We all wish there was a way to save money when eating out.
Let me just say it … Eating out is expensive. And, it seems like the cost of restaurant food has gone up faster than the rate of inflation in the last few years.
It has become one of the very fastest ways to blow your budget right out the window. We try not to make it such a large part of our spending, but it’s hard. You’ve got 5000 things going on and trying to cook dinner one more night just isn’t fitting in with your plan.
So, you go out to dinner — again.
But, there’s got to be a way to spare a few dollars … there has to be a way to save money when eating out.
Well, there is. There are actually several ways that you can take those restaurant dollars and S T R E T C H them. Stretch them farther than you ever thought you could.
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How To Save Money When Eating Out
By putting some of these tactics into place you could easily save hundreds of dollars this year. If you’re a family that eats out every week, you could save hundreds just this month. Try each of them out and see what works best for you.
Order From The Lighter Fare or Seniors Menu
Not only are these smaller meals, but they are priced better than the standard dinners. Now, I’m not a senior, but I have never had someone challenge me about ordering off this list. I’ve done the same with the kids menu. By ordering this way, you won’t have to worry about finding someone to split the meal, and you won’t have to deal with taking home leftovers. There should be enough food there for anyone smaller than a Miami Dolphins Linebacker.
Get Ala Carte Items
If you’re splitting a meal with someone else, add a side salad, or a baked potato to round it out. Or, just order the main dish and skip all the sides. Your wallet will appreciate it. Sometimes I’ll just get a baked potato and a side salad for a complete meal that is delicious and frugal. (Shhh, then I steal a bite or two from everyone else at the table).
Skip Kid’s Meals
If you have more than one child, buy an adult meal and divide it amongst the kids. These are usually healthier meals anyways since kids’ meals tend to be fried, fast-food-type meals (chicken fingers, pizza, fries, hamburgers, grilled cheese). Depending on the age of your kids, one adult meal could be split between 2-4 children.
Ordering sodas, alcohol, juice or milk at a restaurant can easily add 25% on to your bill. Just drink water when you’re out to eat, it’s healthier for you anyway. You can even ask for some lemon to add if you’d like a little flavor boost. It can be difficult to break the beverage habit for some people, but consider that you’re paying another $3-$8 per person if you’re ordering drinks. That adds up really fast to a dinner bill.
Share A Meal
Most restaurant meals are pretty large and loaded with calories. One of the quickest ways to cut your dining costs in half is to share your meal.
Ask your server for an extra plate and then just divide it between you and your partner. If the two of you can’t agree on what to order, just divide your meal in two and save half of it to eat for lunch tomorrow.
Don’t Get The Appetizers
Appetizers are so tempting and so fun, but they will ruin your budget FAST! These are really just a way to add dollars onto your bill. Restaurants know that you’re coming in hungry and ready to eat, so they tempt you with these delicious little tidbits. All I gotta say is, “Don’t Do It.” With the size of restaurant meals, believe me, you will get plenty to eat. Just be patient and wait for your dinner to be delivered.
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Enjoy Happy Hour
Happy Hour can be a great value if you do it right. Sometimes there is a one drink minimum, but usually, there are great options for discounted drinks. Also, there are lots of options for smaller-portion, smaller-priced menu items. Sometimes these are similar to appetizers, but sometimes it is a full meal. This is a great way to experience those real fancy restaurants that would cost $100 if you paid for a full dinner date. Check online for your favorite restaurants and see what they offer for Happy Hour. You may end up pleased with what you find.
I know all those desserts look so tempting and delicious and it seems like they will just end the night perfectly, but just say NO! Added calories and added dollars are not your friends. Again, these little additions will blow your budget out of the water. You can have some dessert at home, or grab a carton of ice cream at the store and the whole family can share it for less than the cost of one restaurant dessert.
Leave The Kids At Home
If you leave the kids at home, not only will you enjoy the visit with your dinner partner much more, but you will save money too. Now, if you’re paying for a babysitter you may not actually be saving money, so take that into consideration. Try to do a kid care swap with some friends or leave your kids with family so you can go out to dinner in peace.
You can buy discounted gift cards and vouchers through Raise.com. I love using Raise and have saved a ton this way by getting vouchers I can use online. This takes a little bit of planning ahead, but if you have restaurants that you like to go to regularly, it’s worth buying your gift cards ahead of time. Get $5 for signing up and making your first purchase.
Don’t Go Out
I’m not talking here about a planned night out with friends or your spouse. We all enjoy having a night off from cooking and enjoy a nice relaxing meal cooked (and cleaned up) by someone else. I’m talking about those crazy nights you’re feeling too tired to make dinner for your family and you decide to just take everyone out.
This is costly. And, odds are, you’re doing this repeatedly in the week or month. With a little bit of forethought, you can be set up to not repeat this habit.
Our family is a big fan of MyFreezEasy, where we make 10 meals in an hour, customized to our own tastes. By keeping these in the freezer I always have something to throw in my Instant Pot, or do a quick-thaw on and throw on the grill or even in the oven. You can take a look at MyFreezEasy by going here.
I also always make sure I have a few ingredients on hand so I can make Quick and Easy Dinners on Crazy Days. By keeping just the right things in your pantry you’ll be ready for those nights and you won’t have to feel bad about ruining your budget.
Some inspiration for quick meals at home:
Do you have some more great restaurant tips? Leave them in the comments below. We all need all the tips we can get.
15 Minute Meal Builder
Use this planner to build 15-Minute Meals that your family will love. Printable forms with suggestions and fill-in worksheet. Includes 10 15-Minute Dinner ideas.