Ten Ways To Save Money Eating Out At Restaurants

by Hank Coleman

Ten great ways to save money eating out at restaurantsMy wife and I love to eat out at restaurants. Thanks to a recent look at how I spend my money, 8.8% of my income actually goes towards eating out every month in fact. But, I do not make any apologies for it.

My wife and I simply hate cooking and love eating out at restaurants. It is something that we love to do. So, my wife and I make a conscious effort to budget eating out at restaurants to so much.

We all know that it can be very expensive, but you can also save money while still eating out a lot. You simply have to make smart decisions while you are at the restaurant. Below are ten of the best ways to save money eating out at restaurants…

Ways To Save Money Eating Out At Restaurants

1.    Buy Restaurant.com Gift Cards –
With Restaurant.com, you can purchase gift cards to over 18,000 restaurants across the country for pennies on the dollar. For as little as $10, you can receive a $25 Restaurant.com gift card that can be used in tons of locations near you. I was completely blown away by how much I saved using Restaurant.com the first time. Now I’m hooked.

2.    Discount Cards – My children are constantly selling discount cards to local area restaurants for their school’s fundraiser. These cards often cost $10 or so, but I have literally made my money back after the first use. Our favorite restaurants around town offer 25% off of your meal or even a buy one, get one free entre. This is a great way to save throughout the year. We even went as far as purchase some from other friends whose kids attend different schools because the deals on the other discount cards were so good.

3.    Weekly Specials – One thing that many people may not realize or utilize are weekly specials that almost all restaurants are implementing these days. Pay attention to the restaurants that you frequent most often.

When do they have 10 cent wing night? When do they have kids eat free night? We keep a running list of which restaurants in our area have which types of deals on certain days. My wife and I often wait to the last minute to decide where to eat, but it helps us save money eating out when we know who offers deals and when.

4.    Friend Your Favorites – Just like you can like Money Q&A on Facebook, you can like most restaurants on Facebook as well. Even mom and pop locations now are finding their way online in an effort to drum up more business. This is a great opportunity for you to find new deals and coupons online.

Many restaurants offer great deals and coupons for newsletter subscribers too. Do not be bashful when signing up for these newsletters to get a great deal. If you are worried about spam, set up a new free email account just for these newsletters.

5.    Portion Control – Another great way to save money eating out at restaurants is to practice portion control. Now more than ever, portions at restaurants have grown considerably and are huge. Portion control can come in a variety of methods.

When I asked several great personal finance bloggers, Beating Broke mentioned sharing portions with members of your party. Hunter from Financially Consumed recommended to be sure to take leftovers home if it is too much. That alone to me is like saving 50% on each meal if I can pay once and wind up with two meals out of it.

6.    Have A Spending Plan – Okay I won’t call this setting a budget, but you have to have some idea as to how much you can spend per month on eating out. Are you willing to spend $100 per week? What happens if you blow that on one meal? Are you going to go home the other six nights and eat Ramon Noodles?

That’s the kind of discipline it unfortunately takes. It is okay to spend a lot of money on something that you love, but you have to set limits before hand and stick to them.

7.    Check Out Groupon – YFS from Your Finances Simplified recommended using Groupon or Living Social to find great deals on restaurants in your area. Like Restaurant.com, using Groupon and Living Social are great resources to save money eating out at restaurants. In my local area, our daily newspaper is even trying to start a service on the newspaper’s website similar to Groupon that offers very specific deals only in our immediate area.

8.    Go Out For Lunch Instead – We all know that lunch at restaurants is typically less expensive than dinner. Eating lunch instead of dinner is a great way to save money while eating out at restaurants. This is a favorite tactic of the Prairie Eco Thrifter who also points out that the portions at lunch are much smaller too which will not only help your wallet but also your waistline.

Save on all the things you love to do!9.    Buy An Entertainment Book – I hadn’t thought of this idea of buying an Entertainment Book until Jason from Live Real, Now mentioned it to me. I remember Ryan from Cash Money Life has always praised the deals available in the Entertainment book as well.

I haven’t even seen one since I was a little kid and my mother would buy them. I know that they still exist and a great resource to save money eating out at restaurants.

10.  Drink Water – Several of the friends that I polled for this article such as Eric from Dollar Versity mentioned drinking only water in an effort to save money. This is a great tip since alcoholic drinks are expensive and can quickly make your bill spiral out of control.

I also learned this lesson the hard way with my youngest son who orders chocolate milk everywhere we go, and most restaurants do not offer free refills on milk like they do for soda. Three milks later, not only does he have a stomachache, but I have a bloated bill from the restaurant as well.

Do you have any tips to save money eating out at restaurants? Which method to save money eating out at restaurants is your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and is currently pursuing his Certified Financial Planner credentials. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 499 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Will

My girlfriend and I are big fans of eating out. I think I’m definitely gonna take suggestion #1 and run with it. I’m not a big Groupon or Living Social fan. The biggest problem with their deals is that when those deals are run, the staff is (usually) not that friendly. I’ve asked around and I was told that most people tip according to their (heavily discounted) bill, not the actual value of their meals. Anyway, thanks for sharing this. With the abundance of places to eat in NYC, I’m pretty sure I’ll get a whole lot of mileage out of this :-)
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Hank

I was using a Groupon at one of my favorite restaurants the other month and asked the owner when he was going to do it again, and he said never because it cost him so much in lost revenue/profit. I know that it drove a lot of customers to him, but it still squeezed his margins that month.

You bring up a great point about tipping. You have to be conscious of the old total, and that is definitely the amount that you should calculate your tip from. It is a shame that people do not do it right but you are right….it definitely happens a lot.
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Hunter - Financially Consumed

Excellent post Hank. This is definitely the time of year when I need to watch my portion control.
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Hank

Amen, Hunter. You are definitely right. It is #10 that gets me into trouble with my waist line.
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Miss T @ Prairie EcoThrifter

Great tips. I liked reading what people have found to be helpful. And like Hunter said, with the holidays is when we need to be extra diligent.
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Vince Thorne

Good points there Hank! Restaurants are indeed titing the supply-demand balance in favor of the consumers and everything we can do to take advantage of that should be done. Its just how the aiport food is ridiculously overpriced.
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Edward Antrobus

Don’t forget loyalty cards and other restaurant promotions. My wife and I eat out at a Mongolian Grill chain quite often. We have a loyalty card that gives us $10 off for every $100 we spend and have branded t-shirts that give us 10% off our entrees.

The other problem with Groupon/Living Social is that they are still pretty geographically limited. They have the bigger cities pegged, but smaller areas are out of luck.
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Hank

That’s a great point, Edward! I can’t belive that I forget about them. I have several loyalty cards to our favorite restaurants. It seems like more and more are going toward that route. I never heard of the t-shirt deal though. I think that I would feel a little cheesy wearing a specific shirt to get 10% off. I would have to really love the shirt. Hard Rock Cafe should offer that deal. I’d be all over it! Thanks!
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funancials

Hank-

Great job pulling all of these together. Had I responded – I would’ve repeated Eric’s thoughts about drinks. Entirely too costly…

…best deal is 1/2 price bottles of wine.
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Maggie@SquarePennies

Good tips! We like to get specials. When I know I’m going to be taking half of my meal home (those portions are huge!) I ask for a take-home container right away when my meal is served. That way I can put half in the container before I ever start eating. The food will last longer in the refrigerator without my saliva in it to start pre-digesting it. I try to eat the leftovers the next day, but I can wait an extra day this way.
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Hank

That’s an interesting idea. I never thought of starting the meal by asking for a box. Do you ever get weird looks from the server?
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Maggie@SquarePennies

Not that I’ve noticed!
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Noel

You lost me on your first point itself. IMO, restaurant.com doesn’t give you all the information. When I bought $50 gift card, I was informed I can use it only if I spend more than $100 and the bill will include 18% tip by default, I like it or not. Though I only spent $4 for that gift card, it will not be used because of this condition. Me and my wife can not eat $100 worth food in the restaurant I bought the card for and it is not valid for take out.

Second point is the tip. I wouldn’t mind paying 18% if I get that quality service, what if I don’t? I still pay

I am not impressed and won’t recommend restaurant.com to anyone.

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Hank

Great point, Noel. I guess that it comes down to understanding what you are buying and knowing the fine print of the deal or gift certificate. Still if you can use the Restaurant.com gift cards, they are a great deal. As for the 18% tip, I give 15% no matter what. So, I won’t let 3% dissuade me from scoring a great deal. That is a great protection for the servers who often get shorted on these great deals when people tip on the amount they pay and not the true value of the food.
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Diana

For us older folks, don’t forget to ask if they offer a senior citizen’s discount. Some restaurants will give these starting at age 50 .

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Hank

Diana,

I did forget about senior citizen’s discounts. It is always good to ask for a discount. I know many people who would qualify for a discount such as a military discount, but they frequently forget to ask businesses if they honor it. This can cost you 10% or more in some places if you forget to ask. Great tip! Thanks!
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Jeanne

Whenever I’ve asked for a box to be bought with my meal (so I can take half home), it’s been an inconvenience for the server (or so it seems) and I’ve had to ask more than once. Mildly annoying, to say the least. But a great idea. I tend to go for lunch rather than dinners, so it’s not an issue–I eat it all right there!

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Hank

Eating lunch instead of dinner is a great idea and tip too! Thanks, Jeanne.
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Forex Analyst

I do mystery shopping as a way to eat out and save money. I get a nice meal with a friend and for simply writing a report, I get my money back!!
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Mary Kateri

Where do you find legitimate mystery shopping businesses? :)

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Marissa@2ndSkiesForex

If I really cannot help it and had to eat out a lot, for me I think having a spending plan or eating out budget for the month will help me save and not spend too much eating in restaurants. I would look around also for restaurants I like that would give discounts to regular customers.
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Cristina

Since I have a big family, we tend to look for restaurants that offer group meals or combo meals to save money. It is less expensive for us, than ordering separate menus for each one of us.
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Brandi Williams

I save tons of money on eating out out on Restaurant.com! Check out my blog review of it! Relevant Comments are welcome!

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kavin?s

Or the other way is to choose restaurants that offers price which are normal for you :) For example I am also often going out to eat, and for me it seems much better to feel relaxed and to order whatever you want than to think how much you will spend today :)

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kavin?s

Or the other way is to choose restaurants that offers price which are normal for you :) For example I am also often going out to eat, and for me it seems much better to feel relaxed and to order whatever you want than to think how much you will spend today :)

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