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How to Save Money when Eating Out





Eating out is one budget item that we try to minimize as it’s typically a ‘want’.  To compensate, we do a lot of cooking in the evenings and often in bulk so that it can be brown bagged for lunch during a work day.  However, on occasion, we do like to splurge a bit and go out to a nice restaurant. Or other times when we are too tired to cook, we’ll grab a quick sandwich from Subway or Quiznos.  Even with the luxury of eating out, there are still ways to save money to keep the luxury expense to a minimum.

Here are some of those strategies that I use often to save money while eating out:

Coupons/Specials

Before heading out to Quiznos for a sandwich, I always jump online and see the current specials or if there is a coupon available.  Sometimes they offer a free drink with purchase, or even a free sub with equivalent purchase.  Most big chains have coupons or specials during various days of the week that can be used to save a few dollars off your meal.  The more you eat out, the more you’ll save with using coupons or waiting for specials.

Share

If you have a significant other, sharing your meal is another great way to reduce the cost of eating out.  For example, whenever we got to Subway we order one large sandwich with chips/drink and split the works.  Providing that I’m not overly hungry, it’s plenty of food for us and light on the pocket book .  Even entrees in main stream restaurants can be quite large and more than enough for two people, just ask the server to bring out an extra plate.

Have Water

Unless I’m out for a social event, I typically order tap water with my meal.  With a pint of  beer or glass of wine costing $5-$8, or even a soft drink costing $3, with tax and tip on top, those little charges can add up in a hurry.

Skip Dessert

Ever notice that desserts can be disproportionately priced higher than the regular food items on the menu?  It’s because the markup on dessert can be quite high.  For us, if we have a sweet craving afterwards, we head out to the local ice cream shop where soft serve ice cream are relatively low cost.

Timing

Perhaps one of the more strategic ways to save money while eating out is to time it!  As mentioned earlier about finding specials, most restaurants have attractive pricing during the days that are slower, for a lot of them it’s Monday – Wednesday.  Or another example is when we travel to the mainland, we enjoy getting our fill of Dim Sum.  If you go in the off hours which is after the lunch rush, the dishes get a reduced pricing.

Get to Know the Owners/Managers

If you frequent a particular restaurant, make an effort to get to know the restaurant ownership or management. Restaurant owners appreciate regular visitors, and may kick in free extras during meals or even a discount off your bill.

For those of you who frequent restaurants, what are your strategies to save money?





21 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. Brian

    Our family does the sharing thing and the water and almost never desert. Usually sharing a drink and fries. I often wonder what the restaurant thinks.

    I am craving Quiznos a little now after reading your post!

  2. 2. Echo

    While we don’t dine out as often as we used to after our daughter was born, I definitely agree that getting to know the restaurant owner/manager can be beneficial.

    Before we went out for our anniversary, I went to the restaurant’s website and asked if they would feature a specific dish that my wife enjoyed the last time we ate there. The owner replied right back to me and said they would feature it as their special. When we arrived, they had a great table set up for us, and the owner was there and bought us a 1/2 litre of wine AND dessert as a thank-you for spending our anniversary there.

  3. 3. andrewbpaterson

    My wife always complains – somewhat jokingly – about how we NEVER go out to eat unless there’s a coupon in The Entertainment Book! Most friends (who are oftentimes married couples) laugh at us as husband awkwardly looks at wife out of the corner of his eye, undoubtedly thinking, “I wonder if *she’d* mind if I tried to pull that one off…”

    We usually use the buy-one-get-one-free offers…and some of these places are really nice!

  4. For those of you that like to splurge once in a while, there are websites such as Groupon where restaurants offer deals such as a “$50 gift certificate for $25″. These are typically nicer restaurants and great for special occasions, etc.

    All great suggestions listed above, but remember that a beer or glass of wine once in a while isn’t going to completely derail your financial plans.

    Also, for people who truly value dining out, just cut back in other areas.

  5. My wife and I enjoy going out but with the new HST. However 2 tips:

    1. Use Entertainment Book – buy when on sale and usually get one entree free.
    2. Use Coupon Websites – we post many coupons – usually Fast Food. http://coupons.groceryalerts.ca
    3. Visit the restaurants website – sometimes they will have a coupon for a free appy.

    Having a glass of beer or wine at dinner usually boosts the price of dining out.

  6. 6. Brandon

    All the big chain fast food places (mcdonalds, wendys, etc) give free drink refills ;)

  7. I will go to Shoppers Drug Mart when they have the $20 gift cards for Milestones, Kelseys and Harveys. If you need to buy soap then why not do it then and get a free meal out of it.

  8. 8. Jenna

    Happy Hour! Great way to meet up with friends and eat for cheap.

  9. Agree with Tiny Potato on using Groupon – we’ve saved decent money on a few nice places with it, as opposed to the dives in the entertainment books or junk food stores like quiznos. Also – tip decently and be pleasant to your friendly regular bartender/waiter at local places (doesn’t work at chains or places staffed by teenagers). They will comp you pints and appetizers for the loyalty.

  10. Great tips guys/gals.

    @guinness, Quiznos does have some healthy stuff on their menu!

  11. Maybe, but if I can’t resist the bad ones when I step in there it doesn’t matter!

  12. 12. BadCaleb

    Ever since the kids came along we don’t eat out very often. But since we are huge foodies, when we do go out its adults only and at a nice restaurant. I’ll splurge on beer or wine (just me since wife is allergic) and she usually has dessert since I don’t care for sweets. So we don’t go out to eat much but when we do (I’d say once every few months) we’ll go all out.

  13. 13. David Prior

    Why would one tip 15% on the tax element in the bill ? – We ate out yesterday – food cost $31.49 + HST 4.09 – 15% on $4.09 = .61 cents – not exactly hard math (mentally I made it 60 cents) – I tipped $4.50 – surely enough for a lunch for two ? No comment re food or service which was acceptable.

  14. 14. Elbyron

    Buying discounted gift cards for your favorite restaurants is a great way to save on eating out. Comment #8 mentioned Shoppers Drug Mart, but those deals are infrequent. Costco has a display of gift cards for a few different restaurants (and other places too), which are always available at a decent discount. Also, around Christmas time, keep an eye out for restaurants offering a bonus amount when you buy a gift card. Though the bonuses usually have to be used in the first few months of the new year, if it’s one of your favorite restaurants then that’s not much of a limitation.

  15. 15. Laura

    This is a great list! I always follow the tap water rule. Drinks are part of what employees add on to add quickly to the bill. That’s why if you go to Micky D’s they’ll always ask you if you want a drink or if you want to make it a meal. That’s all part of their sales pitch. You might not know you want something until someone tells you that you can have it.
    Restaurant.com is a great new way to save. You can buy reduced priced gift cards there. The only catch is you might have to spend $50 to get $25 off, but if you bring a lot of people or frequent the establishment, it can definitely be worth it.

  16. 16. StephenRudy

    The wife and I have three kids and we eat out as infrequently as possible – special occasions only. If we both buy a $12 meal and the kids each get a $6 meal (which is all on the low-end of estimates), then we share a Pepsi between the two of us (free refills) and get 3-4 tap waters, it still works out to maybe $55 including tax and tip. I just can’t justify that cost to feed a family one single meal. All I can think about is how many groceries I could buy for $55.

    Regarding sharing a meal, I don’t mind ordering a meal for the kids to share, but for two adults to go into a decent restaurant and order one meal with water for drinks and then ask for an extra plate to split the food, I would just feel like an idiot and would sooner not go out at all than to pull that off.

  17. 17. Calvin

    When I eat out with my wife, we follow the tap water rule as well. Well, maybe adding a piece of lemon on top depending on the restaurant.

    Definitely no alcoholic drink, and rarely any soft drink. I just couldn’t stand paying $3 for a pop when I can have 12-pack at home for the same cost.

    We also share appy and desert (if ordering at all).

    90% of our eating out is for lunch, which is often cheaper.

    Steak dinner is always enjoyed at home (what? $40 for a slab of meat?)

    ALWAYS doggy bag if there is any leftover.

    Use coupons, VIP cards, gift cards…where available

    Go to ethnic restaurants – they tend to be cheaper. I LOVE Vancouver for so many choices from different countries! It’s heaven for ethnic foodies like me.

    And now since HST is in effect (in BC) I also make an effort to calculate tips on pre-tax total, and reducing eating out altogether.

  18. 18. Pacific

    My sweetie and me often share a meal, unless one of us is really hungary.
    The portions are often “American-sized” which is really too big. Water to drink, always, with lemon if asked for.

    We don’t feel ‘funny’ about ordering a shared meal, as, sometimes we are not that hungary. It’s also a question of “do they want any business or no business?”

  19. 19. BankVibe

    One thing we do when we eat out is search google for coupons. Now-a-days you will find a coupon for almost any place, restaurant or store. For instance if I were to order pizza, I could save $10 just by using a coupon for Papa Johns. I also get water and stay away from soda, while at the same time I cannot skip dessert!

  20. 20. Jimmy McJimerson

    Just remember…..you have about 90 years to enjoy this place…. If you don’t go out and enjoy a couple good ” Dinner & Drinks” every now and then you may regret that when you’re in the oldies home :)

    I’m headin to the Keg for a new york and a couple pints YeeHaw,

  21. 21. Gerard

    +1 on the ethnic restaurants, and the off-hours dim sum. It’s not leftovers — their turnover is too high for that — it’s just them trying to put butts in seats off-hours. Sometimes the actual items available are less fancy, but often more offbeat and interesting. It’s really fun to go about ten in the morning, when many places are packed with older Chinese people meeting for a good yarn.

    I’ve only recently worked up the nerve to ask for a second plate to share an entree in a restaurant, and I’m glad I did. I find restaurant servings ridiculously huge, and I’m a big (230-pound) guy! And I completely agree about skipping the dessert, as I’m already full by then and not a big dessert guy anyway. Of course, that only works if the person you’re with left his/her sweet tooth at home!

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