Since it is the weekend, I thought it would be good to look at saving money when eating out. With three kids, we don’t eat out very often. Of course that saves the most money. But I really like eating out and sometimes, for convenience or entertainment, we choose to eat out. I hate paying good money to have fussy kids refuse to eat grilled cheese or chicken nuggets that cost $7. So how can we save money when eating out.
#1. Don’t tip! Before you get all bent out of shape, I am not suggesting that you stiff someone who has come to your table and given you service. Waiting tables is hard work with little reward and you should tip. Many servers are paid just a few dollars an hour and survive on tips. What I mean is going to a restaurant that has counter service. You don’t have to do the fast-food route here. Many counter service restaurants with quality food have come around lately. Places like Panera, McAllister’s Deli, Quizno’s, Chipotle, and Moe’s are just a few examples. You can usually get good food with healthy options at these places and you avoid the tip (15-20% of your total bill) because you pick up the food at the counter and throw your own trash away. I can do that to save 20%!
#2. Water, water everywhere! Drink water. It is better for you and you save $1.50-3 per person over the cost of soda. Coffee or tea at the end of a meal can add another $3-6 per drink. Alcohol can range from $4-10 per drink. Skip all these and drink water, which most restaurants still do not charge for. If you really want flavor, carry Mio or Kool Aid or Crystal Light (or better yet the store brand) individual packets of drink mix in your purse in a zipper bag. You can flavor the water (often without adding sugar or caffeine) for much less than the cost of a drink at a restaurant (you can often get a box of 10 for the price of one pop at a restaurant).
#3. Share and Share Alike! When possible share foods. Have kids skip the children’s menu, which is usually very cheap food at a high price, and let them share an adult meal, which comes with more food and sides. Consider having two adults share a meal also. Or an adult and a child can share. Portion size is out of hand in America and we often leave food on the table or bring leftovers home that we throw out later (or just leave the leftover bag at the restaurant!). Sharing will reduce cost, food waste, and control your portion sizes.
#4. Let’s Do Lunch! Lunch menus are often significantly less expensive than dinner, for the same food. Lunch portions are still quite large. Many restaurants offer a variety of lunch specials. So consider dining at lunch and save yourself some dough and calories!
#5. Appetizers, Anyone? Order an appetizer as your meal. The portions are huge, the cost is usually less, and these days many come with “sides” such as small salads or fries. Better yet, share 2 appetizers, one with a main dish style and one that has more of a side dish feel. You will likely get more food for less money this way.
#6. Desert the Dessert! Skip dessert (and appetizers too if you order an entrée). If you really want a sweet item, pick up something at the store on the way home. Or consider eating at home and dining out just for dessert.
#7. Buy Local! Local restaurants, particularly ethnic (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) often have lower prices than chain restaurants and many times better food. Many local restaurants also purchase ingredients locally, which keeps costs down and stimulates your local economy.
#8. Clip Coupons! Many restaurants offer coupons for free or discounted menu items. Use them! Just remember to tip on your full bill before the coupon.
#9. Deal Day! There are many restaurants that want to fill seats mid-week so they offer kids eat free or discounted days. Take advantage! www.MyKidsEatFree.com can help you find restaurants in your area with deals for kids (remember to search surrounding towns to get all the deals around you).
#10 To Go! Carry-out gives you the yummy restaurant food you want without the costs of drinks or tips. Plus you don’t have to worry about your kids disrupting someone else’s meal. And no one interrupts you every few minutes (unless you ask the kids to do that for you!). If you really want the restaurant experience, you could ask some strangers to sit at the other end of the table and talk loudly and play some bad music too loudly but I think I would prefer the peace of my home environment without the added “ambiance” of most restaurants!
How do you save money when you eat out? Post your tips in the comments!