How to Stick to Your Budget While Eating Out

Eating out is one of life’s great pleasures. You get to enjoy a great meal with your loved ones without any cooking or clean up. When you learn to eat out for less, you can even visit restaurants more often! Here are some ideas to start saving money today.

Picking the Right Restaurant for Your Budget

1. Take advantage of restaurant week. Many communities offer a special restaurant week when some of the most expensive eateries drop their prices to attract new business. They’ll probably limit the menu, but you’ll get sample creations from great chefs and enjoy the ambiance.

2. Search for places where kids eat free. Look online for places where your kids can eat for free or at big discounts. Plan ahead for family vacations when you may be eating out for most meals. That way, you’ll have a variety of options.

3. Make the most of your birthday. You can browse online to get free meals or at least a free dessert or drink for your birthday. Even if the restaurant has no official program, tell them you’re celebrating a birthday when you make your reservations and see if they’ll throw in something special.

4. Use coupons. Sign up for daily deal notices. Pay attention to the details like one coupon per table or a drink minimum.

5. Negotiate your own discounts. Many restaurants will offer discounts to nearby businesses to attract repeat customers. Ask your employer if they’ve got any deals in place or ask a restaurant owner if they’d consider making some kind of arrangement for customers at a nearby movie theater or gym.

6. Enjoy ethnic restaurants. Ethnic restaurants are often a treasure trove of low prices and great food. Pick your favorite cuisine or tantalize your palate by trying something new.

Ordering Wisely

1. Spend less on water. To avoid surprise charges on your bill, let your server know if you want tap water only. Even in expensive restaurants, it’s up to you whether you want to pay for water.

2. Evaluate the specials. Some restaurants promote deals that make the most profits for them. It’s okay to ask for clarification on the price even if the server fails to mention it.

3. Practice portion control. The servings in many restaurants are far more than one person needs for a single meal. Share a dish or put some aside to take home for lunch the next day.

4. Approach small plates strategically. Small plates are a great way to dine. However, you can easily wind up with too much food that will just end up assorted into individual tablespoon-sized dollops of mismatched leftovers. Try ordering a few dishes at a time and ask the server to let you keep the menu. That way you can order more if you really want it.

5. Consider the mark up on wine. Wine is another big profit center for restaurants. The mark up can easily be 400% or more compared to retail prices. A great wine can be worth it but consider the investment before you splurge.

* Meals can be fabulous without wine, too, so remember that you can always elect to save this pricey treat for only the most special occasions.

6. Go as a group. Restaurants may be willing to design a limited fixed price menu if you let them know in advance that you’re bringing a group. Depending on your guests, be sure to have options for vegetarians and for medical needs such as diabetes and allergies.

7. Visit at lunchtime. You can often get the same dish at lunchtime for around 20% less than the price on the dinner menu. If the restaurant is slow, they may even be willing to make your favorite dinner dish at lunch, regardless of whether it’s on the menu.

Dine well and pay less for the same great experience. If you pick the right restaurants and order wisely, you can have a great time and sample fine cuisine while you stick to your budget.