Hello, hello, hello again to another Frugal Friday. Today, we’re going to discuss how you can eat more inexpensively when you dine out. I know, I know, my very first point when we were on the general Frugal Friday Food issue was to tell you to eat more food you prepare yourself. While that’s still a great idea (and will save you a lot of money over the course of a lifetime), going out occasionally shouldn’t be completely taboo.
If you watch what you are doing and don’t do it too often, dining out can be a fun, and yes, even frugal, experience. Just because you are going out to eat doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot. Follow a few tips, and you can have an enjoyable dining experience without paying through the nose. Some ways you can keep your dining out frugal include:
1. Splitting a Meal: Many restaurants seem to have taken the adage ‘bigger is better’ to heart, giving you portions that could feed an entire family. Since that’s the case, why try to clean your plate yourself, when you could split the meal (and the cost) with your spouse or other dining partner? Admittedly, this doesn’t work in really fancy restaurants with small portions (and probably isn’t a good idea on the first few days with a new sweetheart), but can be a good way to keep both your calorie intact and cost to minimum.
2. Watch Your Drinks: With so many people trying to watch their wallets closer these days, restaurants are trying harder to compete with other on price. Unfortunately, to make up the cost, more than a few take advantage of your desire to drink while eating, increasing the cost of your drinks instead. Be sure you know how much your drink costs you (in my experience, if the restaurant doesn’t list the cost of the drinks, and there are many that don’t, expect a fairly large cost for your drinks), and if it’s too much, just drink (TAP) water instead. You’ll save money, and be healthier, to boot.
3. Watch the Appetizers and Desserts: I know, I know; if you’re going to bother to go out, you’re going to want the ‘full experience’. Instead of insisting on turning every meal into a multi-course experience, though, try waiting until you get home to have dessert. Besides the fact that you can have as much as you want…
…you’ll also be paying a much smaller amount; for the price of even a relatively modest dessert, you can find plenty of offerings at your local grocery store that provide much more food, while being just as fulfilling after a nice night out. As for appetizers, either skip them or…
4. Make a Meal Out of an Appetizer: At some restaurants, the amount of food they give you with the appetizers is nearly a meal in itself, and the prices are usually lower than many of the meal options. So, why not take advantage of these facts and simply have an appetizer as a meal? You can, if you choose the right appetizer, end up saving quite a bit, while still getting a substantial meal. (Plus, if you are a fan of things like buffalo wings, potato skins, or other frequent appetizer items, wouldn’t you rather be dining on those items anyway?)
5. Take Your Leftovers Home for Future Meals: If you follow all of the suggestions up to this point, there’s a fair to good chance you aren’t going to have too many leftovers to begin with, but the ones you have should be saved. Getting a ‘doggie bag’ can provide you with a nice lunch the following day (or at least a reasonable meal for Fido) as well as enabling you to make the most of your meal.
6. Take Advantage of Weekly Specials: Many restaurants will offer special deals on each day of the week. Some of the best offers are on days like Tuesdays and Wednesdays, days when most people probably aren’t thinking of dining out (which is another helpful suggestion, dining out when few other people are doing so), making them good days to dine out inexpensively. They are also popular days for ‘Kids Eat Free’ specials, which can be a huge savings if you are dining with youngsters.
7. Find (and Use) Coupons When Possible: Many places offer coupons to try to entice would-be diners. With the Internet making it possible to view dozens of offers from the comfort of your home office, you can potentially cut your expenses down significantly, even for otherwise fairly expensive restaurants. Look for deals online for the restaurants you are interested in (Restaurant.com comes recommended for anyone looking for restaurant coupons), and you can potentially save most of the cost of dining out.