We’ve all tried saving money by not going out to eat, and most of us fail.
We’ve tried saving money by eating at home, but dining out is important to our interactions with friends, colleagues & family get-togethers.
Some people just feel too tired at times to prepare a meal on their own, so they opt to get take-out or eat at their favorite place so they also do not need to clean up afterwards. It’s convenient, it’s social, and generally an accessible option no matter where you live.
How To Save Money Dining Out
Frequenting restaurants, eateries, and fast-food joints doesn’t have to be the reason for your budgeting failures or financial woes, however. Much like anything we do in life or spend our money on, dining out can be planned and managed wisely; simply put, we don’t have to let it control us, rather we should learn to control it and keep it within our budget goals.
Saving Money by Avoiding Excess
Perhaps the most obvious advice regarding this would be to avoid excess. Frequent trips to your favorite fast food chains and sit-down restaurants can very quickly mess up your finances and make it more difficult to manage your other expenses.
Keep in mind that when you are eating out, you are paying, at a minimum, 20%-30% more for the food than if you were to prepare the same meal at home. If you are really serious about saving money, cutting back significantly on how many times a week you go out to eat can put you back on track to living within budget.
How Do I Save Money While At Restaurants?
For those times when you do dine out, here are some helpful suggestions to keep the costs down so you are still saving money:
Planning ahead with coupons, discounts & tipping
There are plenty of websites offering great discounts and printable coupons you can take to restaurants to get additional savings. These can be an excellent way for someone who is focused on saving money to still enjoy his or her favorite dining establishments for a lower price; be sure to read the fine print on the coupons, however, so you are aware of the terms and limitations.
Before you go, figure out how much you should tip. I have the habit of tipping too much, but that is far better than tipping too little. My mother was a waitress when I was a child, so I’ve seen the emotional impact that can happen when a server is poorly tipped.
Skip the soda & alcohol
Carbonated beverages are very cheap if purchased at the store, but when ordered at a restaurant, they have a high mark-up (even with free refills, they still usually cost two or three times more than their actual price). Free refills tempt you to drink as much as possible in order get your money’s worth, which certainly isn’t healthy! Stick to water, which is healthier, cheaper and more hydrating.
Share the plate
Most food servings in dining establishments are big enough for two people to easily share, especially appetizers and desserts. It might be embarrassing the first couple of times, but sharing a single meal is a great way to limit your caloric intake while saving money.
Remember, every dollar you spend on the menu is $1.20 leaving your pocket as you have to account for gratuity (and I’m not even counting tax yet!). Don’t be embarrassed about sharing your meal, some restaurants charge a fee for this, so watch out for that! Eat at family-style restaurants where food servings are meant for sharing.
Skip appetizers or embrace them
Skipping appetizers is another way you can save money even if dining out, but if you really must have appetizers, share with someone. Meanwhile, sharing dessert not only cuts the cost, but also reduces your calorie intake. A great trick is to eat an appetizer as your meal, I often do this.
Another appetizer trick: if you’re sharing a meal with someone and you’re concerned that it might not be enough food, supplement with an appetizer.
Maximize kid perks
A lot of popular restaurants run promos such as a “kids eat free” weekday, or buffet kids meals. Find out as much information from dining establishments in your area about their promos and special menus for kids, so you can schedule family nights and take advantage of these promotions.
A great resource for this is http://MyKidsEatFree.com. You can search your city for restaurants and the nights that your kids eat free! You’re saving money, enjoying a night out with the family members, and the children get to eat like kings!