Ultimate Guide to Eating Out for Less
Do you ever feel a little guilty when you eat out because of the extra cost? Not anymore. I’m going to teach you how to make eating out work with your budget.
There are so many tricks out there to save money at restaurants that it has become more affordable than ever. But it’s hard to find all the tips, one at a time, by searching the Internet for advice. So I assembled all of the best advice from all across the web. Now it’s all in one place for you to choose the best strategy for your budget.
23 Ways to Save When Eating Out
- Get discounted gift certificates. Before heading to the restaurant, check the site called restaurants.com for half priced gift certificates for local restaurants.
- Buy discounted gift card. Many sites sell discounted gift cards to a variety of restaurants. Use the site Cardpool, or Raise. See this post for more info.
- Use a coupon. Go to Valpak.com or Coupons.com to find coupons for additional money off restaurants. Entertainment books usually have restaurant coupons.
- Get a rebate. Use Ebates, MrRebates, or Ibotta for cash rebates after eating out.
- Order water. Ordering water instead of other drinks can save a bundle of cash. Water is always free. If you eat out once per week, you could save $300 per year per person by ordering water instead.
- Split a meal. At most restaurants, it’s ok to order one meal and split it between two plates. This will cut your restaurant bill in half when there are two of you. Besides, the amount of food served per person is usually way too much for one person to eat anyway.
- Eat an appetizer or side. You can often fill up on the cheaper appetizer or side and skip the main meal. This works especially well if you are eating out for the social aspect, rather than filling up.
- Be selective on where you eat out. Casual dining, where you don’t have a server, often can be 1/3 more expensive plus you end up leaving a bigger tip. Or you can order your meal to go and avoid a tip altogether.
- Pick a better time to eat. If you go during lunch instead of dinner, you can save anywhere from $10 to $30 a person.
- Use your reward credit cards. Use your rewards credit card to pay for the meal, but only if you plan on paying it off right away. Some cards give you up to 3% back on restaurants. Just be sure to pay it before the next billing cycle so you don’t pay interest on it.
- Use a loyalty card. Many restaurants will give you free meals after so many visits. All you have to do is sign up for their loyalty card and have them scan it before you pay. Some will email you special offers.
- Use a restaurant club. There are several programs that give you rewards for eating at any restaurant on their list. You can register your credit card (or your cash back credit card) at iDine and get rewards if you write a review of the restaurant later. Others restaurant clubs include American Airlines AAdvantage Dining and Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining.
- Make an online reservation. If you reserve your table through Reservation Genie or Open Table, you can get rewards in the form of gift certificates.
- Find local deals. You can often get amazing offers at Groupon, Amazon Local, Scoutmob, or Living Social for local restaurants in your area.
- Go to a buffet. For a small price, you can eat all you want at a buffet. This might save you money depending on how much you normally eat.
- Order the daily special. Some restaurants offer better prices on their daily special and it is usually one of their better tasting meals.
- Order kid size. If you are not a big eater, try ordering off the kids’ menu for savings.
- Go on Monday or Tuesday. Many restaurants offer specials on Mondays and Tuesdays because these are typically their slowest days. Avoid holidays though. They often up their prices on holidays.
- Make use of kids eat for free offers. Hundreds of restaurants have days of the week when kids can eat free with a paying adult. Go here to look up specific restaurants.
- Get freebies on your birthday. Many places have special they will email out to you on your birthday, but some are just available when you request it. Here’s a current list of what’s out there.
- Find report card freebies. When your kids do well in school, it’s fun to take them out for a free treat. Try these favorites.
- Check the restaurant’s Facebook page. Many restaurants use social media to offer specials deals and coupons that you can’t get anywhere else.
- Use a status discount. Tons of restaurants offer senior discounts, AAA discounts, student discounts, teacher discounts, military discounts.
The best way to save is to combine multiple strategies into one. I’ll show you with some recent examples when I went out to eat.
Example 1: e want to go to a local restaurant. We went to restaurants.com and found a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant for $10. They were running a special where you would also get 2 free movie tickets with the purchase. Then I went to a coupon site and found a promo code for 50% off of the purchase. So I bought the gift cert for $5. I bought it through my Ebates portal and got 10% back. I used my cash back rewards credit card and got 3% back. So the gift certificate for $25 only cost $4.35.
Then we went to the restaurant and the deal required that we had to spend $50 to use the gift certificate. This was no problem for 4 people. Our bill came to slightly over $61.20 after tax and tip. We used our $25 gift certificate to pay for part. Then we paid the remainder with our 3% back credit card, bringing the total down to $30.27. Total spent = $30.27 + $4.35= $34.62 for $61.20 value. Total savings = $26.58 or 43.4% off (plus 2 free movie tickets).
Example 2: We wanted to eat at Applebee’s. So first we checked Raise for a discount gift card. We found a $50 gift card to Applebee’s for $43.99 or 13.2% off. We used our Ebates account to click over and buy it and got a rebate of 1%. Then, we used our cash back rewards credit card for 3% back. Then we went to Coupons.com and got a deal for 1 free appetizer and 2 entrees at Applebee’s for $20. There were 4 of us, so we used 2 of the deals. Then we got a free dessert for an anniversary coupon that Applebee’s emailed us for being on their list.
At the restaurant, our meal cost $40 plus tax and tip for 4 people including 4 meals, 2 appetizers, and a dessert. We paid for this with our $50 gift card. Total cost $42.23 for $50 value or 15.5% off.
Wasn’t that cheap? You can do it too! Add some fun by making it a challenge to see how much you can save!
Now that you have all kinds of strategies available to make your restaurant experience cheaper, let me just throw in a little word to the wise. When I worked as an accountant, many of my clients that struggled the most with money were the ones that ate out the most.
Going out to restaurants is always going to be more expensive than making your own food at home. So if you are living paycheck to paycheck, you might want to avoid eating out at all until you are able to change your financial situation.
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