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10 Ways To Save Big At Restaurants

Updated on April 21, 2017

When you are trying to stick to your budget you have to make some sacrifices but going to your favorite restaurant may not have to be gone completely. If you use these ten money savings tips when you want a meal at a restaurant you can stay in that budget and still enjoy a meal away fro the kitchen. Americans love to eat at restaurants, in fact the National Restaurant Association has said that we spend $782 billion a year doing just that. Most meals at a restaurant are marked up about 400% over the food cost so they can make a profit. If those two facts made you cringe a little at this expense don't worry you can save money if you know these tricks and tips and not feel bad about enjoying a meal away from home.

1. Get Social

This tip is easy to do since you are probably already using multiple social media apps in your life. Almost every business has an online presence and updating deals, discounts and special events on social media is a lot less expensive than an advertising campaign. Follow you favorite local restaurants and before you head out for a meal be sure to check and see if they have any online deals, specials or coupons you can utilize.

While we are on the topic of social media another great way to save is to make sure you join online loyalty programs for specials and discounts only available to members (and often a something free on your birthday or anniversary of joining!) and by following or liking your favorite spots you will get to learn about money saving specials before anyone else!

2. Get Apps

If you want to save big on your meal then go with appetizers instead of an entrée when you order. Many restaurants have great deals on appetizers, or appetizer combo dishes, that will let you try a couple of menu items for much less than the cost of an entrée. This has been a favorite money savings trick of mine for some time. I get to choose a couple menu items and spend less than I would on a single entrée. Some restaurants even offer refillable appetizers and special deals. This is a great way to save a lot of cash!

3. Get a Combo

Take a few extra minutes and check out a restaurants combo specials. These can sometimes be really great money savings deals. Do not just assume they are a good deal just because the advertising says so but look at the cost of the combo items separately and make sure the savings of a combo are worth ordering. You should also consider if you will enjoy the items in the combo or that will not be a good savings move. Another tip is not to confuse the combo deals with the daily special. The daily special is rarely a good budget option and you should avoid these!

An extra bonus tip, if you have an food item you want to order and more than one person in your group is interested in the same item consider splitting it or if it has a size option go large and ask for an extra bowl, spoon or fork. This is really a good thing to use when dining with children. Skip the child size desert and get a large to split between them and you can really same some money.

4. Take It To Go

Eating the food from your favorite restaurant is much more budget friendly when you eat it at home. Just taking the food to go, not delivery that adds to the cost, will save you on drinks and larger tip at the restaurant. But, if you really want to take the savings to a new level try these options as well. If you are ordering a salad to go order the smaller size and ask if it in a bigger box you will often get more food. Another option to save is to order one large entrée to go and then split that when you get home and finish the meal with an easy salad from your refrigerator. You can save big using this option since a full entrée with salad can easily cost you $30 per person but a salad at home doesn't require any cooking skills and will costs you only a couple of dollars per person and you still get to enjoy that great entrée.

5. Order Linner

Lunch portions of meals are slightly smaller than their dinner counterparts but lunch portions are priced much less and can save you big money. Ask to order the lunch portion instead of dinner and enjoy the savings. If your favorite restaurant will not allow lunch portions after a certain time then consider eating your meal at lunch or early enough to order the lunch. You will enjoy the same great meal for much less and if you are eating earlier you will usually not have to wait for a table and you can take your time and enjoy.

Another money saver is to consider doing a brunch instead of dinner as your special meal out and this can also save you on the bottom line. Often brunch specials are priced much less per person than a dinner option and there are great special deals if you take a minute and check your area restaurants.

6. Coordinate and Share

When choosing what to order it is most common for people to share appetizers and order full entrees. However, if you flip that around you can save big on the price of your meal. Instead you order an appetizer for each of you (you can share them if you choose) but then order a large entrée and split that meal. You will still get to enjoy both appetizers and entrée but at a big savings.

7. Split It or Skip It

The markup on desserts in a restaurant are crazy high and most restaurants serve desserts that actually come from a box or premade in some way. They make it look better with fresh whipped cream, fruit or a sauce decorated plate but the actual dessert you can probably find in the grocery store. If the dessert is really great, and some are, especially if it is made fresh then just order one and split the dessert. You can stay on budget and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time.

8. Be Happy

When you are flexible with the times and day that you want to go out to eat then take a few minutes and check out the happy hour specials at restaurants in your neighborhood. Typically you can find great drink specials but also on appetizers and small plates. You can actually eat a variety of great foods and even have a drink or two for less than you would spend eating later with an entrée. You can save a lot of money using this tip and even get to go out more than you planned with the savings!

9. Ask About Discounts

Many restaurants offer discounts, or free items, to special groups but they don't always advertise these deals you have to ask. So if you are over 55, a teacher, firefighter, law enforcement, student with student I.D., military or veteran ALWAYS ask if they have a discount it can lead to big savings.

10. Buy Deals Online

There are many websites that offer restaurant deals you can buy online. Some of the larger ones, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, are well know but also be sure to look for any area deal sites as well or even the restaurant coupon books. Most of these deals have a minimum order to use a deal but you can often save 50% on the order total. Also, some of the deals do not require you to dine in to use the deal so you can save even more. The trick here is to be sure to read the details of the deal before you purchase it so there are no surprises. These can be a great way to try a new restaurant or save big on a favorite. I have used these deals when taking a vacation to save on meal costs and have more for other fun activities.

These ten tricks and tips can help you stay on your budget and still enjoy a meal out without feeling too deprived! As an extra tip, avoid bottled water or soda when you order the markup on these are a little insane! I usually stick to water, no alcohol or soda, with the meal and while it helps on savings it also lets me enjoy the foods flavor a little bit more. Then, when I get home I can have a drink or glass of wine for much less. Enjoy!


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