If you are trying to pare back your budget in the food category this year there are ways to save money eating out that can drastically change what you spend every month. Some personal finance gurus might suggest avoiding it altogether. And that might be wise in some cases. However, I consider checking out my local eateries more of an experience than an excuse not to cook. So if you’ve got the urge to hit the town for a meal every once in a while, or if you’re just a mess in the kitchen, here are 7 tips to help you reduce your costs and to gain some more control over an area of your finances that can easily spiral out of control.
Eat out on weekdays. If you decide to eat out on a weekday instead of a weekend you’ll almost certainly save money. The key is finding out which local restaurants offer the best weekday discounts. For instance, a couple of seafood places in my neck of the woods offer a dozen oysters for $5 on Tuesdays. My local Irish pub offers $5 burger and fries on Wednesdays. These types of specials are pretty much only offered on weeknights – so start finding out what deals are going down at your local spots! Another perk is avoiding those crazy Friday night crowds. I hate waiting for a table!
Sign up for restaurant emails. My favorite local eatery (it’s a mildly fancy one) sends out monthly e-mails with updates about what’s happening. At the bottom of every email they place a gorgeous little coupon. It can save us 50% of our entrees if we will arrive early…on a weekday. That makes it not the easiest deal to use, but because the discount is so awesome we find a way to make it happen. Maybe I’m too cheap, but I don’t go to this restaurant now unless we’re using the early bird special coupon. This restaurant also offers a sweet deal on gift cards around the Holidays. If you spend $100 you get a free $50 gift card. That can make a great gift or just add to your sweet discount all year long. Sign up for e-mails with your favorite local establishments. Maybe you’ll get some sweet offers because of it!
Share an entree. The portion sizes at most restaurants are insanely large! Most of us really don’t need that much food. Consider sharing a meal with your dinner partner instead and halving the check. There’s one particular place that my wife and I always split the entree. We need to be better about finding more places to do it. It really does make that final bill much more manageable. Plus, if it’s spaghetti you’ve got a possible lady and the tramp moment waiting to happen!
Don’t order dessert. The end of meal delicacy is a wallet slayer. Desserts often have a higher profit margin than the main course. And honestly, who needs ‘em? Staying away from that dessert page in the restaurant menu will save you money and the unnecessary calories. It’s much cheaper to have some popcorn or a bit of ice cream at home anyway.
Use discount websites for specialty deals. I’ve written a little bit about this before but it bears repeating. My wife and I probably eat out a little more than the average American. There are just too many good restaurants within a stones throw of us to not make it part of our lifestyle. BUT, websites like Scoutmob, Savored, and Groupon have helped make this possible. Chances are you won’t find a deal for the exact place you want to go that night. But if you are flexible, these websites can really slash the price of your culinary excursion. Scoutmob is my personal favorite by the way
Plan ahead. Thinking about your upcoming week and what you’ll do for sustenance ahead of time can save you big money. I know that some of my most costly food months are the ones in which I didn’t spend very much time planning my meals. Writing down your meal schedule can help you avoid a costly last-minute trip to your favorite restaurant. If you wait until you get home to see what you have on hand chances are you’ll take the easy (and expensive) way out far more than you envisioned you would.
Go out for lunch instead! If you can’t hit up any of those early bird specials during the week or if eating out Monday through Thursday is just too difficult in your household, know that lunch on a Saturday or Sunday could also save you some real money. There’s one seafood place in my city that I’ve been dying to try. But it’s ridiculously freaking expensive! I’ve looked at their website though and they’ve got some really decent lunch prices. When I do make it there (hopefully soon) I’ll definitely be enjoying a long lunch with my wife. And I won’t feel bad about it because I’ll be eating amazing food at much lower prices just because I changed the timing of my visit.
Use a gift card. I’ve told you about how I shop for clothes. I love to pre-purchase a hugely discounted gift card at Cardpool.com before I even step foot in the store (or their online presence). You can do the same thing with certain chain restaurants. You can save 10-15% right off the top just by using this strategy. If you pair it with some of the discounts above you’re talking about big possible savings.
There are certainly other tips that will save you money when eating out. Drinking water and staying away from beer and liquor will certainly make asking for the check less scary. I’m such a craft beer fanatic though that a dry hopped IPA or a smooth Scotch Ale are usually something I’m willing to pony up for when I go out for some grub. Remember, going out to a cool restaurant and taking the night off from cooking can be worth it. It can be more than just choosing to spend more money on food that evening.
I enjoy dining out for the experience. I’m not sure of the exact reason but my wife and I often have our best conversations when dining out together. Maybe it’s just the fact that we are able to slow down and be more cognizant of each other. I hope these are some helpful tips and that they make your next trip to the restaurant a little less financially frightening.
What are your favorite ways to save money eating out?