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extra credit: 9 ways to save when you eat out.

I’m not sure there are many things I love more than trying new restaurants.  Between you and me, I might eat out several times a week if our budget would allow it. Also I would hire a babysitter because really it’s just more fun that way.

But I digress…

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spent $208.75 a month eating out in 2010.  Our entertainment and dining out budget is $125, and admittedly this feels tight for our family of 4.  But let’s be honest:  it might be unrealistic to not eat out at all, so I’ve put together some ideas for saving some dough while still having some fun and dining out:

1.  Get Social.

By following a restaurant on Facebook or Twitter, you will likely get access to discounts that you would otherwise not receive.  Some restaurants post incentives just for liking or following them, others post passwords you can tell your server to access special deals.

2.  Time Your Meal.

Many restaurants have specials to attract guests during their down times.  So check for lunch or late night specials at your favorite restaurants.

3.  Check In.

Check in on Yelp or Foursquare via your smartphone to access more deals.

4.  Get Your Happy On. 

Many restaurants offer a Happy Hour for discounted appetizers or small bites, which are great ways to sample the restaurant’s menu without having to fork over extra cash for one main entree.  In fact, it’s become a tradition for Andrew and I to grab a seat at the bar for a Happy Hour at one restaurant, then go to another on our list for a light dinner.

5.  Sign up for Email.

Yes, I know email can clutter your inbox.  BUT, if you sign up for a select few email newsletters from restaurants you enjoy and that offer specials or birthday deals, I say do it!  That way you can earn additional discounts or receive a little something on your birthday or anniversary.

6.  Bring Your Own Wine.

By bringing your own wine to a restaurant with a minimal corkage fee, you can save a bundle even over the cost to buy a bottle full-pop at the restaurant.  Let’s say the corkage fee is $15 and your bottle is $10, it’s likely still less than buying a bottle of wine at the restaurant and paying full price.

7.  Check Out Online Deal Sites.

It’s become quite popular for restaurants to incentivize new guests by offering deals through Groupon, Living Social, and Restaurant.com.  Typically you can save 50-75% by pre-buying through these sites.  But you have to act fact or the deal might disappear.

8.  Kids Eat Free.

A number of places offer Kids Eat Free on certain nights, when accompanied with a parent.  Here’s a kids eat free site I found that might be helpful.

9.  Think Before You Order.

I realize these things are kind of a given but here are a few tactical ways you can save when dining out:

  • Skip dessert and grab a bowl of ice cream when you get home.
  • Share with the kiddos instead of getting them their own kids meal.
  • Opt for water instead of alcohol or soft drinks.
  • Order a large meal and share (and tip well, for the sake of your server 🙂

What are your strategies for eating out on a budget?  Do tell…

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104 Comments Post a comment
  1. I like to pick up those free newspapers you see outside the grocery story, gas station, etc. They are usually full of coupons for small, local restaurants that want your business. Just recently took advantage of a deal at a new Italian deli – 2 foot long subs for the price of one. You can feed 4 to six people with those sandwiches!

    By the way, you said you spend $125 a month on groceries? For four people? I know you’ve been giving us weekly menus, but I’d like to know more about how you do this. What do you eat for breakfast and lunch? Snacks? How do you manage this amazing feat?

    July 15, 2012
    • Caprice Cake #

      I wouldn’t mind knowing more, too. 🙂

      July 16, 2012
      • 64tm #

        I also do this it has saved much 🙂

        July 17, 2012
      • 64tm #

        This is good to know when you have a family that likes to eat out on the weekend.

        July 17, 2012
    • It looks like $125 per month on the “dining out and entertainment” budget. If that was the grocery budget I’d want to know the secrets. My wife and I are doing our best to get by on a $100/week grocery budget.

      Thanks for the tips, especially about the wine. Buying drinks when dining out is certainly where you bump into budgetary pain. A $15 meal can easily turn into a $50 one…

      July 16, 2012
      • Yes, sorry for the confusion…that was $125/month on entertainment and dining out. Our monthly budget for food is $400.

        July 16, 2012
  2. Fantastic tips there, thank you. I’m not sure if UK restaurants let you bring your own wine though 🙂

    July 16, 2012
  3. We occasionally join their loyalty programs (if there’s no fee or they give it back in a meal discount). Even if we end up not going back for quite a while, it’s still an option.

    July 16, 2012
  4. Seb #

    How can you spend only $125 per month in food for four people ?

    July 16, 2012
    • Sorry for the confusion, that’s $125/month for dining out and entertainment. Our monthly budget for food is $400.

      July 16, 2012
  5. elsapelle #

    Love this, I’m always looking for ways to cut the cost when I eat out. Really helpful

    July 16, 2012
  6. Some major cities also organize an annual restaurant foodie type of event for 1-2 weeks, where several restaurants will offer fixed price meal deals or similar to attract new customers. Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary has this.

    When we travel over 50% of our hotels, tend to be places that offer breakfast. Useful since we’re cyclists and we need bigger breakfast to cycle for at least half of the day to get to next place!

    July 16, 2012
    • Love this! WE went to Vancouver last summer and fell in love with it! I actually posted about it last August.

      July 16, 2012
  7. Would you really pay $25+ for a bottle of wine in a restaurant? I mean, I know one can, but if eating on a budget would you. I don’t drink wine, but I’m sure restaurants here in the UK have decent wine at £10-£15 a bottle.
    I like restaurants that offer deals – one local one has a “two courses for…” – much more useful to lone eaters like me than 2for1 offers!

    July 16, 2012
    • Can you believe it? Here in the US a lot of bottles go to $25-50!

      July 16, 2012
      • Wow!!! Glad I’m already a water drinker 🙂

        I’m planning to check out your GF recipes in more detail – I’ve already bought the red onions and peaches….and planning to pan fry the chops rather than grill, as I find they stay moister.
        Thanks for posting them 😀

        July 17, 2012
      • Great! Those chops were really good and super light. Enjoy!

        July 17, 2012
  8. Great suggestions. I’m always looking for an excuse not to make dinner at home, yet not spend a lot out. 🙂

    July 16, 2012
  9. Rock on!

    July 16, 2012
  10. When I have the option of chips or a jacket potato I go for the jacket. I can eat a meal without either – so I take the jacket home in tin foil (which I bring with me) and eat it for lunch the next day with some tuna!

    July 16, 2012
  11. For years, I resisted signing up for email newsletters from restaurants. But I’ve recently signed up for a few and received some very useful coupons. I like your suggestion that you should limit yourself to a few select restaurants. As you say, your email inbox will thank you for it!

    July 16, 2012
  12. Beautiful post!

    July 16, 2012
  13. I like to split a dessert with someone else, especially if it’s a big one. That way, both of us still enjoyed a bit of dessert but saved a little on calories and budget.

    July 16, 2012
  14. I usually hit up restaurants for a late lunch instead of dinner. Usually they have the same items on the lunch menu as they do the dinner menu and its cheaper.

    July 16, 2012
  15. Check the special out for the day.Enjoy everything affordable you like more for the money dish.Take home a doggy bag for another meal.Ask for lemons and water.Add sugar and squeeze the lemon.You have lemonade as drink

    July 16, 2012
  16. Chris #

    125 ! that is what I said, wow. In princeton, NJ. They have a service called Melt, that builds a memory of coupons you use and searches for more of the same. No more searching through news papers! Hopefully this will be brought to us non-princeton, un-lucky folk.. only time will tell

    July 16, 2012
    • Sorry for the confusion! That $125/month is for dining and entertainment, not groceries. Our grocery budget is $400/month. Will have to check out Melt!

      July 16, 2012
  17. Reblogged this on tom's space.

    July 16, 2012
  18. my God $125 on food per month – you are already a genius…I guess you don’t live in London either…I did like your blog though and will try to implement some of these…the worst thing is when it’s a spontaneous going-out and you just cannot watch after your expenses…

    July 16, 2012
    • Thanks Sasha! Sorry, the $125/month is for entertainment and dining, not groceries. Our grocery budget is $400/month. Thanks for checking me out from London!

      July 16, 2012
  19. I generally like the concept of this blog- it’s extremely useful and interesting. I absolutely love bring your own wines so perhaps I’ll pop in for a suggestion.
    Keep posting!

    http://katieraspberry.wordpress.com/
    MontrealDSL

    July 16, 2012
  20. ^ $125 for eating out…as in restaurants. Not on groceries.

    July 16, 2012
    • Yes, sorry for the confusion!

      July 16, 2012
  21. Great tips here! Many times before setting out for a meal, I also check the restaurant’s website, as often they run deals directly, and not through discount websites.

    July 16, 2012
  22. Check on line for the restaurant you’re wanting to eat at. Sometimes they have coupons on their web site. And I’m all for one for sharing. Order the bigger plate and split. Me and my husband have been doing this lately.
    And we spend at most these days if we’re lucky around $100 a month at the grocery store. Lately, it’s been even less. We’ve been eating out of the pantry and freezer which has saved a ton of money. There’s only 2 of us humans and 3 pets.

    July 16, 2012
    • Wow! We spend $125/month on dining and entertainment for our family of 4, and $400 on groceries (I think it wasn’t clear in my post). That’s amazing that you do $100/month on groceries! Maybe you should be blogging, not me 🙂

      July 16, 2012
      • cathynd95 #

        Good idea to yet and really use.everything you have in the house instead of buying more groceries. I started a blog called eatwhatyouhave.wordpress.com (title is what’s for dinner?) Because I kept finding myself throwing produce in the fridge away because I spent eat it before it went bad. I room inventory of fridge, pantry and freezer and had to eat what I had in the house. Only basics like milk o could buy. I allowed myself 1 night a week to dine out with friends. Always brought home 1/2 my dinner and has lunch for Saturday.

        I went over a month without grocery shopping for major items. I still follow these rules, and my grocery bill is usually less than $50 a month. Oh, and I buy mostly fresh produce. Not much pre-packaged.

        I find I appreciate my dining put experiences more because they are infrequent, and thus more special.

        July 17, 2012
  23. These are all great ideas! In this day and age of technology there is really no excuse for paying full price anymore. Marketing emails may be annoying, but creating a free email takes seconds. So I have one address just for shopping and dining emails.
    Drinks and desserts are definitely where restaurants make the highest percentage of revenue. We all need to drink lots of water, so my family hardly ever orders anything but water to drink.

    July 16, 2012
  24. Great tips! My family has also found that by frequenting an establishment and forming relationships with the staff, we have been offered deals and even given free desserts, appetizers, etc. on occasion. Some managers/owners know that good service and an occasional comp breeds loyalty, and we definitely appreciate people who know our preferences and actually carry on fun convos with us!

    July 16, 2012
    • Great idea!! Be a loyal customer!

      July 16, 2012
  25. woooww!! really awesome tips.. :-).. and i agree with you on the happy hour thing and the getting social one!! those are two of the reasons i go to eat out.. 😀

    July 16, 2012
    • Me too! Eating out is just too fun…

      July 16, 2012
  26. Wow! who do they know that has $208.75 to spend dining out…that’s more than my families monthly entertainment bill including restaurants, movies, junk food, fast food..we try to keep it under $100.

    July 16, 2012
    • Me too! Different priorities I guess…

      July 16, 2012
  27. I do all of these things but also if there is a dessert I just “HAVE TO” have, I eat something light from the starter menu then enjoy the heck out of dessert!

    July 16, 2012
    • Totally, sometimes you just have to enjoy some dessert…

      July 16, 2012
  28. It’s all true! I use all of these money savers! Just last week I won a dinner for 6 at celebrity Mark McEwan’s restaurant viz twitter and blogged about the unforgettable win! =D

    July 16, 2012
    • Awesome! I’ll have to check it out!

      July 16, 2012
  29. Order a starter and dessert, skip the main meal. That’s more a tip not to get fat, but what’s fattening is usually expensive, so it works both ways.

    Also eat out less. That’s the best one as far as I’m concerned, and not as dismal as it sounds – you get so that you enjoy it more.

    July 16, 2012
  30. I love this! I eat out all the time so I will definitely keep these tips in mind. Thanks for sharing.

    July 16, 2012
  31. Eating out lunch is often much cheaper than dinner. We also like buffets at Indian restaurants–everything from appetizers, salads, desserts is $10-$13 in our area. It is also a great way to sample the large spread of dishes that would not be ordered on an a la carte menu. We drink regular water. At Italian restaurants, the main course pasta portions are too big and caloric for one person, so it helps to share. We are not big eaters, so sometimes at a Mediterranean restaurant a large platter of appetizers which is served with unlimited pita bread is plenty to fill our family of four adults. At Chinese of Thai restaurants, the portions are big enough to share one main dish between two, sometimes three people. With two kids, two entrees at these places will perhaps be plenty for a family of four.

    We find small, ethnic restaurants offer great fresh food at very reasonable prices.

    If readers like venturing out into different types of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free foods they may like the recipes offered on different yoga websites that are usually very budget friendly and wholesome.

    July 16, 2012
    • Love this! WE love Indian too, and often share 2 entrees for our family of 4. Thanks for the feedback!

      July 16, 2012
  32. congrarulatiions on geeting fresh pressed!

    July 16, 2012
  33. mdprincing #

    Great advice in a tough world. We never used to have a budget…for anything. We took Dave Ramsey’s class at church and we look at life much differently today and it’s been great. We now budget $30 a week for dinner for two. My wife and I see this as a challenge and we get quite creative. Nice for us we already like to share dishes, it allows us to try more things and expand our horizons. At a couple of places around we can get a great bar burger, fries, a couple of drinks and a pitcher of beer with tip for $20 and the burger is huge. Another we get a awesome salad and a big order of wings with drinks for $30. good times

    July 16, 2012
    • Love this! And love Dave too!

      July 16, 2012
  34. In Germany I always order tap water which is free (sometimes you get charged for the glass). It’s getting on my nerves that one has to ask for it and that they don’t put it on the table in a jar. And most of the waiters give you THE LOOK when you don’t order drinks that have a price, even if you spend money on their meals.

    July 16, 2012
    • Agreed! This week we’re in Seattle though and up here it seems standard to put a vase of water on the tables…cool and helpful too (especially for my husband who drinks whatever is in front of him). Thanks for the feedback!

      July 16, 2012
  35. Good stuff. Another one—Instead of going to the tried, tested, and recommended places, hunt for understated places with good food. Many are cheap.

    July 16, 2012
    • Totally! I LOVE hole in the wall joints!

      July 16, 2012
  36. I loved the ideas! Thanks!

    July 16, 2012
  37. I just saw someone else contributed my suggestion to share entrees or take 1/2 home for lunch. So many restaurants serve oversized entrees – this is healthier and less expensive. I love the poster’s idea about checking the dessert menu and balancing a yummy dessert with a small starter. I have a (tiny) friend who always checks the dessert menu first and decides on the rest of her meal based on that.

    July 17, 2012
  38. Love the tips! I am always looking for ways to save some extra $$! Thank you!

    July 17, 2012
  39. Great tips! I usually eat at home before I go out and then just get an appetizer or small plate, I am definitely going to use these tips the next time I go to a restaurant. Thanks for sharing!

    http://stepstochangetheworld.wordpress.com/

    July 17, 2012
  40. msperfectpatty #

    This is a great post! Good ideas!

    July 17, 2012
  41. yes, yes! as a momma of 3, kids-eat-free is a deal after my own heart. as a wife who still dates her hubby, bring-your-own-wine is sooo much better than buying a bottle at the restaurant (but bring a good, unique bottle!) 😉

    July 17, 2012
  42. With a family of 6, we started drastically cutting costs by using the Carry-Out! I get a break from cooking, we get our favorites at the restaurant, we don’t pay for $3 beverages & tips, and with the time we save, we can sometimes squeeze in a family movie night before bedtime! Then my hubby & I may do a date night ‘splurge’ at a restaurant with a quiet table for 2. 🙂

    July 17, 2012
    • Date nights – a worthy investment!

      July 17, 2012
  43. All very good tips. I might even try some of them.

    July 17, 2012
  44. These are great ideas! Thanks for sharing. My husband and I have been drinking beer instead of wine and it can save a lot of money! Water is also a great option.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    July 17, 2012
  45. Kelly, great post! For various reasons, I eat out often, and there are some things that I have yet to try, but after reading your post I shall. If I had to share a few suggestions, I would recommend two. First, I strive to have the best of both worlds. For example, I order a glass of ginger ale (my favorite soft drink), but after that, only water. Second, I usually order appetizers simply because there have been times when I have had a full-course that has left me so full I can barely walk (although it is a great way to avoid dessert, but I do not recommend it). Thanks, again, Kelly.

    July 17, 2012
    • Thanks Robert! Great ideas!

      July 17, 2012
  46. Reblogged this on Save Like Alex.

    July 17, 2012
  47. Nice ideas! I also love eating at the bar (instead of a table) which means you can share things, or have a non-conventional meal without any pressure or guilt from a waiter.

    July 17, 2012
  48. Gy3 #

    I should say WoW!!! Eating out eats almost 60% of my monthly buget!!! That’s a bad thing about being a food freak 🙂
    I even feel like starting an Eat out Community group where members are ppl who eat out very frequently.. And the group should be entitled to good offers in best restaurants in d locality..

    July 17, 2012
  49. dakrizzz #

    Hey Good recommendations for the times we are living 😀

    July 17, 2012
  50. Nice ideas! Loved the post.

    July 17, 2012
  51. Alyssa #

    Great tips; the specials would always make my day. 😀

    —————-
    colorado springs divorce attorney

    July 17, 2012
  52. Good ideas !! very useful indeed !!

    July 17, 2012
  53. Great ideas! My husband and I have frequently shared a meal when dining at a nice restaurant to help cut costs and calories. It’s a double win!

    July 17, 2012
  54. Nancy Turner #

    This is a great post! Whenever we go out to eat, we usually go to places that are running online deals (2 for 1 is the most common one). Restaurants are so expensive!

    http://pragmaticallyeccentric.wordpress.com

    July 17, 2012
  55. Groupon is definitely my thing. And going for veggie options – these are usually cheaper. Great list, thanks for sharing!

    July 17, 2012
    • Thanks! I’ve been a eating a lot more vegetarian these days, good call!

      July 17, 2012
  56. We use all these ideas. More frequently, we just order a couple things and ask for a bunch of plates. We share everything!

    July 17, 2012
  57. sqeekchair #

    The easiest way to save $$$ at a restaurant is: Read the menu. How many times have you have taken a closer look at what you are getting? Entree’s under food categories “seafood,” “chicken” or “sandwiches” or “vegetarian” vary in price but have similar ingredients.
    One trick is to look online so you don’t feel pressured.

    July 17, 2012
  58. I personally look for specials and coups, and when ever I see a coke product laying around I pick it up and text in the rewards code and use it for restaurants.com gift cards. I don’t have to buy anything extra I’m just recycling. 🙂

    July 17, 2012
  59. Genius!! we are very lucky in our ‘Sunshine State’ (Queensland, Australia) to have something called ‘The Entertainment Book’ – they are sold to raise funds for charity, cost $60 and have $1000’s of dollars worth of discounts; if you’re canny enough you can plan a whole day out with the kids based around your vouchers. Business’s get more traffic to their cafe’s, restaurants, theme parks, cinemas,hotels, car hire etc and you get a more affordable experience. Many of the discounts are a percentage so favour larger groups/families. Towards the end of the year my friends meet up to ‘swap’ vouchers as some are North side of town others South, and for what they use the most. We’ve never managed to use more than about a quarter of a book but it always pays for itself ten times over. There is even a gold card for the classy restaurants who prefer it to a paper discount voucher and don’t want to lose out on the new customers it brings in; it’s so commonly used here it doesn’t have any of the often judgmental associations with ‘food coupons’. Most of us live in a free market in an ever increasingly expensive world and there should be more of us championing affordability for families. Great post and congrats on the Freshly Pressed!!!

    July 17, 2012
  60. Renee #

    We learned from my in-laws to always offer our server a sample of our wine. They have been doing that for years and rarely pay the corkage fee as a result 🙂 Try it! Hope it works.

    July 18, 2012
  61. Great information.

    July 18, 2012
  62. Going out to dinner with two kids is no easy task and I’m usually more frustrated than relaxed while doing so. I get my restaurant fix at lunch while I’m at work and the kids are in school or daycare. Lunch is typically affordable for parents to treat themselves, not everyday but once a week is OK, depends on your budget. Dinner is made at home 99% of the time!

    July 18, 2012
  63. Thanks for the great tips! Oooo – can I add 2 things? When you order pizza or go out for it, ask if they can cut it into 16 slices. That way, you eat as many slices, but it’s actually eating only 1/2 of what you normally would! This makes the pizza stretch! The next thing is, when you go to a fast food drive-thru and order a soda, tell them “no ice” if you plan on going home to eat it. That way you get more in your cup! 🙂

    July 18, 2012
  64. Since I am food blogger, I enjoyed your tips and I’m glad to see that I’m already following some of them. Check my site out: http://www.wongeats.com. Thanks for sharing!

    July 19, 2012
  65. wanderingpig #

    Great tips!

    July 22, 2012

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