group of friends enjoying a meal in a restaurant

10 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out

When you are on a budget (like most of America these days), you always look to slash the higher and optional expenses first. At the top of that elimination list is eating out, for obvious reasons. Eating out can easily cost 5 times or more than preparing the same meal at home.

Why Eat Out?

So why eat out ever? Following are some common and valid reasons why folks on a tight budget occasionally opt to eat out:

  • Celebrations – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, births, and other notable events are ideal times for eating out, as it keeps everyone together instead of some of the household (all too often the wives and other female attendees) cooking, serving, and cleaning up
  • Emergencies – like it or not, emergencies happen at the worst moments and cannot be postponed; in such moments, thinking about grocery shopping or meal preparation is not typically what comes to mind
  • Illnesses – when the chief cook and bottle washer comes down with the flu, cooking becomes out of the question for two reasons…
    • it’s not healthy for the cook to spread their germs through coughing (or even breathing) on the food being prepared, and
    • the ill chef needs rest and will likely cook a less-than-ideal meal when they can’t even think straight and just standing is a chore
  • Too darn tired! – unless you live a leisurely life of luxury, you and the rest of the family work hard most days of the week; some days, upon arriving home you are just too beat to get back up and start preparing dinner for the family
  • It’s a treat! – again, because you and your family work hard, you deserve occasional rewards; eating out lets everyone choose what they want and often there are yummy leftovers to enjoy later

Clearly, there will be times when eating out is the best option for the family. So the next step is figuring out how to keep the costs down when dining out.

10 Cost Cutting Tips for Eating Out

Now that it has been established that eating out becomes a necessity at times in our life, let’s look at how we can cut costs while eating out without depriving ourselves of the pleasure of a meal prepared by other expert hands.

1. Lunch Instead of Dinner

Compare the meals served for lunch and for dinner and you find that evening meals typically cost more (sometimes twice as much or higher); another benefit for eating lunch out is that the wait is generally shorter.

2. Love Those Leftovers

Have you noticed how large plates have become? Unless you have been fasting for the past week, you can easily split that meal into two (or maybe even three?) fares to enjoy over the next day or so. By cutting your dishes in half, you also slash the price of that meal in half. Now that $20 steak isn’t looking so expensive anymore and is twice as tasty when it’s two meals!

3. Split That Meal

It was just mentioned that restaurants now serve dishes large enough for two to enjoy. Instead of leftovers, splitting a meal lets two people enjoy one amazing dinner. Just like leftovers, sharing a plate also cuts the cost of dinner in half.

4. Skip Those Drinks

A glass of wine in a fine restaurant can cost more than the whole bottle of the same vintage at a liquor store. And let’s face it, when we drink we tend to become a bit more generous with our money and consumption. After that first bottle, it’s easier to convince yourself that another bottle would be just right. Check your dinner tabs carefully and you will learn that those libations cost more than the food you ordered.

5. Bring Your Own Wine

If you simply must have wine with your dinner, bring your own wine. Yes, many restaurants allow their patrons to bring their preferred bottle of wine and, for a small “corkage” fee, will open and serve it to you. This way, instead of paying the cost of a bottle of wine for a mere glassful, you can have your wine and drink it without breaking the bank.

6. Take It Home

Ordering takeout is another method of keeping your dining out costs down. For restaurants with waiters and other servers, you are paying for their service in addition to the kitchen staff and the food. By ordering takeout, you save on tips to waiters (recommended to be 15% of the tab at a minimum).

When you do order takeout, do not order drinks. By using the beverages you have on hand, or even running to the grocery store to get everyone drinks, you cut that restaurant bill down even further. As mentioned earlier, when ordering alcoholic drinks your bar tab could easily exceed your meal cost. Having your own wine at home allows you to fully indulge in your meal without emptying your wallet.

7. Pasta or Meat/Seafood?

Scrupulous shoppers know the cost of foods, particularly meats, fishes, and pastas. What should you choose when a diner offers spaghetti for $12 or a steak for $20? Believe it or not, your steak will be the best deal.

Pasta is very inexpensive to purchase, the sauces are also simple and frugal, and adding garlic bread and a salad makes a complete meal for a nominal cost. You can make this meal at home for a family of four for less than $5; why pay $12 for a quarter of the pasta meal you can make at home for $5? Quick math tells you that $12 pasta dish only cost you $1.25 to make (1/4 of the $5 estimate for your homemade pasta dinner for 4).

Similarly, if you know the price of beef, a good steak can easily cost over $10. Let’s be conservative and say that you find a nice cut of steak for $10; paying $20 for that steak, which includes salad, bread, potatoes, and vegetable is really a bargain. The fact is that restaurants have a lower profit margin for steaks and seafood than for other dishes like pastas.

8. Serve Yourself

Finally, seek out restaurants that offer buffets (i.e., Old Country Buffet or Hometown Buffet), fast casual (i.e., Chipotle Mexican Grill or Panera Bread), or self-serve (i.e., Starbucks or Subway) options. By eliminating wait staff, these restaurants offer meals much cheaper than the same plate in a restaurant bustling with waiters and busboys.

9. Big Meals at Home

Instead of stuffing yourself at a restaurant where the price of food is so high, make major meals at home and eat lighter when out on the town. Not only is that habit lighter on your wallet, you will find it lighter on the tummy as well, since many restaurants load on the rich sauces and creams; those extras make it tastier but also richer and more fattening.

10. Save Up For It

Make eating out the special occasion it should be. If both Mom and Dad agree to take the first $20 of each paycheck and drop it in a “Dinner on the Town” jar, in just two paychecks from each you have $80, which will go far for a dinner on the town, especially by practicing some of the tips above, like bringing your own wine, ordering water only for beverages, and splitting a particularly enticing dish.

There are plenty of ways you can make eating out an affordable, fun, and filling option for the entire family without worrying about paying the utility bills. Want to learn more? Contact us today to find even more money saving ideas that keeps your life fulfilling without draining your pocketbook!

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