14 Ways To Spend Less Money Eating At Restaurants

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We all know that cooking at home is cheaper than going out to eat, but there are some days when it seems way too hard to manage. First you have to think of what to eat, make sure you have the ingredients, purchase them if you don’t, cook dinner, and clean the dishes afterwards. Going out to eat is so much easier, even if you have to fork over more cash to do so. But you don’t have to pay more just because you’re going to a restaurant. Mix and match these tips to save money while you still have a relaxing night out.

Before you go:

1. Check out reviews.

It’s disappointing to go out for dinner and have lackluster food, slow service, and then get slammed with a huge bill. Check around on websites like Yelp and see how your restaurant rates. How many “$$$” do reviewers give it? Do others say that the food and service are worth the price?

2. Follow restaurants online.

Many restaurants have social media pages that advertise online-only deals. Sometimes you can say “I saw this on Facebook” for a special meal, or find a discount code on Twitter. Restaurants might also post their coupons on their website and social media pages. See if they have a birthday club where you can sign up with an email address and get a free meal on your birthday.

3. Get gift cards online.

Since you’re already online, pull up sites like Groupon, Living Social, or Restaurant.com. These sites often offer massive savings, like getting a $50 restaurant gift card for $25! It’s a great deal, but before you buy enough to last you all year, check out the fine print. These deals sometimes have an expiration date, or are only good certain days of the week, or even certain times of day.

4. Find a special.

Are your dinner plans flexible? Can you eat at 5 p.m. to take advantage of the early bird special? Or during happy hour, when you might get two-for-one entrees? If you’re more determined to go out for a meal, not just dinner, then consider going out for lunch. Lunch prices are way more affordable than dinner, and the portions are smaller — meaning they’re healthier.

5. Don’t get delivery.

Delivery is such an easy option for those nights you’re too lazy to cook, but it’s worth it to get in your car and pick up the food yourself. Most restaurants charge an initial delivery fee, and then you also have to tip the driver. Just grab your car keys and go pick up your order — they don’t care if you’re in your sweats.

Once you’re there:

6. Don’t order drinks.

This doesn’t mean you have to go thirsty, just be careful what you order. Having two alcoholic beverages can double your bill, and even soft drinks cost over $2 at most establishments. If you do order drinks, make sure you know the refill policy so you’re not surprised with extra charges on the bill. Milk, juice, root beer, and sometimes coffee are not refilled for free at many restaurants. If you want to avoid a drink charge altogether, you can’t go wrong with water!

7. Skip the appetizer.

By the time you get to your table, you’re usually so hungry that everything sounds good, so that’s what you want to order. It’s like the rule about going to the grocery store hungry — you’ll buy everything because it all sounds good. Instead of letting your enthusiastic appetite get the best of you, eat a small snack an hour before you go out to eat.

8. Order an appetizer as your main dish.

If something on the starters menu sounds too good to pass up, don’t order it along with your entree. You’ll devour the appetizer, and by the time your entree comes, you won’t be hungry. Appetizers are often big portions and will satisfy you just as much as an entree, at a lower cost.

9. Share a main dish.

Band together with your dinner buddy and share an entree. The portions are so large that it will not only help your wallet to share, it’ll also help your waistband. This also frees you up to order an appetizer to share, if you really want one.

10. Pick something good.

This doesn’t mean pick what sounds good to you, or pick the cheapest thing on the menu. Think about what you want to eat and weigh your options. A club sandwich sounds tasty, but that’s something you could (and would be likely to) make at home for a much lower cost. Something more gourmet might be more expensive, but if it’s something you would never make at home, or couldn’t make for that cost, then it’s worth it.

11. Have dessert at home.

Just like with appetizers, desserts are something you really should skip when you’re out to dinner. They’re overpriced and usually small portions, so what you get isn’t worth it. Save the hassle and pick up a gallon of ice cream on the way home — much cheaper, and will last you for several desserts.

12. Bring home leftovers.

Entree portions are so big, it’s hard to finish them in one sitting. Don’t let the waiter take your plate away just because you’ve stopped eating; ask for a doggie bag. Getting two meals for the price of one really makes the restaurant expense worth it. Bonus: you don’t have to pack lunch for work tomorrow.

13. Pay with your credit card.

This way you can “earn” money in return, by getting cash back if your card company offers it, or trading in your rewards points for restaurant gift cards.

14. Read the receipt.

Some restaurants ask you to complete a survey for a gift card or discount on your next meal. Take them up on the offer — it’ll only take a few minutes of your time, and it’ll save you money next time you go out.