According to the National Restaurant Association, industry sales were expected to hit a record high of $709.2B. It is not a shocking figure at all because a lot of people do eat out and they eat quite often.
People have different reasons for eating out. Some eat out because it’s more convenient, some just don’t have time to cook, and some just don’t know how to cook.
Whatever reasons they may be, we all know that going out to eat is much more expensive than cooking and eating at home. Nevertheless, a lot of people still eat out.
I can’t speak for everybody who likes to save but I like eating out once or twice even though I know that eating out could possibly cost me more than what I want to spend. I put the word “possibly” in my previous sentence because I always make sure that I have my arsenals (i.e. tips and tricks) with me when I go out to eat.
Save Money Eating Out: The How-To Guide
Here are the tips and tricks that I always carry to ensure that I shell out the least amount I can possibly draw from my wallet:
Do not forget to bring your coupons
Never go to a restaurant without bringing your coupons. That's the first rule in saving money when eating out.
Unless you’re going to a fancy restaurant that may not offer or accept coupons, you are almost always guaranteed to find coupons for restaurants. There are ways to get those coupons. You can go to coupon websites such as Coupons.com, Retail Me Not, Snip Snap, just to a name a few.
Buy gift cards online
You can buy gift cards online at discounted prices.
Visit sites such as Living Social, Restaurant.com, and Groupon to get massive savings on restaurant gift cards. Some of the discounts go as high as 50%. Since these discounts don’t come as often as you want them to, there are websites where you can still get some discounts on gift cards.
Although you’re not going to see two-digit discount rates, a discount even a small is still a discount after all. You can check out Gift Card Nanny and Raise for discounted gift cards.
Always find specials or promotions
Restaurants never run out of specials or promotions. It's one of the best ways to save money when eating out.
Research before you head to the restaurant of your choice. You can research online and/or call ahead to check what specials or promotions they have. Some restaurants have early bird specials, buy 1 get 1 promotions, among others.
Make sure you first make your diligent research before heading out to eat. Almost always, lunch is cheaper than dinner. If you can go to lunch instead of dinner, then, you’re looking at saving some dollars.
Skip the drinks
When eating out, always skip the soda, coffee, and teas whenever they are not free.
The costs of drinks are so unbelievable and way too high that it’s better if you skip them. Plus, it's much healthier if you opt for water.
It doesn’t mean that you can go thirsty while eating. You can always order water. If you don’t like plain water, you can always ask for a lemon in it.
Order either the appetizer or the main dish (not both)
In order to save eating out, it is best to order either the appetizer or the main dish only.
There’s no policy in the restaurant that you can’t make your appetizer as your main dish. Most of the time, the appetizer’s portion is too big that you can feel full so fast.
One key trick to keep yourself from buying both is to eat a little bit at home so you feel a little stuffed. Once you are in the restaurant, then, you’ll feel that an appetizer is more than enough for you.
This tip always works for my family (including me).
Share a meal
Ever noticed that the restaurants provide meal portion so big you don’t know what to do with it?
My theory is that they do this so you are enticed and convinced enough to come back again. I think that they want you to believe that you’re getting your money’s worth.
Let’s put an end to my unfounded theories and let’s go back to the share-a-meal topic.
The truth is that the portion of your meal is big enough that you can share it with somebody else. One time, my wife and I ordered different meals. The portions were too big that we ended up having a ton of leftover. Of course, we brought it home and used it as my lunch for work.
Have your dessert at home
If you are a fan of sweets and you like making them, you probably know that desserts at restaurants are really expensive. Avoid ordering desserts when eating out.
In addition, the portion is so small that you may need to order more. Instead of ordering the dessert, you can always get something from the grocery store after you eat and it’ll be way cheaper and will last you for a couple of dessert sit-downs.
Always bring the leftovers
It is so amazing how many people just leave their leftovers on the table.
It’s their food that they paid using their money. It is sometimes inconceivable how people just leave their food when they can eat it at home or bring it for lunch the following day. Restaurants have to go boxes that you can use for free.
So, the simple tip here when you're eating out, bring leftovers home.
Always pay with a credit card
If you happen to have a credit card with rewards or points, it is best to use your credit cards. This is based on the premise that you know how to control your spending and that you use your card for this purpose and not because you don’t have money.
You’ll be saving a little bit by using your credit card than just paying by cash.
My wife and I never use cash for just about anything. We always use credit cards with rewards or cash back because we get something back in return. We have been able to control our expenses and so, it's not a big deal for us to use our credit cards.
Always leave a tip
This may sound like counter-intuitive to saving. But if you go often to the same restaurants and your servers know you and how you tip, they may be able to get you some things for free or for deep discounts.
Even if they don’t give you something the next time you return, just remember that the servers work mostly on tips. If they provided you great service, I think that they deserve your tip.
It is possible to save money even with eating out.
You may need to take baby steps to learn the tips and tricks at first. But when you have a good handle on them, you’ll be saving money. If you’re lucky, you may get the food for a few dollars or even free when you combine your coupons, discounted gift cards, and credit cards.
When my family is eating out, we always manage to save at least 30% off of our bill. That may not be a lot of discounts for some people but for us, any small discount is savings.
What have you done to save money when eating out? Do you believe that it's ok to eat out once in a while?