Frugal Living 

7 Ways to Save Money When Dining Out

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Fancy RestaurantWho doesn’t love to go out to eat? You get a night off from cooking and doing dishes, you get tasty food that you may not be able to recreate at home, and you get to relax. Unfortunately, you usually have to pay a rather large bill, especially if you are dining out with your family. Eat out several nights a week, and you could easily spend $400 to $800 a month on dining out alone!

However, there are several ways you can enjoy eating out without paying full price.

Consider the following strategies:

  1. Skip the drinks. A bottle of beer can run $5 to $8, and even a soft drink often costs $2 to $3. You can drink these so much cheaper at home. Just have water at the restaurant.
  2. Take advantage of Facebook deals. Many restaurants offer incentives when they are trying to grow their Facebook page. For instance, my husband and I love Famous Dave’s restaurant. When they offered a buy one get one free coupon to people who liked their Facebook page, we both liked it and got to eat at Famous Dave’s twice, but we only paid for one of us each time. Likewise, Outback Steakhouse gave out free steak dinners one time; I snagged a voucher, and we used it when we were on vacation. (You may want to wait to like a restaurant’s Facebook page until they run a promotional offer; also, even if you aren’t currently on Facebook, it is worth signing up just to get companies’ freebies.)
  3. Eat where kids’ meals are free. Many restaurants including Chili’s and Applebee’s sometimes offer up to two free kids’ meals with the purchase of one adult meal. This can be a great way to save money! Call your local restaurants and see if they have a regular day when kids eat free and plan to dine out then, but you might want to go early because the restaurant will likely be busy.
  4. Use certificates. To get the best deal with this, try to choose a restaurant that requires you only spend $35 if you buy a $25 voucher. You will buy the voucher and get $25 off your order, but many restaurants stipulate you have to spend $50, which is $25 you must pay out of pocket. Instead, choose restaurants that only require you to spend $35, and you only have to pay $10 out of pocket. Stretch your savings even further by buying when the vouchers are on sale. Sometimes you can get the $25 off certificates for only $4 instead of the stated price of $15.
  5. Use deal sites. There are plenty of deal sites you can use to save money on dining out. Popular ones include Groupon, Living Social, and Double Take Deals. Most require that you pay $10 upfront to get $25 off when you visit the restaurant.
  6. Join the restaurant’s e-mail list. I like Qdoba, and they frequently send out e-mails with coupons or promotions. We regularly get buy one get one free coupons from them. Joining your favorite restaurants’ e-mail list is a great way to get free food.
  7. Take advantage of nightly specials. Many restaurants have specials listed when you first enter the restaurant. These nightly specials are often 15 to 20% off the menu price. We often try to buy our meals from the list to save.

Another great way to save is to order take out. You don’t pay for the tip or the drinks.

Dining out can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Use these tips and save money every time you dine out.

What are your favorite ways to save when dining out?

(Photo: adforce1)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “7 Ways to Save Money When Dining Out”

  1. Thanks – the Facebook tip was new to me. We love PF Chang’s and we’ve not seen any deals. But their food is perfect for take-out, so we have them on speed dial. 🙂

  2. Another great way is to split a main course and both get a salad before the meal. It’s probably healthier too!

    • Melissa says:

      That is another good tip, especially since the serving size is so large. When our kids were smaller, we didn’t get kids meals (if they weren’t free) and just let them eat some of our main meal.

  3. I almost always drink water when I go out. Sadly, hardly any restaurants around me take gift certificates.

  4. I almost always skip drinks and if they serve large meals and we aren’t hungry we’ve been known to share a meal. I also love the 2 and 3 course meals and 2 for $20 deals they’ve been pushing lately.

  5. Skipping drinks can be a huge money saver over the course of a year. At $2 or more per drink, it gets expensive. Think of the opportunity cost!

    Also, I have discovered kids meals free as well. There is a place I’ve gone to a few times recently where I got my child a meal free, and it was actually nutritious too (eating from an extensive salad bar). A real win-win!

  6. I totally agree. Deal sites, such as Groupon and Living Social, which I use often, offer good savings and discounted rates for dining and other shopping items. I normally purchase eat-all-you-can buffet so that I only need to buy for 3 persons as children under 7 are usually free.

  7. I totally agree. Deal sites, such as Groupon and Living Social, which I use often, offer good savings and discounted rates for dining and other shopping items. I normally purchase eat-all-you-can buffet so that I only need to buy for 3 persons as children under 7 are usually free. I also look for offers that come with free drink to avoid additional charges.

  8. David says:

    I agree, just lately, whenever I want to find great affordable dining places, I surf facebook. It is amazing how much information we can acquire from social network sites now a days. Proudly, I have been able to restaurants located in my area that offers delicious yet affordable food.

  9. Tummy says:

    Join the restaurant loyalty program. There is a local chain here in Atlanta that offers 10% off everyday and 15% off in your birthday month just for swiping their loyalty card when you dine there. You also earn points towards free gift certificates.

    Buy discounted gift cards from plasticjungle or similar in advance.

    Go during lunch instead of dinner. Lunch prices are usually cheaper.

  10. Shirley says:

    Since we always drink water with meals at home, that one is actually our preference anyway. 😉

    We also enjoy the buffet style salad bars where you fill your plate for one price.

  11. Jim M says:

    Speaking as a former waiter and restaurant worker – you should still tip as if you had paid full price for the meal.

  12. Beej says:

    Order one (or two) appetizer(s) instead of a main course–they’re often the same size as the main course used to be. Or, if the restaurant offers kids’ portions of food you like, order those for yourselves instead of the adult portions, which have become absurdly enormous. (for some reason, restaurants that allow you to split a main dish often do so only at an extra charge! with the exception of Chinese ones, where dishes are routinely shared.)

  13. govenar says:

    Some people would say you should tip on take out orders too.

    • Shirley says:

      I honestly don’t see the reasoning behind that. You don’t tip the cashier at a dept or grocery store or even at a deli or bakery.
      Any thoughts?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I made a list of the restaurants with daily specials to hang on my fridge. That way when we do want to go out we’ll know which places to choose from on what days. We have a Fuddruckers where we live and they have 99 cent kid’s meals on Monday Nights without a regular meal purchase. You get a meal, drink and cookie for 99 cents! For our family of 5 plus and extra meal for my husband’s lunch the next day cost us $6 and change:)

  15. Shirley says:

    A restaurant meal is usually twice as much as we would normally eat (or maybe at our ages we just eat less now) so we usually get take-home boxes and have it the next day. Two meals for the price of one. 😉

  16. These are some great tips! I love Living Social and Groupon. They send you alert emails about the deals they offer, so if one particular one strikes your fancy you can take advantage of it. Calling a restaurant to see when kids meals are free is a great strategy to save a good amount of money. Getting a free kids meal with the purchase of an adult entree can let you feed the whole family with just the cost of you and your significant other.

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