Do you enjoy going out to eat? There is something fun about having someone cook for you, wait on you and clean up after you all while hanging out with others in an enjoyable and lively atmosphere. However, do you struggle deciding if you should eat out or not because of the cost? Has going out to eat hit your wallet hard? The good news is it doesn’t have to! There are many ways around blowing all your money at restaurants and to eat out on a budget. You just have to be mindful of when and where you are going.
Generally eating out costs more than cooking at home. Although, if you do it right, eating out can cost just as little as cooking the same food at home, or even less. However, going out to eat can mean more calories, so be conscious of your food choices. Follow these ways to eat out on budget and enjoy your food experience.
Take Advantage of Restaurant Daily Specials
Lots of restaurants run daily specials. They are usually listed on their menus or on a special menu given out. If they are not listed on a menu ask your server or the cashier. If I am thinking of going to a new restaurant I first google the restaurant and their menu to see if they have any appealing specials or deals. It may determine if and when I try that restaurant.
Go to a restaurant on a day that it has your favorite food item on special. For example, if you like a place, and the meal you get there is ½ price on Tuesdays go there on Tuesdays. Eat out on a budget and save money by going to a restaurant on the day they have your favorite dish on special.
Use Restaurant Coupons to Save Money
Many restaurants give away coupons. There are all kinds of coupons. Most are for either a percentage off your meal (like 15%) off total bill, spend so much get an amount off (like spend $25 get $5 off, or buy an item get something free (like buy a sub get chips and a drink free).
Restaurant coupons also can come by mail in different mailers or flyers. Many local restaurants may be included in these. Make sure to check what location(s) the coupons are good for as sometimes they are location specific. Another way to get restaurant coupons is by buying deals on discount shopping sites. For example, you can get $25 to a restaurant, but buy it from this site for $15. These restaurants are typically very specific and not super popular, but you may find a gem for cheap.
Sign Up for the Restaurants Email Club
Signing up for a restaurant’s eclub is one way to get lots of deals and coupons to eat out on a budget. After signing up most restaurants will email you a coupon for signing up. Then generally they will email you a deal or coupon every few weeks. They will message you when they are running a promotion or have a special going on. Usually these deals and specials are exclusive to eclub members only, so it pays off to sign up at restaurants you like to go. Some restaurants will even email you coupons for free items on your birthday, on the yearly anniversary of signing up, or on the restaurants anniversary.
Buy & Use Gift cards
Another way to eat out on a budget is by using gift cards to pay the bill. Ask for gift cards for Christmas or birthday gifts.
In addition, a way to get good deals on gift cards is by purchasing a gift card when they offer a free gift card with it. Many restaurants run holiday gift card specials where if you spend so much on gift cards you get a free gift card. For example, a common one is buy $50 in gift cards get $10 gift card to use. Often these free gift cards have expiration dates and extra rules so make sure to plan accordingly. I make notes in my phone when these free gift cards expire to make sure I use them in time.
Some restaurants will run a gift card deal around Mother’s and Father’s day and graduation time as well. These deals may be advertised at the restaurant, on tv, or will be emailed to eclub members. Just be sure if you buy the gift card(s) to only buy as many as you will use of the free gift card. Typically they do not let you combine free gift cards. So you have to go as many separate times as free gift cards you have.
Be Conscious of the Restaurant Menu
When you eat out on a budget be conscious of the prices on the menu. Look at the price of what you are ordering. Often there is a wide variety of food items and prices on a restaurant menu. Check the different sizing with pricing options and what is the best deal. When you are thinking about ordering an item check what all comes with it. Often when deciding what to order on the menu, I will think about is my food worth that price. If I am debating between 2 items I will take the cheaper food item.
Skip the Drinks
Drinks at restaurants are not cheap. Whether it is a soft drink, an alcoholic drink, or juice they are all way over priced at restaurants. Do not waste your money on a drink. Instead, focus on your delicious food, and drink water. Water is free and a healthier, calorie free option. When you eat out on a budget you skip the drinks.
Skip the Dessert
The same goes for dessert – skip it. Dessert is often very expensive and not something you need after eating a full meal. Restaurant desserts look cool and delicious, but can be nearly the same price as a regular entreee. Save the calories for another time when your pants and wallet are not tight.
Eat Out Where You Are Not Served
Although it is fun to be waited on at a table, sometimes save your money and go to a place where you order and get your food yourself. You still get a restaurant experience of not having to prepare and cook and fully clean up. If you typically tip 20% of your bill, that can tac on a few extra bucks each time.
Save Money With Timing of When You Eat Out
There are times where food is just cheaper at restaurants. This is typically during less busy times. Some restaurants give a cheaper price at lunch and increase the price for the exact same meal for dinner. Other places have specials and deals during the week only. They have their basic menu with no specials on the weekend because people typically eat out on weekends more than during the week.
Happy hours are cheaper because they are usually before the busy time of day. In addition, happy hours are normally during the week. A restaurant does not need any specials like happy hour to get people in on the weekend. If you are going out for drinks and appetizers try go during happy hour to save money.
Supplement Specials With Own Food
Another way to eat out on a budget is just get the single item or two you have a coupon for or that are on special. Then supplement the rest of the meal with food from home. For example, I have a coupon for a buy one get one burger at a place where i love their burgers. So I go pick up two burgers for the price of one. Then I supplement with my own sides like a salad, chips, or fruit and I have a meal for my husband and I. This way you get the taste of a restaurant burger, but save money and calories by supplementing the remaining part of the meal with something healthier from home. So only get your favorite item from a restaurant or the deal item instead of getting the whole meal out at a restaurant, and supplement the rest.
Eat Out Where You Get High Quantities of Food For Your Money
I am not saying every time you eat out to go to a buffet, but go to places where you get enough to eat and take home some leftovers. Like places that provide a bread basket, an appetizer, an unlimited side, a trip to the salad bar, or a buy one take one entree. Eat a lot of what they provide you and take some of your meal home. Always take your leftovers home. The worst is when you go out to eat and are still hungry when you get home after spending all that money.
Eat Out on a Budget With Kid Deals
Something that was and sometimes still is hard is seeing our restaurant bill higher now that it is not just my husband and I anymore. Kids will definitely increase your restaurant bills and your grocery budget for that matter. Now that my son is 3 he needs his own kids meal. He is a hungry growing boy and I can’t get away with having him share my meal with me anymore or bringing in snacks to hold him over.
So one thing we try to do when we eat out as a family is go to restaurants that offer kids eat free days. Some restaurants offer one or two days a week where kids get a free meal off the kids menu with the purchase of an adult meal. This way my little guy gets to eat, but we do not see it on the bill:)
Take advantage of the kids menu as long as you can, until your kid(s) have reached the age limit. Most kids menus are available until a kid is 10 or 12. There are some places kids eat free until they become a certain age. If you have kids young enough that eat take advantage of these places.
Final Thoughts on Ways to Eat Out on a Budget
Plain and simple, to keep your restaurant budget to a minimum do not go out to eat often. However, we all like to live a little bit and take a break from cooking and cleaning up. So when you do go out use these tactics above to eat out on a budget.