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Spending your hard-earned money on dining out can be such a drain on your wallet. All the little extras you order in a restaurant blow up your bill, and good service is never guaranteed. I drool thinking about food, read menus for the sport of it and eat more than I should. I’ve had to figure out how to eat often, and for less money. Use my secrets to keep that cash in your pocket and your belly full.
Go to Places With No Waiters
No waiters = no need to tip. Many new restaurants are focusing on a ‘fast casual’ model, and we benefit from it. Unlimited refills, extra sauces, as many napkins as you want, no one bothering you to order more, it’s a total family win.
If you don’t want to tip or you can’t, here are a few delicious options for you: Panera, PeiWei, Noodles & Company, Chipotle, Pizzeria Locale, Garbanzo’s, Jason’s Deli, and Qdoba. For 2 people you can eat some pretty unique cuisine, and it’s for a fraction of the cost of sitting down in a fancier restaurant. My fiancé and I challenge ourselves to spend less than $15. Getting your significant other onboard to save, definitely makes it easier and more fun.
Remember when you do go out to eat you do need to be tipping 20%, and that cost should to be pre-emptively considered. That tip is someone’s livelihood. A negative experience, the restaurant, atmosphere, and even the food quality should not be at the cost of your waiter’s tip. If they indeed treated you right and did everything in their power to make your experience enjoyable, don’t take it out on them if something goes wrong.
Use Your Club Card To Buy Gift Cards
When you buy restaurant gift cards at a club store like Costco, they still sell them in bulk. Many restaurants offer a free $25.00 gift card when you purchase their gift card packs. This is a great way to stock up on presents during the holidays, and you can pocket the extra gift cards to use throughout the year. The extra nice thing about gift card packs is that often there will be a grouping and 1 card might be valid at 4 different restaurants.
I was able to use ‘free gift’ cards for 2 month after Christmas due to this technique. It’s the gift that keeps giving and really eases the financial burden after the holidays.
Did you know that you can earn gift cards through Swagbucks? Browse their app, watch videos, take surveys, and play games to earn. There’s a $5.00 bonus through The Rising Damsel just for signing up. Visit their local eats page here to see current yummy options that are close to you.
Make It a Lifestyle
Food critics come in all shapes and sizes now and you can create your own food publication with a blog and a smart phone. In the restaurant business word of mouth is everything and bloggers are the voice no one ever expected. If you already have an active social media following, you can approach restaurants for discounts in exchange for promotion. There’s a good chance you could be approached too, especially if you are already sharing images for free. My favorite pizza place actually invited me into their cooking class prior to opening it to the public. Small businesses are aware and they care, your social media can make a difference to their business.
Looking for a way to document your food adventures and take your financial future into your own hands? Starting a blog is the best way to grab that freedom. Run your own advertisements, sign up for affiliate networks and start pulling in money doing what you love. Use my helpful guide to get set up with WordPress and Bluehost: Start Your Own Blog with Bluehost.
Go Directly to the Source!
If you are craving a particular restaurant, check the it’s website before you head out the door. Promotional items are often right on the front page, boosted with discount dollar signs and links to coupons. Seasonal options will be highlighted, and you can guarantee freshness and quality for your family. Pull up a coupon right on your smartphone when you get there.
Take Advantage of Punch Cards
Never throw away your frequent buyer cards! Frozen yogurt shops, bagel places, cookie stores, they all want you to come back frequently! With a low cost product they need to ensure that they get return customers, and the easiest way to do that is to offer an incentive. It might be a small savings, or even a free coffee every 10th purchase… but it’s something.
Fun tip: Have your kiddos hold onto the punch cards. It’s a great opportunity to teach responsibility, but also for your kids to feel trusted with something that is ‘valuable’. They’ll think they are carrying credit cards.
What’s On The Calendar?
After a long work week, most people end up going out to dinner on Friday, Saturday or even Sunday. Monday is not a priority and it’s the slowest day of the week in restaurants which means it’s a bonus for us! Restaurants offer special deals and discounts to get people in the door! Kids ‘eat free’ with the purchase of an adult meal is pretty typical, but discounts on adult menu items are available as well. Restaurants are stepping it up and providing entertainment such as a goofy clown that walks around making animals out of balloons. Check around restaurant websites to see if they do any promotional days or events.
Eat at Happy Hour 1/2 Price
Cheap eats at half the price or even score a free appetizer? That happens a lot between the hours of 3pm-5pm. Restaurants want to capitalize on the fact that many people have long hard work days and they want to entice you with cheap drinks, which often come with free appetizers. Appetizers aren’t just cheese sticks and nachos anymore. Many restaurants offer crudités, veggies, dip and even hummus.
Small plates are sold at a discount. Be on the lookout for ‘early bird specials’, ‘small plate options’ or ‘meal combos’. You can pair a soup with a salad and create a meal.
This is also a great opportunity to try something new you wouldn’t normally have the guts for! A fig and goat cheese spread on a rosemary cracker seems less daunting at a fraction of the cost.
Always Look for Online Deals
Looking for upwards of 50% off? Check Groupon and Livingsocial, if you don’t mind paying upfront you can get some incredible deals. Ethnic restaurants ALWAYS promote on Groupon, that means you can experience something you have never tried before. When searching online deals you can explore the menu, and always check the reviews as people are very candid about food quality and experience.
*True story, I almost bought tickets to a ‘Cabaret & Filet Mignon’ night, upon reading reviews I found out it was a restaurant in a strip club, complete with pole dancing. For myself and my fiancé it would have been hilarious, but maybe your Grandma wouldn’t appreciate the views. It was advertised as a high-class steak restaurant with live entertainment. Avoid that by spending 5 minutes reading reviews. :)*
Did you know that you can use Ibotta to earn meal rebates? It’s true! Ibotta not only offers discounts/ cashback on retail and grocery items but on restaurants too. Rock Bottom Brewery, Quizno’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings have been the most recent discounts available. Some rebates are upwards of 15% off… which is nothing to ignore. Sign up with my link above and as soon as you do $10.00 is credited to your account!
Don’t Order Soda
This is an easy one. For a family of 4 you could almost order an extra meal for the cost of everyone drinking a soda. Are you even guaranteed a refill? Instead, order water with lemon and absorb a little extra vitamin C. We make our own lemonade whenever we can, and we never miss the bubbles. With the savings, you can take the kids out for an ice cream after dinner.
No Up Sells and Choose to Veg Out
There are tons of options available on menus that don’t include meat. The cost is much more economical than a meaty entree, however why are they always trying to get you to add 4oz of chicken or steak for an extra $6.00? It’s called an up sell, and you should say no. Up sells come in many forms, adding onions and mushrooms to your steak or adding queso to your fajitas. Some restaurants even have contests rewarding the staff members that get the most up sells, but these little extras will cost you dearly and they add up so quickly.
Order a Kid’s Meal
Can you get away with ordering a kid’s meal? If you’re going to a fast food drive-thru or ordering pickup you absolutely can! Restaurants are more cautious about offering kids a balanced meal than they offer adults sometimes. Portions nowadays are huge, kid meals pack more than enough food and calories for an average sized adult.
Bonus!: There’s a chance that if you order to-go you get a larger portion. Cooks are more likely to ignore portion control in order to make the box look full. No restaurant wants a Yelp review complete with half a meal in a styrofoam box floating around online.
**If you go through a drive thru you can order ala cart, just the burger and none of the meal. Throw a bag of frozen fries in the oven when you get home and they’ll be hot and fresh plus you’ll save money.
Coffee Instead of Alcohol/ Dessert
When you want to prolong the meal and you want to spend time with your loved one, ordering a drink is a typical move. But alcoholic beverages are expensive! The same goes for dessert, you’re already stuffed to the brim and your to-go box is sitting there in front of you… Why are you ordering dessert? It may feel obligatory, but speak up, there are options like having a coffee or grabbing a mint from your purse. If dessert is ‘necessary’ see if your partner will share, there’s no reason to go solo on cost and or calories; I promise they will bring you 2 forks.
Make One of Your ‘Eat Out Nights’ a Shopping Night.
Not every meal has to be gourmet. Sometimes not cooking, and not dealing with cleanup is really nice.
We go to Costco once a week to get our supplies. We eat our dinner in their eatery. For a couple dollars you can have a sandwich, drink and split a huge frozen yogurt. YUM! We feel like the savings we generate can go towards a tank of their gasoline. We get to fill up the car and we didn’t have to cook…win win.
Where is your favorite place to eat and save money? I would love some new suggestions. I hope that this list has inspired you to consider a few more options before you start doling out money. Remember food is for sustainment and health, your body only knows how good it is for you not how much it costs.
Sick of getting taken advantage of and ready to become more savvy when it comes to your life and finances? You’ll love these!
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