How to eat out at restaurants on the cheap
Eating out at restaurants adds up so quickly. It's not just the price of the food, it's the tax, and not being a cheap tipper that can add really pile on the cost. But I've got a baker's dozen in tips for you on how to eat out at restaurants on the cheap!
(1) Sign up for loyalty programs, emails, texts, apps, birthday clubs, and punch cards.
Restaurants offer some of their best deals and coupons through their loyalty programs and contact lists. Some even put out emails and texts on a weekly basis containing discounts, free offers, and special deal alerts. Others are more loyalty- based and you earn discounts and free food after a certain number of visits or purchases. Swagbucks.com/cashback has a new app that earns you cash back at numerous local restaurants – even ones that don't normally have coupons or discounts.
(2) Know the special offer schedule.
Restaurants typically follow some kind of special offer schedule. Whether it's 99 cent taco Tuesday or half-off burgers Thursday, you can save by coordinating your visits to the right day.
(3) Eat out during the week and at home on weekends.
The best restaurant offers are rarely on the weekends. They have them during the week to boost traffic. For example, many offer a select menu with things like “Two can dine” or “$8.99 weeknight specials”. You save 20-30% just changing the day you eat out.
(4) Early bird gets the savings.
The same goes for when you eat. Lunch menus offer the exact same items (sometimes in slightly smaller portions) but for much cheaper. And you often can even take advantage of lunch pricing as late as 4:00 p.m.Might seem a bit early for dinner but when you're saving – eat early and enjoy dessert later at home!
(5) Kids eat free offers or have kids share an adult meal.
Kid's meals are rarely cheap anymore. At some places, a kid's meal can cost more than half the price of an adult meal. Take advantage of kids eat free days or buy one adult meal and have kids share. Some meals come with so much food, they can easily feed 2-3 kids.
(6) Share a meal yourself – and if you need to, add one side.
If you're eating at a restaurant with generous portions – which is a large majority of restaurants – share a meal. Don't order based on how hungry (and possibly cranky) you feel when you arrive. Compromise on sharing and, if you need to, add one extra side – which is usually less than $3 – a far cry from $10 for a whole second meal.
(7) Order off the kids or senior menu.
There are restaurants that allow anyone to order from their smaller-portions menu. Ask if you can if you're not that hungry.
(8) Ask if they offer things ala carte or have a “secret” menu.
It's not uncommon for restaurants to have ways to order only one thing – rather than the whole meal. For example, Mexican restaurants will often sell you just the burrito – without the sides of rice, beans, and guacamole for a low ala carte price.
(9) Consider the appetizers.
Appetizers can sometimes be the absolute best value on a menu. Just inquire about the portion sizes. A large platter of several items might be just $10 but be enough to feed two people.
(10) Go where they give you bottomless extras.
These can be anything from bottomless fries to unlimited bread sticks to all the chips and salsa you can eat. Filling up on these freebies lets you order less food (especially for kids) while still ordering enough to warrant all those delicious free biscuits.
(11) Find your local coupon books.
Nearly every area has some kind of coupon book. Sometimes they are fundraisers but more often they are just plain free. Local restaurants advertise in them – and will offer some of their best deals in them. In fact, you can sometimes find coupons for restaurants that otherwise don't offer coupons, not to mention learning about restaurants you might otherwise never even knew existed. Check the counters of other local businesses or even do a search online to find out what books exist and your area and where to get your hands on one.
(12) Don't throw away those mailers!
Sure, a lot of what's in them is just junk mail. But those mailers can contain coupons from national restaurant chains. Comb through them before tossing into the recycle bin.
(13) Order to go.
Sure, it's technically not eating out but you can save up to 60% on the tip by just leaving a couple of dollars for the person that helped with your order, rather than the full tip you'd pay dining in. Plus, if you have a picky eater, you can save money by letting them choose from what's already in the house and still dine as a family.