10 Ways to Save While Eating Out

10 Ways to Save While Eating Out

Most articles and books about saving money caution against eating out in the restaurants all together. After all, you don't just pay for the ingredients, you are also paying a great chunk of money for getting the meal cooked, served, and then cleaned up for you.
As The Wall Street Journal states, the restaurants have to charge 4 times the price of the ingredients to make profit and stay in business. So while you might not be able to buy the ingredients as cheap as most restaurants can, you will still be better off buying your own supplies.
This is a pure practical advice because it makes financial sense. But it's not that much fun. All of us have days once in a while, when we just can't fathom cooking. Eating out or a simple pizza delivery can be a life saver sometimes.
Eating out often plays a big role in how we socialize with fiends and how we fit into society. It would be pretty sad to always turn down invitations for dinner, coffee or drinks. If you are the only one always unable to join your peers, you might face the risk of falling out of your group completely.
We would like to offer you a few tips about smart eating out, so that you could enjoy yourselves once in while without totally breaking the bank. It is very important where you eat, when, and how you choose to pay.
Where You Eat
1. Be your own server
When you go out to dine at a fine dining restaurant, your entry will start at $20. You then should add a drink, soup or salad, coffee, dessert, tax, and tip, and you're looking at $50. If you choose a less expensive establishment, like Red Lobster or Applebee's, you will pay about $10-15 per entrée.
If you really want to save money, try restaurants where you will serve your own food. The restaurants like that don't have to hire wait staff and thus can charge you less for food:
Save While Eating Out - Buffet
This type of dining is great when you are really hungry because for a flat fee you can help yourself with whatever and however much you can eat. You pick your own food from a long table and pay about $12 per plate. Good examples here are Hometown Buffet and Old Country Buffet.
- Fast Casual
This is a good middle between a fast food and a full service. You typically pay $7-10 per entrée in places like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
- Quick Serve
This is what all fast food restaurants are, where you order food and receive it almost immediately. McDonalds and Wendy's fit in this category, but so do Starbucks and Subway. This is your cheapest meal out, about $6 per entrée.
2. Food to Go
Getting food to go saves money on all extra add-ons, like a glass of wine, bread, salad or soup, and finally tip. Your favorite pasta place might charge $11 per plate, but after you get all other things with it, you might pay $20 and more. If you take it to go and add wine and bread at home, you will save a lot of money.
Check out Yelp, GrubHub, and Seamless for good delivery options from your neighborhood restaurants.
When You Eat
3. Have a lunch out
Many chain restaurants charge a lot less for the same menu items during lunch, so if you really want to go out, make it a lunch with friends or coworkers instead of a dinner.
Many of your neighborhood restaurants, like Red Lobster, Applebee's, Cheesecake Factory, and Olive Garden will offer great lunch combos for half the price of dinner menu. And that's not all; you can come for a very late lunch or an early bird special, and make your meal an early dinner.
4. Celebrate Your Birthday
All you have to do is sign up for a birthday or anniversary club and you will receive coupons for free drinks, desserts, or even entrées when your special day is approaching. Sometimes it's enough to just mention to your server that you are celebrating a special occasion and the establishment will treat you.
You will usually get the birthday coupons from various places a week or two in advance, so you can use them at your own speed and desire.
What You Order
5. Split Your Meal
Many restaurants serve more food than you can eat. Be smart about it and neither overeat, nor waste food. Either way you would be paying too much.
Most restaurants will allow you to order one entrée and ask for another plate so that you could split it with your companion. Some might charge a small $1-2 fee for a plate.
Another way to go about it is to get an appetizer or soup and salad for one person, and a full entrée for another, and then share those both dishes.
The smaller the meals, the easier they are on your waist line and on your wallet.
6. Leftovers
One other way to deal with too much food on your plate is to split it in two portions. Stop eating when you feel full and take the rest home with you. This way you will have a nice lunch for tomorrow at no additional cost.
Some people have trouble knowing when to stop eating, so if you are one of such people, separate half of your meal right away and ask for a to go container before you even start eating.
You won't save as much money as sharing with a friend, because you still pay for the entire meal, but at least you won't be wasting any food.
7. Skip the drinks
Restaurants mark up the food; it's a well-known fact. But did you know that your favorite eatery makes most of its money from drinks? A glass of wine or beer is 4-5 times more expensive for you than what the establishment paid for it.
Avoiding alcoholic beverages will not solve the problem entirely, because soft drinks are marked up even higher. Your glass of coke and a cup of tea are eight times more expensive than the restaurant pays for that bag of tea or a can of coke. A soda fountain drink costs you 20 times more!
Your best option is to have tap water with your meal. Make sure to ask for tap water - some places will charge you $3 for a small bottle of mineral water.
If you just can't survive without a glass of wine, consider buying and bringing your own bottle. Make sure you find out how much will a restaurant charge for allowing that, because some upscale places can ask for $20-40 corkage fee.
8. Have something special
Having the cheapest meat at the restaurant will not cost you as much as having something truly magnificent. But there is another way to look at it. You can make something basic at home and pay very little, so if you order that simple meal at the restaurant you will just waste the money.
On the other hand, if you will eat out on a special occasion and will treat yourself to something spectacular, the investment will be worthwhile. The majority of your money goes towards atmosphere and service, not your food anyway, so don't get spaghetti and meatballs, get duck l'orange instead and feel good. After all, the markup on expensive food is not as high as on the cheapest items. SFGate reports that restaurants make six to ten times more money on pasta dishes, but when it comes to steak or seafood, they barely break even.
How You Pay
9. Look for Discounts
Save While Eating Out There are many ways to cut some money off from your bottom line. What you see on the bill does not have to be what you will end up paying. There are many ways to find discounts before even going out or at least before paying:
- Restaurant.com - you can look for restaurants in your area that accept gift certificates from Restaurant.com. This is how various establishments try to attract guests. You can buy a $25 gift certificate for $10. Be vigilant, because some places will have restrictions and minimums of purchase to use the certificates.
- Entertainment Book - purchase the book for $35 or get an app for a few dollars a month and stay in the know about local promotions and discounts, wherever you are in the country.
- Group Deal - Sites like Groupon or LivingSocial offer great group discounts by utilizing the numbers of shoppers. You can get daily deals if you sign up to the service or search for particular restaurant discounts when you plan to go out.
- Local Deals - some restaurants sell discounted gift cards as part of their marketing efforts. You can find such deals on their Facebook page and newsletters.
One thing to keep in mind when you pay with discount is that you should calculate the tip on the price before discount - your server has to work just as hard whether you pay full or discounted price. When you save on a meal, you can spare a few dollars and leave a nice tip.
10. Use a cash back credit card
If you pay with a credit card that offers you cash back on particular purchases, like restaurant meals, you will get 2% or more back. This is a great saving in a long run.
Some credit cards will give you right of the top discounts while others will send you money post-purchase.
If you eat out quite frequently, you could sign your credit card with iDine. This program will invite you to write a review after you spend money at one of 11,000 participating entertainment spots, and will then send you 5-15% credit from the amount you spend there. Once you accumulate $20 worth of credit, iDine will send you $20 Amex gift card. There are some rules for this program: you have to spend $250 per year to earn 10% and $750 to earn 15%. Nevertheless, this program is great for those who go out a lot.
Also try American Airlines Advantage Dining or Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining credit cards for maximum rewards.
Finally, book your restaurant reservations through OpenTable and receive gift certificates after a certain amount of bookings made.