While cooking at home is one of the best ways to be frugal, that doesn’t mean you have to avoid restaurants completely. There are plenty of ways to save money when dining out, especially if you plan ahead a bit. Use these tips the next time you decide to eat out to see how “splurging” on a meal at a restaurant every once in a while doesn’t have to be devastating for your frugal budget.
Avoid the Tip
Tipping can add a considerable cost to any restaurant experience. If you’d like to enjoy a meal out, you can save a lot by choosing a counter service establishment as opposed to a traditional sit-down restaurant. These locations often have food that’s just as delicious as the dishes served at casual restaurants. However, by ordering at the counter instead of having a server come to your table, you save on tipping. Some people still like to tip a dollar or two for the employees who prep the food at fast-casual restaurants like these, but it’s not expected in the same way that a 15-20% tip is generally expected at a traditional restaurant.
Get it to Go
Another way to avoid tipping is to order a meal from your favorite sit-down restaurant but get it to go. You can enjoy your meal at home for a relaxing evening or turn it into a fun date night or family night by taking your to-go meal to enjoy at a local park. You’ll spend less by avoiding the tip and still get to have a special meal that you don’t have to make yourself.
Sodas, teas, lemonades, alcoholic drinks and other beverages are extremely overpriced at restaurants. You’ll pay a huge markup by ordering these drinks when dining out. Save money by drinking water with your meal instead. If you’d really love to sip on a nice drink while dining out, consider looking for a BYOB restaurant where you can bring in affordable drinks to enjoy during your meal.
Split a Meal
In many cases, restaurant serving portions are so large that every diner your group goes home with a doggy bag filled with their leftovers. Instead of ordering separate meals, choose something you’re willing to share with another member of the group and split the cost. You can each get a filling portion at half the price, and no restaurant leftovers will go bad in your fridge after being neglected for a few days.
Research the Specials
Many restaurants have amazing food and drink deals that you can enjoy on certain days or during certain times. However, to take advantage of these deals, you need to plan ahead. Perhaps the local pub’s $5 burger night is on Thursdays, while a nearby Italian restaurant serves up their delicious pizza and pasta at 50% off from 4-6 p.m. on weekdays. These are the kinds of deals that can make dining out much more affordable, so look up the specials for some of the local restaurants you like and make a list of their weekly specials. If you and your family decide you’d like to dine out on a Tuesday, you can reference your list and make a decision about where to eat based on the deals available that day. One of the popular specials at many family-friendly restaurants is having a “kids eat free” day, so be sure to note which establishments have this special if you tend to dine out as a family.
Go Where There’s a Coupon
Not craving a meal from a particular restaurant? Decide where to eat based on where the deals are. In addition to keeping track of restaurant specials, you can also look online to find deals for the places you like to eat. Go to the official website and Facebook page for the restaurant. You can sometimes find a deal when you check these websites. Another option is to search on websites like Groupon or Living Social. It’s easy to search for local restaurants so you can pick out the best deals based on what’s nearby.
Join the Club
Does your favorite restaurant have a loyalty club? Be sure to sign up in order to earn rewards for the money you spend there. As long as the club is free to join, it’s a great way to save money when you want to dine out. Most loyalty clubs will email you special coupons every now and then. You may even get a free meal on your birthday or anniversary.
You don’t have to completely give up dining out if you’re trying to save money. Make some smart decisions about where you go to eat and you can still enjoy a special meal without going over your budget. These tips will make it easier for you to enjoy the occasional restaurant meal guilt-free.