Eating out doesn’t have to be all or nothing

by Karen on November 4, 2008

Photo by vox_efx

When times are tough and it’s time to cut back, restaurant meals are often one of the first things to go. We try to keep eating out to an absolute minimum. Cooking at home is not only healthier but also more economical.

Cutting back doesn’t have to mean cutting restaurant meals altogether. We enjoy eating out, and we like to go out once a month. The problem with limiting restaurant meals is that it’s often tempting to go overboard when you do get to eat at a restaurant. Drinks, appetizers, desserts … adding those things can double the cost of your meal.

Eating out doesn’t have to be all or nothing, though. There are ways to keep the costs low and still enjoy the fun of a good restaurant meal. Here’s how:

Go out for lunch.

Prices are often lower, and many restaurants offer lunch specials. If you’re craving a restaurant meal for a low price, lunch is often a better option than dinner.

Drink water.

Alcoholic beverages often cost almost as much as an entree. Even fountain sodas can tack on an extra $2 each to your bill. Ordering ice water with a slice of lemon is not only a healthier option, it’s also free.

Don’t order more than you’ll eat (or more than you should eat).

Restaurant portions are usually ridiculously big. Even if you have the willpower to resist overeating, you’re still paying for food you can’t finish. Many restaurants are now offering smaller portions for a lower price.

If they don’t, I ask if they’ll allow me to order from the kids’ menu. I’ve never had a waiter tell me no. Sometimes they’ll add a dollar or so to the price since I’m not under 12, but most of the time they let me order the kids’ portion at the kids’ price. It’s just the right amount of food for me, and it usually only costs $4 or $5. That’s a huge difference from the regular entree prices of $8-$12.

Order an appetizer instead of an entree.

Appetizers are often just as filling as entrees at a lower price. My husband and I sometimes order one appetizer each and split them.

Take advantage of specials.

A lot of times certain entrees are on “special” for a lower price. Take this opportunity to pay less for your meal and try something new.

Many restaurants also offer special deals like reduced-price appetizers or entrees on certain weeknights. If your favorite restaurant offers specials like this, try to schedule your meals out on these nights.

Fill out comment cards and mail them in.

At the end of the meal your bill often comes with a comment card or survey. I always fill these out and mail them in. In return, I often receive coupons for money off or free appetizers just for giving my opinion. They even pay the postage.

Use gift cards.

If you’re enrolled at MyPoints, there are a ton of restaurants that offer gift cards for points. (If you’re not already enrolled, email me for a referral link!)

Another option is Restaurant.com. They offer “gift certificates” for restaurants at a reduced rate (usually $10 for a $25 gift certificate). They sometimes offer promotions for even more money off, and you can often get $25 gift certificates for as little as $2.

What’s the catch? You have to spend a certain amount on your meal to redeem the gift certificate. You might pay $2 for a $25 gift certificate, but your total bill has to be $35 not including taxes, tip, or alcohol in order to redeem the gift certificate. You’re still getting a $35 meal for $12. Not too bad! Check the site to see if any restaurants in your area offer gift certificates through Restaurant.com.

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