Eating out is expensive, plain and simple. Sometimes it can’t really be avoided, sometimes you don’t feel like cooking, and sometimes you just plain need to get out of the house before your head explodes. So here are some ways to cut costs. I always welcome your tips!!! Leave me a comment with your ideas!
Before you go:
- go to the restaurant’s website and look at their menu, if it is available. Compare prices and choose what you want before you go. If you don’t really have to look at the menu once you’re seated in the restaurant, you won’t be tempted by all the add-ons (appetizer, soup, dessert, fancy drink with a swirly straw).
- while you’re there on the website, sign up for that restaurant’s email mailing list if they have one. Many times, you get coupons for free appetizers or a % off your bill emailed right to your inbox.
- if you have young children, feed them beforehand if possible, to avoid having to pay $4 each for kids’ meals. Then pack a few snacks (graham crackers, goldfish) in the diaper bag. If your kids are older, see kids meals below.
When you get there:
- If you brought a coupon with you, ask right away if they accept that coupon. Many nationwide restaurants are franchises and sometimes they won’t accept coupons for corporate promotions. The last thing you want is to be stuck paying $8 for an appetizer you thought would be free.
- Kids’ meals: This one is a big deal for me, because I hate spending money on a meal that won’t get finished. My kids are 3 and 1, and they are unpredictable eaters. Sometimes they will inhale an entire plate full of food, and other times they’ll eat one bite and be done, so I never know how much to order. The best possible solution is to go somewhere where kids eat free, so it isn’t even an issue. (Check out www.mykidseatfree.com, or do a quick search for “kids eat free” and your city.) If it’s cheaper, try ordering one adult meal and splitting it between several kids. If you go out with a group, oftentimes one full size chicken-tenders-and-fries will feed 6 kids, or 2 kids and 1 adult. Mexican restaurants are always a great deal because kids can fill up on the free chips and salsa, then split a quesadilla.
- Grown up meals: I’m sure you’ve heard many of these before, and some are just common sense, but here are some ways to save money on grown-up dinners: order water instead of soda (or even worse, alcohol $$); order an appetizer instead of an entree; get a box and take half home (2 dinners for the price of one!); ask if your entree costs less if you don’t get the extra side you don’t really want (if not, give it to your kids! one less meal to buy).
When it’s time to go:
- When you get your check, make sure everything on there is correct. Sometimes you get charged for an extra drink or something you didn’t order. If you used any coupons make sure they were applied. Also, it never hurts to ask if they have any discounts. We are a military family so the phrase “Do you have a military discount?” is one of my most spoken sentences. You could also ask for a student/senior citizen/teacher/frequent customer/just-because-you’re-awesome discount.
Last but not least: HAVE FUN!!! Going out is supposed to be a treat, but if you spend the whole evening stressing, it won’t be worth it, and you still will have paid the price. I learned the hard way that you need to just relax and enjoy your night out. If you’ve budgeted and you’re doing well, there’s no reason you can’t splurge on a $40 dinner once in a while.