Everybody loves eating out.
And what’s not to love? You don’t have to spend any time deciding what to make, slaving over a hot stove, or washing any dishes. Instead you get to enjoy a nice meal that you’d probably never make yourself while spending quality time with your dining partner.
Of course, the downside to dining out is that it’s costly. While there are ways you can eat for free, having a nice meal without paying for it isn’t possible all the time.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t stretch your dollar when you’re at a restaurant.
If you like eating out — and saving money while you do it — here are nine tips that will make you feel better when the bill comes.
1. Take Home Leftovers
Not that I have to tell you this, but you shouldn’t throw away anything on your plate that you didn’t eat. Instead, have the server box it up so you can take it home. Leftovers are great for a quick snack, a whole meal (if there’s enough left), or as an ingredient in another meal that you can make later. If the people you’re with don’t want their leftovers, ask if they mind if you take them home too. My thinking here is that you’ve already paid for the food, so why waste it when you can eat it another time? You save yourself money by not having to prepare a new meal.
2. Ask for Extras
This typically only works for bread, but if you can find another way to score extras to take home, good on you. One of my favourite has the best bread, and before I ask my server to pack up my leftovers, I ask him or her to bring out another basket of bread. Then I pack them up with the rest of the food and serve them with the next night’s dinner rather than using up my own rolls.
3. Use Coupons and Gift Certificates
My husband and I very rarely visit a restaurant to which we don’t have a coupon or gift certificate. With those in hand when we arrive, not only can we order a more expensive meal than we normally would if we want, but we feel better out of principle because we’re saving money.
4. Go During Deal Times
In this economy, there are lots of establishments offering great deals on food and drinks. In my old neighborhood, there were places you could eat almost every day of the week and get a deal. Tuesdays I scored low-priced wings and on Friday I got a fresh discounted cheesesteak with a bag of chips. Recently my husband and I went to a restaurant and discovered that that particular location offered happy hour with half-price apps from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday to Thursday. Given that information, we will definitely amend our eating-out schedule to take advantage of the better deals.
5. Log into Foursquare
I’ve often scored a free appetizer or glass of wine just by checking in to a restaurant on Foursquare. Some places even offer a percentage off the bill. Both of these specials save you cash, so it’s in your best interest to check for them while you’re there.
6. Share a Meal
There’s no point in ordering two large meals if neither of you are that hungry. That’s a waste of food and money. Rather, split a meal that will satisfy both of you. When my husband and I are hungry but not hungry enough for an entire entrée each, we order an appetizer or two (during happy hour!) to share. This method not only cuts costs but also calories in some cases.
7. Order a Small Plate
This is the same logic as sharing a meal but for one person. If you don’t feel like you’re hungry enough to eat an entire entrée by yourself, then don’t order it. Order something small to start. If you’re still hungry after that, then consider ordering something else.
8. Skip the Alcohol
My husband and I like to drink, and more times than not, more than half the price of our bill is comprised of alcoholic beverages. You can save a ton of cash if you just say no to the booze while you’re at the table. If you must order a drink, go for the house wines and beers but limit yourself to only one.
9. Pocket Prepackaged Condiments
If you’re eating at a restaurant that has prepackaged condiments, take a few extra home with you. By stocking up on these items while you’re out, you’ll use less of what you have at home, which means that you won’t have to buy more of it as often. This is a great trick for salad dressings. I don’t like buying big bottles because we don’t use them up before they expire, which means that I’m essentially throwing money in the trash. By pocketing the small packets, I’m not shelling out any more money than I have to for a product I’m not going to consume.
Have additional ways to make money go a bit further when you’re eating out? Let me know in the comments below.