16 Ways to Save Money on Dining Out
For the first time ever, Americans are dining out at restaurants more than eating at home, according to the US Commerce Department. Busy schedules and dual-income families are two big reasons. Still, the price of a restaurant meal has crept up by about 3 percent over last year. Are you paying too much?
Whether you dine out regularly or only on special occasions, you can save money using these 16 tips:
- Look for local deals. These can be daily deals on social sites or printable local coupons through valpak.com. The deals are filtered for your city.
- Use discounted gift certificates. Open Table and Restaurants.com offer discounts to local places or points toward discounts. A few sites also have cash-back portals.
- Buy discount gift cards. It’s easy to buy any type of gift certificate online these days, including those for big chain eateries. These are unused or unwanted cards – think about the vegan who got an Outback Steakhouse gift card – and resold online. Go for the appetizers. You’ll save 30 to 50 percent off those of a regular meal.
- Split a meal. Sharing is not just for retirees. Do be respectful if the restaurant implements a sharing charge; it’s still usually cheaper than ordering two meals.
- Go early bird. Eat dinner earlier in the evening and save a few dollars.
- Organizational discounts. If you’re a member of AAA or AARP, you’ll probably get a list of restaurants that offer discounts just for members. Your school or employer might also offer a discount.
- Snack before you go. If you’re going to dinner mainly to socialize, eat a piece of fruit or a protein bar just before you go. You’ll be less tempted to gorge.
- Eat dessert at home. Skip the sweets and save about $5 per person – and a lot of calories.
- Look for kids’ freebies. Many chain restaurants offer free meals or desserts for kids. These vary by store. Be advised: some places require that you buy an adult meal, sign up for their free VIP program, or join an e-mail list. Call ahead first to make sure your local store participates in these types of programs.
- Eat during happy hour. Especially if you’re willing to eat at the bar, you can sometimes take advantage of happy hour food specials in addition to that second drink. You may also avoid the long wait for a table.
- Skip the drinks. Both soda and alcohol are big money-makers for restaurants. Drink the free water and save a bundle.
- Consider corkage fees. In some parts of the country, you can bring your own bottle of wine and pay the restaurant to uncork and serve it. This act alone can run you $30, but if the restaurant’s wine is more expensive, you’ve already saved money. On the other hand, bringing a $10 bottle of wine and paying corkage may be m more than an amazing $40 bottle recommended by the sommelier.
- Join loyalty clubs. Lots of dining places will send you coupons through email or via their app if you give them your email address. You can take advantage of free appetizers, deserts or birthday meals.
- Look for happy hour food specials. Many restaurant offer special prices on food if you dine early or late. Others offer half-price appetizers along with drink specials. When you arrive, make sure you clarify with the staff whether you need to sit in the bar to take advantage of those deals.
- Get discounts through social media. Like a favorite restaurant on Facebook or follow them on twitter and look for social-only specials.
- Watch out for restaurant tricks. Keep your eye on the price. An industry trick is to omit dollar signs next to (very small font) prices and putting large, colorful pictures next to menu items. Ask about “daily special” and “market” prices, too.
Eating out should be enjoyable, but there’s no reason to pay more than you need to. Common sense and a little investigating online should help you fill up without emptying your wallet.