Being smart with your money doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice the luxury of eating out. Here are seven strategies to dining out on the cheap, so you can enjoy having someone else cook without taking a bite out of your budget.
Opt for self-service
Money Crashers contributor Amy Livingston recommends choosing a more self-service type of restaurant. This can take the form of a buffet chain, quick-serve joints like Starbucks and fast-casual places like Panera or Chipotle. Entrée prices tend to be a bit lower at these styles of establishments because the restaurants don’t have to pay for servers.
Lunch entrées are typically significantly cheaper than dinner ones, according to Livingston. Some restaurants also offer extended lunch hours. So, if you don’t mind eating dinner a bit early, you could enjoy a late afternoon supper at a discounted price.
Make take-out your friend
One of the key benefits of eating out is to take in a new environment and new flavors outside of your home. A more frugal way to accomplish this is to do a take-out picnic, as The Penny Hoarder’s Steve Gillman shares. Take-out boxes can hold more food than you’d normally get in a sit-down restaurant setting. You can also bring along your own wine and/or beer - beverages for which you’d have to pay extra had you chosen to dine in the restaurant.
Find a BYOW place
Speaking of wine… many restaurants let customers bring their own bottle to the restaurant. A little research in advance can help you avoid paying an exorbitant amount for a glass of wine off the restaurant’s list, as Gillman states.
Share an entree
How many times have you gone out to a restaurant and been unable to finish your entire plate? Ditch this scenario by splitting an entree with a spouse or friend when you dine out. This will halve the total cost of the meal for both of you, as Livingston articulates. A similar idea is to order half-sized portions rather than full-sized portions of menu items.
Go with appetizers and sides
Take a cue from the vegetarians and skip the entrées. Though these diners might do so to avoid meat-based main dishes, you can apply this same principle to enjoy meat-based or vegetable-based smaller dishes. Per Gillman, you’ll save a ton on the final bill, while savoring some of the restaurant’s yummiest offerings.
Find gift cards and coupons
Many restaurants offer gift cards to consumers at a discounted price, either online or in-person. Carpool and Raise are two reputable sources for obtaining these gift cards, according to Gillman. Groupon and LivingSocial are two other great sources for deals from local dining venues. Livingston also recommends mobile apps like Valpak, which display the coupon on your phone so you don’t have to print out a hard copy of the coupon.
By implementing these practical tips, you’ll drastically reduce the amount of money you spend on dining out. That way, you can focus more on savoring new styles of cuisine rather than on how much the bill will be.