Dining out can be fun. But, it can also put a dent in your wallet. Following certain tips, however, can help you save big bucks on a restaurant meal. Keep reading to learn more.
10. Use a Gift Card or Gift Certificate
One of the easiest ways to save money on your next restaurant meal is to use a gift card or gift certificate. You can buy them from just about anywhere, including restaurants, brick-and-mortar stores and online marketplaces. One website, in particular, is Restaurant.com.
There, you can get discounted gift certificates for local restaurants and small chains for up to 50% off! Not only that, but if you make your purchase through a cash-back portal like Rakuten, you’ll save even more money.
9. Score Deals Online
You can score some good deals online by following the social media accounts and joining the email lists of your favorite restaurant(s).
Many restaurants use their email lists to notify subscribers of deals and sometimes send coupons just for signing up. This is especially true when it comes to giving out birthday freebies.
When signing up for their email list, a restaurant will often ask for your date of birth and send you a freebie (e.g., a free appetizer) each year on your birthday. As for social media, many restaurants use their social media page to announce specials and deals.
8. Eat at Home
No, we’re not talking about skipping the restaurant altogether. We’re not talking about takeout or delivery either. We’re talking about eating before you get to the restaurant. No, not a full meal, but a light snack beforehand.
The reason is that you’re more likely to order more, and consequently, spend more if you go to a restaurant on an empty stomach. And, if you have cake and ice cream at home, eat dessert there instead of ordering it at the restaurant.
7. Dine During Off-Hours
Ordering brunch, early bird specials or lunch can save you money. Brunch is the cheapest meal of the weekend and includes a mix of breakfast and lunch foods. That way, you won’t be stuck ordering bacon and eggs when you really want the chicken salad.
Lunch is always cheaper than dinner. And, as you’ve probably noticed, lunch dishes are only a tad bit smaller than dinner dishes. So, you’re getting almost the same amount of food at a discount.
You can check if your favorite restaurant will allow you to order off the lunch menu during dinner. Dining out on certain days of the week can save you money, too. For example, the beginning of the week is usually slow for most restaurants. As a result, they usually offer their best-priced specials on these days.
Don’t eat out on major holidays, particularly Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Restaurants know that people will be taking their loved ones out to celebrate on these days. As a result, many establishments will only offer fixed-price menus featuring meals that are way more expensive than the entrées.
6. Order an Appetizer as Your Main Course
Depending on the appetizer, the portions might be large enough to be considered a meal. Not only that, but appetizers, in general, are cheaper than main dishes. And, it’s definitely cheaper to order an appetizer than to order both an app and the main dish.
“Skipping the main dish could easily save you $15 or more,” Anthony, a former Delaware-based server, told Eat This, Not That! Additionally, beware of appetizers that are also listed as main dishes.
“I once ate at a restaurant where they had crab cakes as both an appetizer and a main, served with a side of asparagus. If you simply ordered the crab cake app and side of asparagus, it was cheaper but the same size. Look out for these types of traps!” warns Eat This, Not That! writer Dana Leigh Smith.
5. Split a Meal
Splitting the cost of an entrée or dessert is a great way to save money when dining out. Ben Friedman, co-owner of Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop in Washington, told Eat This, Not That! that he also suggests splitting the appetizer’s cost.
ALL TIME TIP: It might be in your best interest to skip the dessert altogether. Not just because it’s another expense, but because you’re likely paying way more for it than you should.
“Every dessert I’ve ever served as a waitress came out of a box. Sure, we dressed it up with fresh whipped cream and fruit so it looked like it was made in-house, but we were actually charging $8 a slice for something you could buy in the freezer aisle. Don’t waste your money on it,” Dina, a former waitress from Florida, told Eat This, Not That!
4. Beware of Menu Tricks
Did you know that restaurant menus are designed to get you to spend more money? Yep, it’s true! According to an article published by Money Federal Credit Union, restaurants purposely put their most expensive items on the right side of the menu.
Why? Because when we read, we typically read from left to right. That being said, do yourself a favor and look at the items on the left side of the menu instead. That’s where you’ll find the appetizers and other lower-priced items.
3. Drink Water
Nothing refreshes you like a glass of cold water. It’s also the healthiest drink on earth — and it’s absolutely FREE!
Just make sure when you tell the waiter you want water that you specify “plain” water, or else they might bring out the more expensive stuff, like sparkling or seltzer water, which can add $3 or $4 to your bill.
If you absolutely hate tap water, you can always bring bottled water from home. Then, to keep it cold, pour it in one of those cups designed to keep beverages cold for hours.
2. Add Up Your Bill
Whatever you do, NEVER automatically hand over your cash or credit card to the waiter without first looking at your bill. Why? To catch any mistakes. Sometimes waiters can accidentally bring out the wrong check.
The last thing you want to do is pay for a bunch of food you didn’t even order. Unfortunately, that’s what almost happened to Reader’s Digest writer Dana Meredith. The waiter accidentally brought Dana the check for a nearby table of eight.
Needless to say, their bill was considerably higher than Dana’s, which was a check for two. So, the next time you dine out, do yourself a favor and add up your bill before paying.
1. Go During Happy Hour
According to an article published by The Penny Hoarder, you should try eating at restaurant bars during happy hour. Why? Well, for one thing, you’ll save money on drinks.
Additionally, you’ll find half-priced appetizers at many places — but only in the bar area. A third reason, although unrelated to how much money you’ll spend, is seating.
If you sit at the bar, chances are you’ll get to skip the long wait to be seated at a table or booth in the restaurant’s main dining area.