
Let’s dig in!
21 Delicious Ways to Save Money Eating Out
1. Drop the Pop
Call it soda, pop, or Coke like we do in the South; those fizzy drinks are not only caulked full of empty calories, they are budget-killers at a restaurant. On average, a soda for everyone will add 20% to the overall bill. And if you partake in alcohol the additional expense is even more! So before you go for the drink, remember that every little bit adds up, even if it’s only $2.50. If you’re someone who just can’t do water, carry some Crystal Light with you to bump up the flavor of your H2O.
2. Promote an Appetizer to an Entree
At many restaurants, appetizers are as big as entrees and a fraction of the price. If you’re uncertain about appetizer portions, be sure to ask your server to give you an idea of the size of an entree before ordering. Moreso, many restaurants offer discount promotions on appetizers if you dine during a “Happy Hour!” time of day.
3. Split a Meal
We all know that restaurant portions are HUGE. So instead of stuffing yourself to “get what you paid for” opt to split a meal with someone in your party. And this especially goes for children sharing meals too! Ask your server or look at photos of the restaurant’s food online to get an idea of the portion size. If you’re concerned about not having enough food, consider adding an extra side which is cheaper than an additional entree.
4. Get Two for One
Another option in place of splitting a meal is to save half of your entree for leftovers! Keep leftovers in mind when ordering and grab something that will reheat well the next day. Because let’s face it, things like french fries or basically anything from Taco Bell cannot be brought back to life in the microwave.
5. Skip Dessert
Like soft drinks, desserts are sold at a serious markup. You can usually buy an entire cake or pie for the price of just one slice at many restaurants.
6. Ask for the Lunch Portion
Most restaurants have a lunch menu that is valid throughout the workweek. Take advantage of these savings! But if you’re eating dinner or stopping in on the weekend, sometimes you can order a lunch portion if you ask. These dishes are usually portioned just right for most people and will take money off your bill.
7. Sign-up for the App
Usually the first time you sign up for a restaurant app, you get a free item or discount. In addition, you’ll be the first to know about money-saving promotions! Check out this roundup from The Krazy Coupon Lady of the BEST Restaurant Apps to download!
8. Party Like It’s Yo’ Birthday
In addition to free items upon signing up, many restaurants offer something FREE on your birthday. Head to your favorite restaurant’s website or call to see if they offer birthday rewards! For a mega list of birthday freebies, check this article out from Finance Buzz!
9. Order Like a Kid
Plenty of eateries have a kid’s menu and will allow adults to order off of it! The options may be a little more basic, such as chicken tenders or fries, but you’ll save about 50% compared to an adult entree! Plus, often times the portions are just right for an average appetite.
10. Go Fast Casual
We always advocate leaving a tip for your waiter or waitress. But if you’re trying to save on eating out but are not in the mood for fast food, visit a fast-casual restaurant such as Panera, Chipotle, Fazolis, etc. You’ll knock some extra dough off your bill and enjoy quality food with no obligation to add on a tip.
11. Check for Weekly Specials
If you’re in money-saving mode but need a treat meal, plan to hit up a restaurant during a promotional time to save extra money. Whether it’s a $0.99 Taco Tuesday or Kids Eat Free Friday, these types of specials will help you to stay on course with your budget and save even MORE money eating out!
12. Visit a Dive
Never judge a book by its cover! Some of our all-time favorite restaurants don’t look like much from the outside but offer great food, often at a fraction of the price when compared to restaurant chains. Plus, your money will go to supporting a local business!
13. Snack Before You Go
The same concept that you shouldn’t shop hungry can also apply to sitting down to eat at a restaurant. Now hear me out! Yes, you should come hungry BUT most people tend to overindulge on appetizers or huge entrees if they’re feeling insatiable. This can increase your bill very easily. Grab a snack or drink a tall glass of water before your meal to curb your appetite.
14. Be a Follower!
Be sure to follow your favorite restaurants on social media and/or by being an email subscriber. This allows you to keep up with weekly specials and have a chance to enter contests. We’ve won quite a few gift cards or free food by joining in on social media giveaways from various restaurants.
15. Speak to a Manager
We’re not advocating that you become “that person.” You know the type. But, if you have a legitimate complaint, don’t be intimidated to ask to speak with a manager. Your honest feedback can help the restaurant improve and will sometimes get you a free meal, discount, or dessert just for sharing if the quality of your meal isn’t up to standard.
16. Pack Food for the Little Ones
If your kiddos are in the baby and toddler age, consider bringing portable snacks from home for them to munch on at the restaurant in lieu of ordering a child’s meal. You’ll save money off your restaurant bill by not buying an extra meal that will probably not even get eaten entirely (if your kids are like ours!). Be sure to check out 35 Guaranteed Ways to Save Money on Baby for more money-saving tips on kids!
17. Buy Discounted Restaurant Gift Cards
Stretch your dollar farther by snagging a gift card deal! Our favorite ways to do this are: buying gift cards during the holidays and buying discounted gift cards! Often times you will see gift card offers around Mother’s Day, Graduation, and Christmas to where a restaurant will give you a bonus gift card if you purchase a certain amount (ie: Buy a $25 gift card and receive a $10 bonus gift card)! Or you can purchase discounted gift cards from our favorite site Raise! Raise offers discounted gift cards because people sell their unwanted gift cards to Raise at a discount. Head over here to check it out and you’ll score a FREE $5 credit when you sign up.
18. Avoid Combos
Combo meals equate to buying a beverage, entree, and side. Save money off of your restaurant bill by skipping the combo meal and opting for a free water, entree, and a side.
19. Order the Sandwich
If your diet allows, skip the pricey platter and opt for the sandwich version! For example, instead of the BBQ Brisket Plate try the Brisket Sandwich. Opt for the Shrimp Po’ Bo in place of the Shrimp Platter. Sandwiches, including burgers, are usually less expensive than other options on a typical restaurant menu.
20. Attend a Soft Opening
Is a new restaurant opening in your area? Scope out their social media and/or website to see if they will have a “soft opening.” A soft opening is an opportunity for select people to dine for FREE or highly discounted while the restaurant staff fine-tunes their performance before the grand opening.
21. Go South of the Border
Steak is one of my FAVORITE things ever! When done right, it’s salty, fatty, grilled heaven on a plate. But of course, it’s usually one of the most expensive items on any menu. If you are craving some red meat, consider Mexican food such as Carne Asada or Steak Fajitas! You can get some tender, flavorful meat with a cheaper cut of steak yet still satisfy your craving. If you love Mexican food, check out this Cheap & Easy Doritos Nacho Bake recipe!
We hope you enjoy these thrifty ways to save money eating out.
Be sure to check out How to Save Money on Groceries: the ULTIMATE Guide for more ways to save on food!
What tip from the article are you going to try first? Let us know in the comments below!