12 Simple Tricks for Saving Money When You’re Out at a Restaurant
Dining out doesn’t have to put a huge dent in your wallet. With these clever money-saving tips, you can indulge in a night of delicious food (and no dirty dishes!) without feeling guilty.
Even if you make restaurant-style recipes at home, a night out every now and then is a welcome treat. But with food, drinks, and tip, it can be tough to manage on a tight budget. Whether you’re looking for a quick bite at a favorite taco joint or going tablecloths-and-candles fancy, we share 12 secrets to saving money at restaurants without sacrificing the experience. First of all, give the place a “like”! Most restaurants have Facebook pages, and many of these offer special deals or coupons. “Like” and follow your favorite eateries to get in on unadvertised specials and Facebook-only freebies and discounts.
Celebrate good times
A free dinner on my birthday? Sign me up! Many restaurants have birthday clubs and will send a coupon for a free meal or discount you can use during your birthday month. Having an anniversary? Let the restaurant know about it when you make reservations, and be sure to tell the waiter you’re celebrating a special occasion—you may get a complimentary glass of champagne or a dessert on the house. If you’re staying in for your birthday, check out these amazing cake recipes.
Avoid holiday hustle
True, dining out on Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve sounds festive and fun… but plenty of other people are thinking the same thing. To make the most of the hot demand, some restaurants hike prices on holidays, often by offering special dinner menus. On top of the extra cash, you can expect longer waits and a harried wait staff. Do yourself a favor and avoid dining out on holidays. Celebrating the week before or after makes for a more relaxing, enjoyable and affordable evening. (Find workable recipes for every occasion!)
Take advantage of weekly specials by reviewing a restaurant’s menu online ahead of time and zeroing in on the days that offer deals on your favorite dishes (think Prime Rib), half-off bottles of wine or two-for-ones. Have a seriously strict budget? Even if deals aren’t available, familiarizing yourself with the menu and prices will help narrow down the choices that fit your finances. These are the 10 money-saving tips you should definitely ignore.
If your schedule is flexible and you don’t mind eating dinner before 6 p.m., take advantage of early bird specials or plan to dine during happy hour. Restaurants often offer appetizer specials (free wings, anybody?) and drink deals that can save you big bucks. You may need to eat in the bar area to get happy hour specials, but if you’re out with a group of friends, does it matter?
Drink water on tap
If you want water with your meal and the waiter asks whether you want still (plain) or sparkling, order still. It’s generally just tap water, so it shouldn’t cost a penny. Sparkling water such as San Pellegrino or seltzer can add $3 to $4 to your bill. Personally, I’d rather save those dollars for something more interesting—like cheesecake. Don’t miss these easy ways to save money without feeling the pinch.
Delete one course
Most upscale restaurants hope you’ll order a starter with cocktails, get a glass of wine with dinner and cap it all off with dessert and coffee. That’s a ton of food! At a favorite restaurant, tasting many different plates is half the fun. Still, you’ll save a good chunk of change by skipping the app or dessert, or by splitting these courses with your companions.
Practice portion control
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Get creative with your order, especially if you have a lighter appetite. Try ordering an appetizer as the meal (often, appetizers are smaller portions of main course items, but at a much lower cost). Is the lunch menu still available at dinnertime? Choose an entree from that list. Again, portions will be smaller, but so will the bill. Or order a main entree and split it between two people. There’s sometimes a fee of a few dollars for splitting, but it’s still much cheaper than ordering a second $20 meal. Last but not least, if you do order your own entree, cut it in half before you dig in. You’ll be more likely to eat less, and you can take the other half home for tomorrow’s lunch, effectively getting two meals for the price of one.
Restaurants mark up beverages as much as four times the actual cost. You’ll save a pretty penny by eschewing specialty cocktails and sticking with house wine or on-tap beer. If you’re a wine snob (guilty), call ahead to see if you can bring your own bottle. Restaurants generally charge a corkage fee, which can range from $10 to $20 (but may be higher). That might seem like a lot, but considering fine wine is usually marked up a minimum of two times, a $75 bottle would be at least $150 in a restaurant. Suddenly $20 doesn’t seem so bad—and you’re assured you’ll like what you’re drinking. (Note: If you bring a larger format bottle, you may be charged a double corkage fee.) Don’t miss these tips for saving money while dining out, according to restaurant workers.
Add it up
When the waiter brings the check, do you automatically hand over your credit card without looking at the bill? Big mistake. Always scrutinize the bill to make sure the charges are accurate. This may seem obvious, but many people don’t do it. A waiter once accidentally brought me the check for a neighboring table of eight, which was considerably higher than the bill for my table of two! Be sure to note whether the gratuity has been included in the total—it often is for larger parties. (You’re not insulting the waiter by checking the charges.) Here are 17 more habits of people who are great at saving money.