Dining out can put a strain on your budget. However, if your lifestyle and schedule cause you to eat out more often than your budget likes, follow these 10 tips to save money and still enjoy your meal.
- Eat before you leave – Try having a small snack before going out to lower your bill. Without feeling ravenous, you’re less likely to order extras such as appetizers, soup or salad, and more likely to order a smaller, cheaper meal.
- Be an early-bird – Early-bird specials can be some of the best deals around. Most restaurants offer discounted prices for those who will eat before the prime dinner hour. Early or off-peak hours, whenever the crowds are low, are the best times to save on your bill and receive the best service.
- Drink water – Lower your tab simply by drinking tap water instead of soda, juice or other sugary drinks. These types of drinks have the highest profit margins for most restaurants. Studies show that drinking at least two glasses of water before dinner will help you consume fewer calories and save more money. Of course, alcoholic beverages should be avoided. They’ll double your bill quickly.
- Get to know the weekly specials – Sunday suppers, kids-eat-free nights and all-you-can-eat nights are just a few of the weekly specials you can find. Community papers and local restaurant review sites should steer you in the right direction for your favorite weekly deals.
- Dine on slow nights – Many restaurants offer great specials on traditionally slow nights to bring in customers. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically the slowest days, so look for and ask about specials on these nights.
- Go for lunch – Restaurant lunch menus are generally 25 percent cheaper than dinner menus. Lunch portions are usually smaller, so your waistline will be happy too.
- Eat at the bar – Bar menus are generally smaller in size and price. Happy hour specials and times vary from restaurant to restaurant, so it pays to find your town’s happiest hour. Look for drink specials, discounted tapas or half-off appetizers.
- Split it – Some restaurants offer shared meals, such as fajitas for two or family-style dishes. Others simply have meals big enough to split. Save money and unnecessary calories by sharing a meal with your date. This is one of the easiest ways to save if appetites aren’t an issue. Some establishments discourage sharing plates by charging a “splitting fee” of up to $10 per entrée, so make sure to ask before you split.
- Grab a gift card – There are many websites that offer discounted restaurant gift cards. Also, some warehouse stores and club stores sell $100 gift cards for $80 or less.
- Use coupons – Local magazines, school fundraisers and entertainment books are great resources for . Some of your favorite local restaurants might be 25% off or offer buy one, get one free. Social networking and local shopping sites like Groupon, Living Social and Restaurant.com offer daily deals for your city, including a large number of restaurants and bars. Use these sites to get over 50 percent off your next night out.
Restaurants are offering more daily deals and specials than ever before. Follow these tips to treat yourself to an affordable night out this week, and let us know how you saved when dining out.
About the Author: Wendy Brunner is a freelance writer focusing on articles and blog posts on a variety of topics including travel, internet marketing, personal and professional development. When not beachside in Plum Island, Mass. she can be found in the Sonoran desert of Fountain Hills, Ariz. You can follow her on Google+.