· Bright Ideas · Money Saving Tips · 13 Simple Ways To Save Money When You Dine Out

13 Simple Ways To Save Money When You Dine Out

eating out

It’s so nice to be able to go out to restaurants again, but with prices being what they are, a lot of us are looking for ways to save money wherever we can. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the occasional restaurant meal, especially because there are a number of ways to save money on dining.

Finding ways to make dining out affordable is a practice I am all too familiar with. With four hungry kids to feed back they were younger, we didn’t do a lot of dining out, but on the rare occasions we did, I was always conscious of making sure we got the most bang for our buck as possible.

Between my own experience and some additional research, I came up with the following list of 13 tips for saving money when dining out. Dining out on occasion helps support local restaurants, and with the help of these tips, it’s easier to do so without breaking the bank.

13 Easy Ways To Save Money On Dining

eating out

1. Eat Lunch Instead Of Dinner

On average, lunch menus are 25 percent cheaper than dinner menus, with the main difference being portion size. If you have the flexibility to dine out for lunch rather than dinner, it can be a simple way to save money (not to mention cut out a few calories!)

eating out

2. Ask About Specials

Many restaurants offer daily or weekly specials that their customers can take advantage of. If you don’t see a specials board or menu before it’s time to order, ask your waiter if they have any specials today. They’re usually a good deal, and it never hurts to ask!

eating out

3. Skip The Drinks

Alcoholic beverages are some of the most highly marked up items on any restaurant menu. Skipping the drinks or bringing your own bottle of wine with you can save you a lot of money on your meal overall, even if you do have to pay a modest corkage fee for the wine.

eating out

4. Don’t Judge A Restaurant By Its Storefront

Thanks to social media and review sites, it’s never been easier to find cheap eats that are every bit as delicious as the meals at a sit-down restaurant. Food joints in hole-in-the-wall locations, strip malls, and food trucks have a lot less overhead than traditional restaurants, making it easier for them to offer attractive low prices that you can benefit from.

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5. Choose Foods You Don’t Eat At Home

When you’re on a budget, dining out often feels like a special occasion, so why not treat it like one? Not only could you easily make a burger, chicken, or pasta at home, but they’re often marked up more than other dishes as restaurants. Dishes that star seafood, beef, or pork may cost a few dollars more, but you get more value for your money.

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6. Save Some For Later

Especially at restaurants that are notorious for serving large portions, consider sharing or taking home leftovers. You can split a meal with someone in your dining party, or eat your fill and have the rest of it boxed up. Just make sure to order dishes that will keep well and make good leftovers (which excludes pretty much any salad, unfortunately!)

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7. Use Social Media

Follow the Instagram profiles, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds of your favorite restaurants and eateries. Many restaurants use their social media channels to spread the word about secret or exclusive deals and special events. And when you’re headed out to one of those restaurants, be sure to check their social media pages before you leave — just in case!

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8. Take Advantage Of Discounts

Groupon often has great deals for restaurants, and it’s a great way to save money while trying places you haven’t gone before. Entertainment is another online option that offers hundreds of 2-for-1 and 50% off coupons for restaurants, though you do need to be a member to take advantage of them.

And finally, don’t forget about credit cards — many cards offer cash back on restaurant purchases. Check out Nerd Wallet to find out which credit cards are best for earning rewards or cash back on dining.

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9. Double Check Your Bill

When you’re getting ready to pay at a restaurant, examine the bill closely. Some restaurants add an automatic gratuity to checks for larger parties while others charge an automatic gratuity to everyone. If you see gratuity added to your check, make sure to find out what their policy is, and if it was added by mistake, kindly point it out to your server.

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10. Earn Rewards

With services like Neighboorhood Nosh, you can earn 10% cash back every time you dine out, and it’s free to sign up. Search on their website to find participating local restaurants, and remember to pay with the card linked to your account. Take a survey about the experience within 30 days to earn the cash back, and when your balance reaches $20, Neighboorhood Nosh will send you an American Express gift card. It may take a few minutes of effort, but in the end it’s free money!

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11. Research Before You Go

Look at restaurant menus online before going out so you can decide in advance what will fit within your budget. Taking a few minutes to plan ahead is an easy way to avoid accidentally overspending.

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12. Have A Dining Budget

It is okay to spend money on things you love to do, and who doesn’t love eating? (Especially when someone else is doing the cooking and washing the dishes!) But if you’re trying to cut costs or stick to a budget, you need to know how much money you can afford to put toward dining in order to avoid overdoing it. If you need a hand establishing a dining budget, consider trying the envelope budgeting method — it’s simple and it works!

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13. Redefine “Dining Out”

In addition to someone else doing the cooking and cleaning, another thing we love about dining out is the ambiance and change of scenery. And these can easily be found outside of sit-down restaurants! You can save quite a bit by replacing a few of your restaurant outings with picnics in the park — pick up some gourmet sandwiches or fancy cheeses and crackers, and you’ll have an enjoyable meal (along with a great view if you pick your picnic spot wisely!)

Don’t forget to tip your servers for good service with all the money you save! :-)

What are your best tips for saving money on dining?

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Bright Ideas

  • Lately when I go out with a group of friends we order one or two less meals than people, then share the meals family style. We not only save money but have a sampling of different dishes.

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    Not only that, but what happens is what is supposed to happen for that ferret.

    Children will love that Toffee the pony loves to be fussed over and pampered.

  • […] One Good Thing by Jillee shared 25 ideas for saving money when you go out to eat. […]

  • All good tips that I use when we eat out. One thing I really agree with is to not order from the kids menu. Our kids want to eat the same kind of foods my husband and I eat. meat and mashed potatoes instead of kids menu stuff like French fries and mac’n cheese. As a family of 5, we will order 3 full size entrees and share between all of us. Works great and if there are any leftovers, my kids love to have them for breakfast the next morning!

  • Due to my work I often have lunch at the restaurant so I usually list weekly meals, before buying I usually search for discount codes to save money.
    And your ideas is great. Thank you

  • I like to order food to go, especially if I am dining alone. Then I don’t have to worry about ordering a drink and it’s customary to tip less on a to go order (10-12% instead of 15-20%). Plus no judgement for eating by myself.

  • There are many great ideas here, thank you.

    I especially like the idea of ‘having a snack’ before eating out. I would also add, that this snack should be nuts, seeds or some kind of fat. Fat and protein not only curb your hunger, they won’t make your sugar levels spike. I find this is also helps you make healthier choices.

    I recently learned how to make a vegan sugar free and Paleo friendly coconut-coco chocolate for a healthy and satisfying snack. Coconut oil adds a healthy fat to your diet, it also reduces your appetite. And the raw organic coco is super healthy for you and helps to satisfy your chocolate cravings, which I often have. So it works great for me.

    It is great to save money, I love savings, but there are many suggestions here to eat healthier as well. And I believe this is just as important.

  • Just wondering….
    What happened to the pink “pin it “button you used to have at the top of your news letters so you could pin your things to pinterest???

  • I get that having advertisements on your site helps you earn money. However, it is seriously annoying when you try and read it. Especially on an iPad. Makes it really hard to read to get the info you’re trying to share.

    Also, you share bring your own drinks, and bring your own food etc… To a restaurant. Places don’t typically allow that. Except for toddlers. If you’re gonna bring your own food, might as well eat at home, right?

    • I’m sorry Susan! The mobile ads should just stay at the bottom of the page without covering up any of the information. Is that not how they look on your iPad? As far as bringing your own food that was meant more for toddlers or if you want to bring your own wine.

  • I hate to say this, but being a waitress in a popular chain, its really difficult to have folks go out to eat, and try to save money at the same time.. we have people all the time ordering small meals and only wanting to tip %15 … I don’t think folks are realizing most waitresses make between $3.00 to $5.00 an hour.. so if you are trying to save money on your meal, please don’t try to save money on your tipping…… it really hurts us badly….

  • With the tough economy, many families have to save while spending
    My family, too, before dining at some restaurants (like pizza) often find coupons in advance.
    There are many restaurant has coupons, deal .. and you will save a lot of money

  • Now in retirement mode, my husband and I like to go for a drive and stop at small-town restaurants for an inexpensive homestyle meal. We always keep a medium sized collapsible cooler and some “baggies” in our trunk for take-home leftovers. If we’re in a casual restaurant, we’ve been known to ask for a carry-out cup of ice, and when we get to the car, either the ice or the food goes into a baggie to keep our food cool (and dry from melting ice!) On vacation in S.D. last week, a diner owner told my husband to bring in the cooler and he filled it up! LOVE the small restaurants!

  • Ask the waitperson if there are any specials, but check the Special prices to the regular menu price. Sometimes it is lower, but sometimes it is just the item they are pushing that day. Also check for a Prix Fixe (fixed price) menu. For the price of an entree or less you get appetizer, entree and dessert. You may have to dine before a certain time or only certain days, but we found we could eat at a first class restaurant at a moderate price. Outback and Uno’s both offer great coupons and special deals. My sister and I did discuss whether the tip should be based on the Prix Fixe or what the regular price would have been, like you do with a coupon. We settled for the middle ground.

  • My husband and I have learned to start sharing meals especially for dinner. The portions are so big and by the time you have the bread that comes with the meal, a salad and side, half the portion is plenty. Of course, you have to be willing to compromise on what to order, but it makes dining out so much more enjoyable when the bill isn’t so high :)

  • I also pack a small insulated bag or cooler in the car when we are going out to eat because we can take leftovers home without worrying about the food spoiling.

  • We subscribe to Groupon and Livingsocial.com to find deals when we go out. I first go to ebates.com and then find Groupon and/or Livingsocial which I click on and it takes me right to their websites. We can get a rebate on certificates purchased for restaurant deals and services and save between 3-6% off above the deal.

  • We’ve cut out drinks except water 99% of the time. It’s cheaper and healthier. Because of some seriously snooty servers that have literally slammed the wine menu shut on us and gotten ticked when we order water, we have made the habit of saying we’ll “start with water for now” giving the impression we may get something later. It seems to alleviate the leers we get when we won’t pay $3 for their $.05 soda.

  • We sometimes.do the eat lunch instead of dinner or the early bird specials on certain days. I was so glad to see this today, as we leave for a fun destination trip with the
    Family tomorrow.

  • One thing I do is watch at Meijer when they have a $5 or $10 coupon (on your next order) when you buy $50 in certain gift cards. That is a little savings, and then we use the gift cards ourselves. Another thing I watch for is during the holidays, many restaurants will have a deal where you buy a gift card and then you also get a free $10 gift card. Then we save the cards and use them ourselves.

    • When we go out – which isn’t very often, we always ask for a “locals” discount or a “senior” discount. Also most of the “fast food” restaurants have “senior drinks” if you ASK for them. Sometimes these drinks are FREE, but you have to ask. It’s not an automatic discount just because you may look like a “senior”.

  • Sign up on-line with Ruby Tuesday, and they send you coupons very regularly. My husband and I use the Buy One, Get 50% the Second all the time. If you give them your birth date, they’ll send you a coupon for a free burger for your birthday.

  • We seldom eat out anymore. Occasionally we will eat Sunday lunch at a chain type restaurant or pick up some fast food. The “downtown” restaurants are too expensive — very good food and services — but too expensive.

    Your tip on young children is spot on. When we do go to a restaurant, you often see young families with 3-4 young kids. I can’t imagine paying that bill! Ordering a meal for each 2/3 yo child! They never eat them.

    Rather than take kids along for a meal they may not enjoy, swap sitting services with family and friends and go out as a couple. You get to go out and have a break and you help someone else do the same. Give the little kids a break too—they don’t have to be shushed through the entire time. I’ve chatted with friends about this….none of us ever recall going out to eat like families do now. If you have kids that are old enough to enjoy the experience, they should — if you can afford it.

    • Another solution for young kids, which we discovered while travelling through France: bring a CAN OF RAVIOLI to the table and ask them to heat it up for your toddler. No one batted an eye at the request, and in fact customers with children seemed to get priority service. Family dining-out, especially on a Sunday, is a widespread tradition there, so restaurants are very familiar with the needs of children, who grow up with a dining-out mentality—a long-view approach that pays off for restaurants.

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