Eating out can at times be a fun thing to do and others a necessity. More often than not it is also expensive to do. So how can you save when you do eat out? Inspired by a slide show I saw about this today on Huffpost.com from Money Talks News, I thought I’d pass these ways to save on along with some observations I have about them as well.
- Buy discounted gift certificates through Restaurant.com. Don’t expect to find national chains here, local restaurants in your area offer deeply discounted gift certificates in hopes of drawing new customers that turn into repeat visitors. You can get $5 for as little as $2, $50 for $20, and $100 for as little as $40. I have personally used this several times before, and for the most part, it has been a good experience. The gift certificates don’t expire, can be emailed to you right after purchase, and can be reprinted if you lose them. Over 18,000 restaurants are currently on the site. Downsides are that you may not be familiar with many on the available list, they can only be used for food purchases (not drinks, tax or tips), can not be used with other discounts or promotions, and most importantly, are non-refundable.
- Use online deal sites. If you are not a member of Living Social or Groupon, you should be. Everyday these sites list heavily discounted offers for businesses, events, merchandise and even restaurants in your area. As with the gift certificates from restaurant.com, these offers are non-refundable once purchased and most do have expiration dates, so make sure you will actually use it before you purchase. i am a member of both sites and have scored some great deals including $10 Starbucks cards for only $5, family mini golf passes for $10 and magazine subscriptions for $5. And that’s not to mention discovering some great local eateries I otherwise may never have tried before. One downside to these sites is that you will get a LOT of emails, everyday, from them, so I suggest setting up a separate email address that you only use for inline shopping to prevent clogging up your personal inbox.
- Check in on social media apps. Using apps such as Foursuare, SCVGNR and Yelp Check-ins can also save you money when you check in with them when you arrive at participating businesses. You may get discounts or even free items such as an appetizer or dessert.
- Ask for deals on special occasions. It may not always work, but hey, you never know. When you get seated let your server know about your special day and you may be able to get a discount, a free dessert or even a birthday serenade by the staff. I’ve actually gotten all three at several places including the Cheesecake Factory and Romano’s. You might also want to sign up for any clubs that restaurants on your area have, many offer discounts or free items on your special day. A list of many local and national places are listed on my Eat tab on my own Freeb’ham blog and there is also a site called eatfreeonyourbirthday.com dedicated to this.
- Follow the restaurant on Twitter. Most businesses on Twitter will occasionally offer things to their followers for re-tweeting something or doing something for them such as saying a code word or phrase to your server.
- Like them on Facebook. As with Twitter, businesses also offer followers who “like” their page insider access to special deals, contests, info and offers.
- Use apps. Money Matters recommends several smartphone apps that can also save you money, including Local Eats and The Valpak App.
- Blue plate it. Blueplating means eating at times when others are not, usually during the off hours such as having an early dinner. You may save as much as 50% by doing this.
- BYOB or go elsewhere for your drinks. It is no surprise that drinks are expensive at restaurants, there is a substantial markup alcoholic beverages at most places much like there is on popcorn at the theater. One possible solution is to bring you own bottle of libations. Although uncommon, it does exist and you can always call ahead to see if they allow it. You may be charged a “corkage fee” to be allowed to bring it in with you and the staff may have to open and serve it for you. If this isn’t an option consider going elsewhere for your drinks. Bars and taverns are almost always cheaper than having drinks at a full-service restaurant, and there may be one close to where you are eating.
- Share your meal or split it in two. I have often gone to places where the portion sizes are too big for one sitting. If you are on a date or with family, why not share your plate? This gives both more intimacy to your meal as well as saving on the cost of it. Another option is splitting it in two. Eat one half and take the other home for lunch or dinner tomorrow, just ask for a take home box.
- Know your meat. Filet mignon is very popular, but it is also one of the most expensive cuts. The t-bone is a great steak and is actually a bone-in strip steak with a smaller portion of a fillet mignon and usually costs less than a full size fillet. Hanger, flank, sirloin and skirt steaks are also good cuts that cost less.
- Eat like a local. As Money Talks writes, one thing I have learned over the years is that the best way to experience the places you travel is to eat like a local, which means eat where they eat. When travelling in North Carolina one time I asked someone working in a gas station where I could find a good BBQ joint. I almost got lost going there as it was a bit off the beaten path, but it was much better than a chain, plus I got to see some sights and have some good conversation as well. Apps such as Urban Spoon and Yelp can also help. Look for places that are highly rated by locals, look at their menu online, call ahead and save yourself some time in the process.
- Pick the place. If someone suggests you go out with them, pick the place you go to. That way you can avoid going to Ruth’s Chris when you have a Golden Corral budget. If you are going with a group, suggest a spending limit.
- Become Norm. On the TV series Cheers, everyone knew Norm by name. Do that at your favorite place and become a regular. Not only will they know your name, but you’re also more likely to get better service, get discounts and be in the know of what’s going on there. Plus you may also get your own reserved place when you come.
- The last one is straight from Money Talks: “With iDine, you can earn 5 to 15 percent back any time you eat out. Just sign up on their website. Within 30 days of your meal, sign on and complete a quick survey. For every survey you take, you’ll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card. It takes some effort, but it’s free money.” I personally have not tried this yet, but I will soon.
- **Bonus method – Tapas**: Tapas are literally small plates of food, think of appetizers. Traditional Spanish tapas bars serve meat, cheese, salad and tortillas along with olive oil and drinks for light evening meals. More restaurants in this country are now offering tapas and savings versus larger meals can be substantial. Plus, if you’re with others this can be a great outing as you try a variety of dishes with your companions.
Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive, and it can lead to some new experiences. Happy dining!