11 Simple Ways to Save Money at Restaurants

posted by Andrea | 09/7/2011

{Dave and I eating at a really fancy restaurant on our honeymoon}

Although Dave and I enjoy going out to eat every once in a while, we make it a habit of eating at home, packing our own lunch, and making food from scratch as a way to significantly reduce our monthly expenses.

However, I know there are TONS of people who aren’t like us and frequently go out to eat — either because they are too busy, on vacation, or just as a treat. And ever since I mentioned that restaurants were one of the 10 things we don’t spend money on, I’ve received so many questions asking about different ways to save money at restaurants.

So… here are a few ideas to save money AND enjoy a night out.

1. Use coupons:

There are SO many different restaurant coupons available in magazines, the newspaper, on deal blogs, on Facebook, and even simply by visiting the restaurant’s website. Dave and I have had several occasions where we wanted to go to a specific restaurant and I found BOGO coupons after a quick internet search.

2. Visit the restaurant during a special sales or promotion:

Yes, the restaurant might be a little busier during a sale, but this is definitely one of the simplest ways to save money at your favorite restaurants.

3. Ask for gift cards:

One of the main reasons Dave and I rarely spend money going out to eat is because we get lots of gift cards. We ask for them for Christmas, for our birthdays, and he gets a bunch for coaching different sports at school. Plus, gift cards are one of the easiest gifts to give so I’m sure no one would be upset with that request!

4. Go early or late to get happy hour and late-night specials:

Most restaurants have great Happy Hours specials; and even though Dave and I are still too cheap to buy alcohol, it’s a great time to go and get really great deals food — plus, you miss the dinner-time rush!

5. Eat something other than a full meal:

You can save a lot by skipping the full meal and just going out for coffee, dessert, or even splitting an appetizer. You’ll still get some time away, you’ll still get to relax at your favorite restaurant, just at a fraction of the price!

6. Skip the drinks and get water:

No, I’m not just talking about alcoholic drinks, but any drink! I simply can’t stand spending $2.99 for a glass of lemonade or pop when water is free — and much better for me. Just think, a family of 5 would save $15 by drinking water!

7. Split a meal:

Dave and I do this all the time because portions at most restaurants are SO large. Sometimes we’ll just order an extra side salad or cup of soup to go with the meal and that’s plenty of food for both of us.

8: Order a full-size meal, not a half:

If you don’t want to split a meal, but can’t eat the full meal yourself, simply take the leftovers home. Ordering a “half portion” is usually only a few dollars cheaper for half the food. If you take the other half of your meal home, you can eat it for leftovers the next day and get two meals for the price of one!

9. Go places where kids eat free:

There are TONS of restaurants where kids eat free. Sometimes, the restaurants even allow two free kid’s meals with each adult meal purchase.

10. Eat dessert at home:

I know dessert always sounds so good at the end of a delicious meal, but is it really worth the extra $4-$8.00 {and the extra calories}? Skip dessert and have a chocolate candy or brownie when you get home.

11. Sign up for birthday freebies:

If you think about it, one time you will almost certainly go out to eat is for your birthday, so by signing up for birthday freebies, you’ll get all kinds of great deals to use during your birthday week and month. I just had a birthday in June and received so many completely free meals and desserts that I think Dave and I ate out every night for the whole week — and it was almost all free!

 

So these are just a few of my ideas to help you save money at restaurants; however, I’m fully aware that there are plenty of occasions which call for a celebration and just wouldn’t be the same unless you got drinks, appetizers, a full meal, and dessert. For those situations, it’s totally fine to indulge and splurge a bit {or a lot!}. Just keep my ideas in mind for the “I don’t have anything planned for dinner and we’re hungry” kind of days!

Don’t Forget the Tip:

Even if you do use coupons, split meals, and get great deals; it’s still important to tip your waiter/waitress at least 15% of the total value BEFORE any coupons and discounts. We almost always tip at least 20%, especially if they did a great job. Your server should not be penalized because you’re trying to get a deal! 

I actually know someone who always orders water and splits a meal with his wife. However, he tells the server right up front that he will tip them 20% of whatever it would cost for two full meals and two drinks. He says it’s amazing how the server instantly perks up and gives them great service for the rest of the meal!

Isn’t that a great idea! 

How about you? How do you save money at restaurants?

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5 comments

  1. Alison

    09/10/2011

    Certain days of the week are cheaper, we found out. During the early part of the week we found was the cheapest. Thanks for your blog, I love it!

    [Reply]

  2. Elise

    01/10/2012

    Good tips. As a frugal college student who loves coupons, I already do many of these! Also as a waitress, I appreciate the note on tipping. So many people end up “stiffing” me when they use coupons or have some kind of discount. It’s simply not fair to me, when they tip me on the post-coupon price (especially when it’s half as much or even more). People need to remember that no matter what you pay, the server is STILL (generally) making $2.65 an hour!

    Great blog :)

    [Reply]

  3. Lorna

    02/24/2012

    We don’t eat out all that often. When we do, we usually get water instead of pop. Often, we’ll order pizza at a favorite place and then just pick it up to eat at home.

    We snowmobile (when there is snow!) and most often we eat breakfast at the cabin or motel, then have a snack on the trails and fix supper in the crock pot back at the cabin or motel. Gas costs too much to eat every meal out on our trips!

    [Reply]

  4. Kyla

    05/03/2012

    THANK YOU for including the bit about tipping the server. Good advice.

    [Reply]

  5. John

    02/20/2013

    I love using daily deal coupon sites for BOGO. There is a new site that lets me customize my own deals for when I go to restaurants. http://www.peoplebidding.com plus you can save money on a lot of other services. I saw this at a restaurant trade show I went to in Chicago.
    P.S I also like the tip about tipping servers….I used to work at a restaurant

    [Reply]

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