10 Ways to Save Money Eating Out
Susan L. Friedland, Marketing and Communications
Shapiro Financial Security Group, Inc.
June 26, 2018
After a full day of work, the thought of cooking dinner tonight was just a bit too much to contemplate. The allure of a nice dinner, eaten on a lovely patio on a beautiful night was irresistible. So, my husband and I went out to eat at a local restaurant. Italian inspired, locally sourced food, small plates for sharing – it was yummy. It was also expensive for a quick dinner on a Tuesday night. Budget? What budget? I suspect we are more typical than not for your average working couple.
In today’s busy world, we are going out more frequently than ever before. In fact, as of October 2017, the average American ate out between four and five times a week.[i] We spend a lot of money doing this – the Bureau of labor statistics reported that the average household spent an average of $3,008 per year on dining out.[ii] Needless to say, this plays havoc with our household budgets.
I, for one, am not willing to cease eating out. Whether it is a cup of coffee and an hour spent talking with a friend or two or a full dinner out with family, it is one way we socialize and enjoy ourselves. It is an important part of our lives. However, saving some money sure would be nice. Some suggestions:
- Check out social media before going out -Some of the very best restaurant savings are reserved for those resourceful enough to search for special deals. Your favorite restaurant’s website may be running a limited promotion or a special deal.
- Check out the menu online before you arrive. Being presented with a lengthy menu can lead to making a hasty decision and, most likely, it isn’t the most cost-effective one. Scan the menu and prices beforehand, so you know what you are getting yourself into.
- Ask your waiter about discounts. Many customers do not realize they are eligible for discounts. Discounts for teachers, students with a valid ID, senior citizens or military personnel are common, but you need to ask your server about them. Frequent patron discounts may also be available along with corporate and neighbor discounts.
- Get deals online - Customers can get really good deals using Groupon and LivingSocial. Restaurant.com, Gilt City, and Pulsd are other options.
- Skip the bottled water and soda. Restaurants make a huge profit on bottled water and sodas— often at least 50 percent over what you would spend at the grocery store. This applies especially in pricier places with an upscale or exclusive ambiance.
- Go out for brunch or lunch. Brunch or lunch is a great chance to try that hip or pricey new spot without the cost of doing dinner while feeling like it is still an indulgence. Lunch portions are usually just a bit smaller than dinner portions and cost significantly less. Avoid buffets or bottomless brunches – unless you have a huge appetite, it is much more cost effective to order off of the menu.
- Order a few appetizers and a single entrée to share rather than individual entrees. This is a great way to taste items that are new and it’s fun to share.
- Eat a snack before going out. This is advice we have all probably heard in regard to watching our waistlines, but it applies to saving money also. If you are very hungry when you get to the restaurant, you are more likely to dig into the bread basket and order pricey appetizers as soon as you sit down. This can add $15 to $20 to your tab.[iii]
- Order carry-out and eat at home. While not this suggestion is not technically about saving money in a restaurant, it does involve restaurant food. Driving (or walking) to the restaurant and bringing your order home will allow you to skip paying a delivery fee, a service tip to the waiter (though a small gratuity to the staff is still a nice gesture), and money on expensive drinks.
- Take advantage of ‘Kid’s Eat Free’ options.
- Become a Mystery Diner. Though this is something that is not for everyone, it does hold the opportunity for serious savings, and maybe, even earning some cash. To do this, you will need to sign up with an agency that sends you for free meals at different restaurants. In return, you will need to complete a report on your experience that comments on the service, cleanliness and other factors. If you have harbored the fantasy of being a food critic, maybe this is for you.