Do you think you can't afford to eat out or to eat out as often as you'd like? There are ways to get around those high restaurant prices and enjoy a meal out when you feel like it.
Sarah emailed me some time back with a difficult question. She and her husband loved to eat out but their budget simply wouldn't allow it more than a few special times each year. Was there any way they could enjoy eating out more often without paying those high prices?
Restaurants are Big Business in the United States. According to Restaurant.org, Americans spend nearly half their food dollars in restaurants! Many people, like Sarah and her husband, don't spend nearly as much as that so somebody else is spending a lot of money on restaurant food!
Perhaps, though, some people have learned to save money when eating out. Restaurant coupons and other methods can make eating out, if not altogether frugal, at least affordable.
Coupons and Good Deals for Eating Out
Coupons for restaurants can often be found in local mailings and in coupon books that you have to buy. Buying a coupon book may or may not make eating out more affordable, depending on how often you will actually use the coupons. You can also find coupons for restaurants online, or sign up for newsletters or other emailed communications from your favorite restaurant and you'll be made aware of special deals.
Birthday clubs at many restaurants will bag you a good deal or, in some instances, even a free meal. (You can't get much more frugal than that!) There's a good list of free birthday meals here: Free Birthday Meals. Be sure to check with the restaurant first to see that it participates.
Even if you don't belong to their club, be sure to make your server aware when you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary. There may be special savings for you.
If you eat out often, see if your favorite restaurant (and others) have a dining "club" that will get you discounts, special coupons or a percentage off the total price of a meal.
No coupon or good deal? Don't despair. Look instead for daily deals. They're often on the menu, but may be posted elsewhere. Ask your server about the special for the day.
What to Eat
Restaurants usually have a special menu with smaller portions for children and seniors and there's nothing wrong with ordering from those if they will allow you. Since regular portions are quite large, a smaller portion from this menu will probably satisfy you anyway.
If the restaurant doesn't want you to order from that menu, split an order. Most restaurants don't mind if you just ask for an extra plate and eating utensils, but some may charge a small fee which will stiil be more frugal than two full orders.
If you have leftovers, don't be afraid to ask for a doggie bag. You paid for it, and it's yours. Take it home and make another meal out of it or add it to something else.
Eat locally available food. If you're in Arizona, don't ask for lobster... that's cheaper in Maine. If you're in New York City, don't ask for beef.. that's cheaper in Wyoming. If you must have those things, buy them and cook them yourself.
Eat seasonally. It's not only the grocery stores that have better prices on seasonal produce, and that includes meat. Think about turkey and pumpkin in November, hotdogs and watermelon in July. Each season has its own food. Check at the grocery store if you're not sure what's in season.
Drink water and leave the soft drinks and alcohol for another time. If you must have a drink get the smallest size possible and/or share it. That will satisfy the urge for taste.
Where to Eat Out
Try out new or recently opened restaurants, especially local owned ones as opposed to franchises. They usually have good special prices to get new customers in and you might discover a great place to eat. Franchises also sometimes have special prices for openings, so don't rule them out completely.
Eating at local ethnic restaurants will be more frugal than eating ethnic food at another restaurant. If you're not familiar with them, you may have to look for an authentic ethnic restaurant - don't confuse "authentic" with well advertised.
When You Eat Out Matters
If you want an affordable meal, go out to lunch instead of dinner, or go out to breakfast instead of lunch. The experience will be just as good for less money.
If you miss a deadline by a few minutes, ask if you can order from that menu anyway. Don't be upset if you can't, though. Restaurants make certain food available on a schedule so at times they're simply not able to provide food from a prior menu because it's all put away or thrown away.
Back to Sarah: After brainstorming these ideas with her, she and her husband now eat out at least twice each month, and, in her own words: "It's not costing us one penny more and we enjoy it more than ever!"
You can do it, too.