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While saving money is always important, sometimes it’s still nice to take the opportunity to go out for a meal, be it an anniversary, a celebration, a meal out with friends, or just wanting to treat yourself. (We at the Frugalite believe that treats are good as long as you budget for them.) While dining at a restaurant can be outrageously expensive at times, there are some ways you can do it for a little less. Here are our tips for eating out on a budget.
Plan your order ahead of time
Planning can make or break your eating-out budget. Take some time, and look at the menu beforehand. Have a budget in mind and see if you can stick within the budget at your chosen restaurant. If you can’t, take a look at the menus at other restaurants to see if a different one better fits your budget. The nice thing these days is that almost every restaurant has its menu online, either on its website or on Google. This is a huge help!
Skip the drinks
Be it alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, or milkshakes, the price of drinks can quickly add to your bill. Heck, just a glass of wine at a restaurant can easily cost $10 or more (when you can buy a bottle for that price at the grocery store.) Having worked in the restaurant industry, I learned that drinks are one of the highest mark-ups on the menu. Bar and coffee markups often range between 200% and 600% at any given restaurant. So, instead of adding an extra few dollars (or more) per person, skip the fun drinks and just go with tap water for free.
Plan the day you go
Many restaurants have different specials on different days of the week. Things like BOGO on appetizers, kids eat free on Wednesdays, or just certain dishes discounted on certain days. While not every restaurant does this, many do, so it’s definitely worth looking into.
Grab lunch, not dinner
The nice thing about lunches out is they’re often a fair amount cheaper. Many restaurants give slightly smaller servings at lunch for a bit lower of price. This also comes with the bonus of not having to worry about a very heavy meal too close to bedtime.
Split a few apps instead of meals
This is a trick my mom, sister, and I used a lot growing up. Instead of getting actual meals, we would get an appetizer platter or a couple of different options. This allowed us to have some of the restaurant’s tastiest foods (what can I say? I have a weakness for spinach dip and potato skins) while not having to worry about the near-doubled price of a meal. Plus, if you can pair that with a time when appetizers are BOGO-free or half-off? Well, you could save a fortune and be just as satisfied!
No dessert is required… unless it’s your birthday
A great money saver is to skip the dessert. A slice of cheesecake or a warm brownie with ice cream can easily run you a pretty penny. So, when in doubt, skip the dessert. There are a few exceptions to this one. If you have kiddos getting kids’ meals, many of them will include a small dessert in the price. If that’s the case, by all means, go for it! The other option is if you are going for a birthday, many restaurants (though not all), will give the one celebrating a free dessert, though, if you’re opting for that, beware that they’ll probably sing to you and the whole restaurant will be watching. But hey, at least you get a free dessert! Oh, and one more thing! I don’t recommend trying to pull this off if it’s not your birthday (or very close to it), as some restaurants will actually check I.D. when it comes to giving out free birthday desserts.
For take-out and pick-up, don’t have it delivered
If you want the experience of restaurant food without having to actually sit in the restaurant, skip the delivery and pick it up instead. Websites that deliver, like Uber Eats, SkiptheDishes, or DoorDash, will throw on a lot of extra fees and expenses. You’ve got the delivery fee, which can be anywhere from $0.99 to $8.99, plus, the tip for the driver, and many restaurants will have a higher price on the app than they do in the restaurant itself. So, save yourself the hassle and extra fees, and I it’s possible, pick it up yourself instead.
What are your tips and tricks?
All in all, there are so many ways to save while eating out. When you can’t afford it, you can’t, but every once in a while, it is nice to treat yourself or your family to a little something special. Having tips and tricks like these can make that a little more possible without going completely broke.
What are your favorite tips and tricks to save while eating out? Share in the comments below!
About Chloe Morgan
Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college-age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea. Check out her other work on Medium, where she writes about lifestyle, mental health, and writing.