Sometimes it seems like eating together is the only social activity we experience any more. The weekend trip to some restaurant is almost a ritual among friends and family.
Just because you're trying to cut back and pay off your bills doesn't mean you have to give this up. Here are my favorite ways to save money when eating out in restaurants.
1. Stay Home
This tip is guaranteed to save you 100% when eating out -- just stay home. Cooking is a skill that takes lots of practice. Hopefully you're good enough at cooking already that you can still eat your mistakes. If not, keep practicing and you'll get there.
We cook everything from traditional southern meals to Italian and Chinese in my house. Our home cooked meals are just as good as restaurant food, not to mention healthier and a lot cheaper.
The next time your friends call and want to dine out at some fancy restaurant, try inviting them over for a dinner party. After cooking a few meals for my friends, I now have people offering to buy the groceries if I'll cook again.
2. Drink Water
An easy way to usually save around 10% on your restaurant meal is by drinking water. Around here the average soft drink or tea in a restaurant is at least $1.00 or more. Don't even get me started on the cost of alcoholic drinks.
3. Try Lunch
Many restaurants have less expensive menus at lunch time. Some of our favorite places serve the same dishes at lunch time and dinner time -- they just offer a smaller portion, and price, at lunch time.
4. Ask About The Special
Another easy way to save is by ordering the special of the day. There are some restaurants that we only visit on certain days of the week when our favorite dish is available at a reduced price.
5. Try Ordering a la carte
Don't pay for the things you don't want. If the restaurant lets you order individual items, take advantage of it. Order just what you want and save a little money.
For example, we love Mexican tacos. Our favorite taqueria has a taco dinner with three tacos and a side of beans and rice for $5.50, or you can order indivual tacos for $1.25 each. Skip the beans and rice and save $1.75.
6. Skip The Appetizers
Appetizers in restaurants are a lot like drinks. They're another one of those little things that can really increase your total bill. If you must have an appetizer, find someone to share it. Or if it's something you really like, maybe you could have the appetizer instead of an entree.
7. Skip Dessert
This rule goes together with the previous rule -- always skip either the dessert or the appetizer. Hopefully you can skip both, but always skip at least one. I don't even remember the last time I had an entire dessert to myself. We've been sharing desserts in my family forever.
Restaurant portions are completely out of control these days. Even if you don't care about money, it's probably a good idea to share your meal with someone else just to keep your weight under control. Sharing an entree will save you 50% on your total bill.
9. Shop Around
Another trick we use sometimes is buying the meal at one place and dessert at another place. Eat in a nice restaurant if you want. Then instead of ordering the $5.00 cheesecake, go to the local ice cream place and spend $1.50 on a scoop in a cone.
10. Let Someone Else Pay
Another way to guarantee 100% savings, let someone else pay for it. As I've said before, I often do work in exchange for gift certificates to local restaurants.
Also, if your parents or other relatives offer to take you out to eat, take advantage of it. I hardly ever turn down an offer of a free meal.
What Works For Us
In my family we rarely eat out unless someone invites us. When we do eat in a restaurant, we usually just order two entrees with water. If there's an appetizer that we really like or the entrees are too much for one person to eat we'll split an appetizer and an entree.
We also try to take home the leftovers for another meal. The cost of restaurant food isn't so bad if you can spread it out over more than one meal.