Who doesn’t like the fun of going out for dinner instead of making it at home? Even in this economy, Americans average $2,500 per person annually on eating out. Eating out can be done frugally; follow these simple steps to eat out and save money while you’re at it.
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1. Skip The Drinks
Eating out is expensive enough without adding drinks onto it. You can safely assume that your meal will probably cost at least $10-15 per plate. This can begin to add up if you are going out with your family. Where the restaurant really gets you though is when you start adding other things on to the bill like a soft drink or cocktail.
Soft drinks cost next to nothing for restaurants and when alcohol comes in to the picture, steep markups come with it. By being frugal and avoiding the drink you can keep your dining bill down and perhaps save enough to buy that bottle of wine on the way home instead of just a glass of it at the restaurant.
2. Be Happy
Another way to be frugal while eating out is to check out the restaurant’s happy hours. Often times restaurants will use this as a way to entice you to dine at their establishment. They generally will offer deals such as a buy one get one free deal, appetizer or drink deals.
They will commonly not be available on the full menu or require you to eat on the patio, but I have no problem eating on the patio if it means I don’t have to pay full price.
3. Be a Fan
Restaurants are always looking for ways to lure you in to their confines. A popular way for them to do this is through social media or email. More and more restaurants are viewing the electronic medium as an effective way to reach out to prospective clients. This often requires signing up to receive emails from them or “liking” them on Facebook.
In exchange for your information, restaurants will send you emails sometimes with valuable coupons if you agree to come dine with them. Some credit card companies also offer similar programs to get savings at various restaurants, just ask and they may have some in your area.
4. Take Your Kids
Many restaurants will have a certain night of the week where they’ll offer a free meal to your child for dining there. This is a nice way to keep the bill down and most little children love the idea of eating out as they can have something they may not normally have.
Remember to read the fine print and make sure that if you have multiple kids that each meal will be free. Another benefit is that many restaurants make their children’s meals just a little smaller than a regular meal. My tip as a Dad to three under age five – split the meal in half and take the rest home for lunch the next day.
5. Eat at Their Expense
Restaurants commonly use sites like Groupon and Living Social. My wife and I often only eat out if we have such a coupon as it can allow us to have part of the meal on the restaurant’s dime. If you watch for them you can easily snag deals that will work out just like a buy-one-get-one-free deal would.
This also allows us to try new restaurants and be frugal at the same time. One thing to keep in mind in using such a deal is to make sure that you are wise in your purchases as you can easily spend more than you intended at the restaurant and lose out on any savings you may have realized.
You can also accomplish the same thing by using any rewards points on one of your credit cards.
6. Be Frugal and Order an Appetizer
Restaurants often look at appetizers as a way of bringing in additional revenue. However, if you order an appetizer as opposed to a regular meal you can often beat them at their own game. If nothing looks appealing to you on the main menu, try looking at the appetizers as a meal option. You can leave with a happy stomach without the lighter wallet to accompany it.
7. Split it Up
If you’ve eaten out recently, you probably noticed that the portion size was quite generous. In fact, recent studies show that portion sizes have quadrupled since the 1950’s. Suffice it to say, we don’t need to eat that much when we go out for a meal as it could be harmful for a number of reasons.
With this in mind, you can eat just part of the meal while at the restaurant and take the rest home. This provides the dual benefit of not eating such a big meal in one sitting, and giving you a lunch or two the following week.
Eating out is a fun thing that many people and families like to do. When done wisely, enjoying a night out and frugality are not mutually exclusive. Your social life as well as your pocketbook will both thank you for dining out frugally.
What are some of the ways you’re frugal when you eat out?
I’m John Schmoll, a former stockbroker, MBA-grad, published finance writer, and founder of Frugal Rules.
As a veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve worked as a mutual fund administrator, banker, and stockbroker and was Series 7 and 63-licensed, but I left all that behind in 2012 to help people learn how to manage their money.
My goal is to help you gain the knowledge you need to become financially independent with personally-tested financial tools and money-saving solutions.