If you are interested in saving money, then chances are you should be looking at your eating out habits and make some improvements.
For many people eating out doesn’t happen only on very special occasions, so it’s something you’re probably doing at least on a weekly basis. And it’s also one of the biggest budget busters, as well.
I don’t expect anyone to cook at home, since most Americans don’t care for home-cooked meals, compared to us, East Europeans. So your family is probably eating out way more often than we do (which is probably 2 times/year).
Here are some tips to still enjoy your meals and not break the bank:
Try to eat out less and cook at home more
My main reason to cook at home and keep my daughter as far as possible from restaurant meals is not even the high cost, it’s actually the bad quality of the ingredients used and the cooking itself. There are exceptional restaurants, with quality ingredients and terrific cooking, but we’re probably out of their target client list, since we’d not be able to afford those meals.
So we’re left out with ‘regular’ restaurants, where the meals aren’t as carefully prepared as mine.
If you start cooking your meals from scratch you’ll notice that, even if you are very picky with the ingredients, your meals will not cost as much, as compared to eating out every time. In a Zagat survey few on average Americans spend $36.3 on a dinner. I’m sure you’ll be able to cook for less.
Sure, you’ll invest some time in the cooking itself, but, with some simple meals and a good plan you’ll also see some savings.
Select a restaurant you can afford
Over the years I ate at ‘regular’ restaurants and very few ‘fancy’ ones.
Just the fact a restaurant charges hundreds of bucks for a meal doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the food or really get an outstanding meal.
In all my experiences, there was bad food (or maybe I just didn’t like it) at expensive restaurants and more affordable ones, just as I got some amazing meals at a Michelin rated restaurant or at an ‘all you can eat’.
So just find a selection of affordable restaurants that constantly give you good meals and forget the fancy ones.
Don’t go out to eat hungry
Hear me out, it makes sense.
Just as with shopping, when you’re hungry, you tend to spend/order more.
So, by having a snack before your restaurant meal will prevent you from ordering half their menu.
Have a budget
Eating out is fun and relaxing, but you should still keep an eye on your spending. Don’t go out with a too ‘lax’ budget, try to enjoy a good meal and not spend a month’s pay on it.
It’s actually easy if you set a monthly budget for eating out (say $400) and plan to go out every week. This, for instance, would give you $100 to spend on one restaurant date. Of course budgets vary from family to family, but the main idea is important: have your mind set on a number and try not to go over it.
Get the meal as a takeout from your favorite restaurant
If you don’t really need the restaurant ‘vibe’ for your meal, you can always order it as a takeout. The price is gonna drop significantly and you can add any ‘extras’ from home, not having to pay for them. Not to mention the drinks, which can also drive costs up.
If we talked about drinks – avoid alcohol, its price is quite steep at a restaurant, usually one of the most expensive parts of your meal. Same for sodas, coffee etc.
Order water and you can still enjoy your meal, while not having to pay for expensive drinks.
Some restaurants allow you to dine out and use coupons as well. This can be a great way to get a more frugal dining out experience.
You do need to be cautions though, sometimes there are minimums required, which might cause you to spend more than initially intended.
Use restaurant loyalty and reward programs
If you have few favorite restaurants (you probably do), you can join their loyalty program and receive notification when there’s a special. Just getting into their email list can already save you a lot of money.
Share a meal
Most of the time the portions are absolutely huge.
I still remember our first eating out experience at a diner in Queens, back in 2010 (our first stay in NYC). When I received my order, I realized that I’d need probably 3 sittings to finish it out.
So, you can safely order a meal and ask for 2 separate plates, for instance.
If restaurants still have big portions (and most of them do), you’ll surely not starve.
Choose food that’s good as a leftover
In many cases, if you cannot finish the meal, you’ll get it in a doggy bag. American restaurants are famous for their huge portions that most people cannot finish in one sitting.
Choose the type of meals that do well the next day, if you want to reheat or use for another meal.
When you get to dessert, you’re most likely full, so it makes sense to just skip it.
Not easy for people who love sweets (self included), but a great way to save more money while dining out.
Eat a late lunch
Usually dinner is more expensive, even if in some cases it’s the same meal, so by just taking a late lunch you’ll save money.
Also look for great deals during the ‘happy hour’ or take advantage of great offers for ‘early birds’.
Skip the appetizer
With such huge portions, you can safely split a meal with someone. And not order the appetizer at all, since you’re already eating enough.
Another strategy is to take a nice appetizer and not the main dish. Whatever you choose, ordering both will just leave you with too much food to eat anyway.
Go out on Mondays or Tuesdays
The beginning of the week is usually slow for restaurants, so you’re more likely to get a good deal. And not have to wait for hours to get a table.
Avoid major holidays
I have noticed that a lot of friends don’t go skiing during Christmas or the New Year’s Eve, since prices are absolutely insane. They just spend a quiet holiday at home and then hit the slopes in January of February.
The same applies with eating out.
During holidays restaurants are crowded and the prices are high.
These are just few strategies that will save you money when eating out, while not spoiling the entire experience. Feel free to share your own tips.