11 Ways to Save Money Eating Out, According to Restaurant Workers
Dining out doesn’t have to mean shelling out.
Dine early in the week
Restaurants often have deals on slow days, like Mondays through Wednesdays, to try and drive business. They’ll usually post those deals on their websites or social media pages, so head online before deciding when and where to eat. “It could save a patron tens (even hundreds!) of dollars to just take a quick browse,” says Sri Divel, operating partner of Salt Creek Grille. Check out more habits of people who are great at saving money.
Share the love
By sharing a few plates—big or small—with the rest of your table, everyone in your group can save money. “Make sure you have a variety of pastas, vegetables, and protein, and enjoy everything without overspending,” says Carla Gomes, owner of Antico Forno, Terramia Ristorante, and Cobblestone restaurants in Boston. Even though you’ll get to taste more dishes, you’ll actually end up spending less money. Find out the most polite way to split the bill.
Put down the dessert menu
No matter how tempting that chocolate mousse or an extra glass of wine sounds, resist and head home after the main course, suggests Jovani Scavarda, server and bartender at Co. in New York. “You’ll enjoy that ice cream you have in your freezer just as much as that overpriced dessert at the restaurant,” he says, “and you get to be in your pajamas watching your favorite show.” Plus, skipping dessert altogether could help you get over a weight-loss plateau.
Sit at the bar
Visit an upscale restaurant without breaking the bank by choosing a seat at the bar, where you might find a bar or small plates menu. You’ll get the same great food but for lower prices than you’d find in the dining room, says Irena Wigley, general manager at The Continental in Naples, Florida. Plus, sitting near the bartender could have its perks, says Scavarda. “If you strike up a conversation with the bartender and you two get along, you never know—there might be some complimentary bubbles in your future,” he says.
Take advantage of happy hour
Of course, you know that happy hour can mean big savings on drinks—but it doesn’t end there. “Most restaurants will offer smaller portions of available dinner items,” says Divel. You might not leave as stuffed as you would from a heaping portion, but it will be plenty of food for a light dinner.
Go big, then go home
Restaurants have notoriously large servings, meaning you’ll often end up eating way more than you ever would at home. Instead of ordering teensy plates to avoid expensive food overload, embrace those massive portions. “Opt for one of the larger entrees that you know you won’t finish in one sitting, and wrap half to-go for another meal,” says Gomes.
Join the club
Join the loyalty clubs at your favorite restaurant for some insider deals. “For what it costs to sign up (an email address) there could be big savings here,” says Divel. You’ll usually get an instant reward as soon as you sign up, plus save money all year long. Find more effortless ways to be frugal.
Think outside the main course menu
Skip the expensive entrees and order a flatbread for yourself, or a few for the table. Flatbreads don’t deserve their reputation for being pricey, says Paul Turano, chef and owner of Cook restaurant in Newton, Massachusetts. “They are inexpensive, and guests can usually find a variety of flavor profiles to choose from,” he says. Check out other ways to save money by cutting back on food waste.
Ask for a professional opinion
At upscale restaurants that have a sommelier, don’t be afraid to ask for help picking a great wine in your price range, says Wigley. “The sommelier may also be able to suggest wines from value regions that are a great quality but not as high-priced because their markets aren’t as well-known,” she says.
Go easy on cocktails
Cocktails are fun to sip when you’re out, but they’re also the most expensive drinks on the menu. Order a few per person, and you could easily spend $100 on drinks alone. Stick with beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks to keep your tab low. “If you can’t resist, limit yourself to one, and then stick to lower-priced beverages,” says Scavarda. Find out what your cocktail choice says about you.
Visit during the off-season
If you live in an area that sees a lot of tourism traffic, go easy on the restaurant trips during the most popular times of year. Then take advantage of the cheaper prices you’ll find during the off-season. “That is a great time for ‘locals’ and off-season visitors to find more promotions,” says Wigley.