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10 Ways to Save Money Eating Out

Updated on September 13, 2015
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Save Money Eating Out

Eating out is expensive! For many people, reducing spending on eating out is one of the easiest ways to save money. Eating at home instead of eating out is the best way to save money on food expenses, but if you are going to eat out- here are the top 10 ways to save money. Follow these tips to eat in restaurants for half price or even less!

10. Restaurant Coupons and Specials- save 15% or more eating out

You can save a lot of money eating out using coupons and taking advantage of special offers. Search the internet for coupons at your favorite restaurants, and check your newspaper and mailings. Coupons do not help if you don’t have them with you, so keep your best restaurant coupons in your wallet or purse. You can check for deals when deciding where to go out. Coupons are also a good incentive to try new places- we discovered one of our favorite Chinese restaurants as a result of a really good coupon offer. Some coupons save a lot of money- 2 for 1 meal deals are awesome. Sometimes you’ll get a coupon for a specific entrée that is a good deal. Another deal I like is a fixed percentage off your bill- I sometimes get 15% off coupons at national chain restaurants which can amount to a lot of savings.

Kids Eat Free at Applebee's!

Many restaurants have kids-eat-free nights
Many restaurants have kids-eat-free nights | Source

9. Kids eat free nights- save $6 per kid at the restaurant

If you have kids under 12, you have probably noticed that many restaurants have a kids-eat-free night. For example, Applebee's used to have kids eat free Wednesdays (it looks like this has changed to Tuesdays now). Other popular restaurants like Lonestar Steakhouse, Bennigan's, Texas Roadhouse and TGI Fridays have kids eat free nights as well. Some restaurants have cheap offers, like 99 cent kids meals instead of free kids meals. We used to keep a list of kids-eat-free nights and kids-eat-cheap nights at the local restaurants- we had one for nearly every night. If you decide to go out for dinner, might as well pick a place where kids eat free that night- you might save about $7 or so per kid off of your bill. Keep a list of restaurants where kids eat free each night and keep it in your wallet or purse for easy reference. If you don’t have kids under 12, you may want to avoid the kids eat free nights- you’ll be around lots of kids and won’t get a discount!

8. Share one entrée- save 50% eating out

Since portion sizes are famously large at most restaurants, try sharing. Order one entrée- restaurants are more than willing to give you 2 sets of plates to facilitate sharing. The trouble with this is finding something that 2 people can agree to share. But if you can, you’ll save 50% on the restaurant bill. It’s true that you’ll have less food to bring home in carryout boxes, but if you save $20 you can buy much more food at the grocery store instead of buying an additional entrée at the restaurant.

7. Order water to drink- save $3 per person

Restaurants charge about $3 per drink- unless it’s water, then it’s free! If you get used to drinking water when you eat out, you’ll save lots of money. Plus water has zero calories and no caffeine. If you think about it, drinking water at a restaurant makes a lot of sense. If you are paying the bill for a party of 6 and everyone orders water instead of soda, you’ll save about $18!

Free Appetizer- Save Money!

Many Mexican restaurants offer free chips and salsa
Many Mexican restaurants offer free chips and salsa | Source

6. Skip the appetizers- save 15%

Appetizers are expensive and not very good for you. Appetizers like fries, onion rings, cheese sticks are very high in fat and salt. Skipping these is healthier and will make the restaurant bill much more manageable. You’ll save about $5 to $8 by not ordering an appetizer. If you want free appetizers, some Mexican restaurants serve free chips and salsa- this is a great deal and a relatively healthy appetizer.

5. Skip desert- save 15%

Or at least skip desert at the restaurant. You’ll pay plenty for that piece of cheesecake. You could probably buy a whole cheesecake at a grocery store on the way home for the price of one piece of cheesecake at a restaurant. You’ll save another $5 to $8 or so per person by not ordering desert at the restaurant.

4. Eat out for a snack, not a meal- save 75%

This is sort of the inverse of tip #6. You can still have the experience of sitting together at the restaurant if you only order an appetizer rather than a meal. For example, you could have a couple orders of fries and ranch while watching the game and chatting for awhile. Maybe even order a cup of coffee if you feel like spending a couple bucks more. You’ll save about 75% off your bill, but you’ll need to eat a meal at home later.

3. Have a snack before eating out

If you have a snack before going to the restaurant, you’ll likely save money. If you are less hungry, you are more likely to choose healthier items and smaller portions at the restaurant, saving money. Pick up a couple dollar menu items on the way to the restaurant, or bring some apples or granola bars from home. Plus you’ll enjoy the expensive restaurant food more if you’re not starving.

Breakfast- the cheapest restaurant meal you can get!

Breakfast is cheap
Breakfast is cheap | Source

2. Go for Breakfast or “Linner” instead of Dinner- save 40%

Breakfast is the cheapest meal to eat out. You can get things like pancakes, omelets, bacon, and eggs really cheap. If you’re not a morning person, some places are open really late and you can have a very late dinner for breakfast prices, which are about ½ of dinner prices.

Another way to save money eating out: Combine lunch and dinner into one meal. Skip lunch and eat a mid-afternoon meal to cover both lunch and dinner. Consider a buffet so you can easily get enough to eat to cover 2 meals in one. You’ll not only save money, but you’ll save time as well since you only sit down for one meal instead of two.

I saved the best money-saving tip for last:

1. Don’t eat out!

You can get the best deal of all by making food at home. It costs less and is more likely to be healthy and nutritious. Try making your meal at home more like a restaurant meal- dim the lights, put out candles, and turn on some music. You can make your dining experience at home more like a restaurant experience for much less than eating out. Find ways to make eating at home more convenient. You can find some nice frozen meals if cooking is not your thing. You’ll save tons and have healthier food by eating at home.

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


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