While I am all about simple living, I still love eating out. However, the frugalista in me hates to pay the over-inflated restaurant bill. There’s just something about looking at that $8 plate of eggs that turns my stomach. Because I know I can make that same plate of eggs (even better) at home for pennies. For our family of 5, a typical meal in a restaurant complete with beverages, an appetizer, and entrees can easily top $100. And that’s without any dessert!
I know, I know, cooking at home will save me money. The problem is, I am not always at home. To add to the dilemma, sometimes I just want to eat out at a restaurant. To me, there’s nothing better than going on a date with my husband and not having to cook.
Did you know the majority of restaurants mark up the prices of their food by at least 3 times what they paid for it? When you go out to eat, you are not only paying for the food and beverages you order, you are also paying for the cooks, wait staff, ambiance, rent for the building, advertising costs and more.
What does all of this mean for the frugal consumer? Do we have to stop eating out altogether? Is there a way we can still enjoy a meal at a restaurant without breaking the bank? The answer is, “yes”. All it takes is a little bit of planning.
This post contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more information.
12 Ways You Can Save Money at Restaurants
- Skip the beverages. Did you know that restaurants mark up the prices on soda, coffee, and tea even more than alcoholic beverages? One of the best ways to save money at a restaurant is to order tap water. Notice I said, “tap” water. Make sure you don’t accidently order a bottled water. The restaurant marks these up even more than soda.
- Beware of “upsells”. You know how the waiter always asks if you’d like your potato loaded instead of plain? Or if you’d like an appetizer, extra cheese, or top shelf liquor? Yeah, he’s (or she’s) not just being friendly. A good waiter or waitress is a trained salesperson. It’s true. Always make sure to ask if the item the waiter is suggesting comes with an extra fee. If it does, just say “No”.
- Don’t tip. Gotcha there, didn’t I? Of course, I would never recommend not tipping your wait staff at a restaurant! What I mean is, call ahead and order your food to go. Some restaurants will even give you more food than if you were dining in. This is because those styrofoam trays can hold more than a typical plate. I have found this to be true at our local Chinese restaurant. Oh, and if the restaurant has a tip jar by the register, be sure to drop a little something in it. They did still take the time to prepare and package your food.
- Order the main dish, take it home, and make the sides. You can save the money you would have spent eating a full meal in the restaurant by getting the main dish to go, then adding sides to it at home. It’s super easy to microwave some frozen veggies or whip up a salad to go with your restaurant entree. The hard work has already been done for you.
- Come on, get happy (hour). Even if you don’t drink alcohol, happy hour is a great time to save money when eating at restaurants. A lot of restaurants offer happy hour specials such as 1/2 price (or free) appetizers, discounted finger foods, and inexpensive buffets. So, skip the alcohol, drink water, and fill up for cheap.
- Be an early bird. Ever wonder how retirees can eat out all of the time? It’s (usually) not because they are rich. It’s because they take advantage of early bird specials when eating out. Restaurants offer less expensive entrees if you dine before the dinner rush. These meals are often smaller than a typical dinner, so you save on your waistline too.
- Go on a “diet”. Speaking of your waistline, restaurants are notorious for overfeeding their customers. A good way to save money on your restaurant meal is to make two meals out of it. When the food arrives, ask the waitress for a to-go box. Immediately box up half of your meal and set it aside. Be sure not to leave it on the hood of your car (I’ve done this more than once), and you will have a yummy meal for the next day.
- Go for the appetizers…and skip the entree. Another tip for saving money when eating at a restaurant is to replace the main course with an appetizer. Appetizers are usually shared between people before the meal, but more often than not, the appetizer is enough for a one person meal.
- Sharing is caring. Order a full-sized entree and share it with another person. Ask for an extra plate and split up the food. I’ve done this many times when eating out with kids. Just make sure you leave a little extra in the tip if you feel guilty.
- Take advantage of special days. Tons of restaurants offer specials on certain days. If you have kids, find out which restaurants in your area allow them to eat free. Some restaurants will offer 50 cent wings on Wednesdays, or specials on certain entrees throughout the week.
- Get social. Follow your favorite restaurants on social media. Social media serves as free advertising for restaurants. Therefore, they will reward you with promo codes and special offers if you help them grow their online presence.
- Use coupons. Both in print and online, there are many coupons and promo codes which will help you save money at restaurants. Look for coupon inserts in your weekly newspaper. When you are hungry for a meal out, browse Ibotta or Groupon for deals. Join Restaurant.com deals to find money saving opportunities at your favorite places to eat.
Enjoy your restaurant meal while saving money. Simple living at its finest!
*If you need help with your budget, Rosemarie of busybudgeter.com has an awesome, jam-packed 90-Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook which goes along with her (free) 90-Day Budget Bootcamp program. This workbook has helped thousands of people change their spending habits, get out of debt, and save money. Get yours today!