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5 Simple Ways to Save Money While Eating Out

3268284799_567ee353df_zGoing out to eat is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking, but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else prepare your meal after a long day at work.

I especially love eating out when I go with friends. The only problem with dining out is that it’s not very frugal. Here are five simple ways I save money, without harming the fun experience of eating out.

Order the Special

Most restaurants have a “special” each day of the week. Some restaurants have the same rotating specials each week, while others have completely different ones depending on what the owner or manager feels like discounting.

The “special” entrée is usually $2-3 less than normal and it’s still a good-sized portion. Some restaurants don’t make the portion smaller for the special at all. If you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget, this can be a great way to save a little more money…especially when it’s a smaller portion. 🙂

Split a Meal or Ask for a To-Go Box

There are lots of restaurants in my hometown that serve HUGE food portions. Often times one of my friends and I will decide to split a meal between the two of us to save money and so we don’t end up wasting a lot of food. Occasionally we’ll make the un-frugal decision to split a dessert too. This is a good treat, but we don’t do it very often.

If my friend and I can’t agree on a meal to split, I usually ask for a to-go box so I can take the leftovers home for later. The biggest mistake I make when asking for a to-go box is leaving the box on the table when I leave the restaurant. 🙁

Skip the Drink While Eating Out

Part of the fun of eating out with my friends is enjoying an alcoholic beverage now and then, but we don’t always get one. Alcohol and other drinks can add a lot of money on to your bill very quickly.

For instance, when I split a meal with my friend at our favorite Mexican restaurant, over half of my bill ends up being my margarita! On the nights that we don’t order a drink, I’ll just order water instead of a soda. Water is healthier and cheaper than pop anyway.

Go to Lunch

Most of the time my friends I do end up dining out for dinner rather than lunch because of our work schedules. But when we get together on the weekends, we try to dine out for lunch instead of dinner.

Lunch portions are typically smaller, so we don’t split meals, but lunch is also usually cheaper than dinner.

Order From the Kid’s Menu

This is a trick I tried out just the other day. We went to a diner to have breakfast for supper and I was really wanting pancakes. The only problem was that all the meals seemed huge. Then I saw the kids menu on the back page. For a kid’s meal with two pancakes, two pieces of bacon, and an egg is was $3.50.

I knew this was a much better portion size, plus that’s all the food I wanted anyway. Despite the menu saying the kid’s menu is only for kids under ten, the waitress let me order off of it anyway. It never hurts to ask! In the end I wasn’t able to finish quite all of my food anyway.

 

What are some ways you save money while eating out? How often do you go out to eat? Do you think restaurant portions are generally way too big?

 

 

Photo courtesy of: japes18

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Kayla is a mid-20s single girl living in the Midwest, USA. She is focused on paying off her consumer and student loans, while simplifying her life and closet. You can join her on her journey at ShoeaholicNoMore or follow her on Twitter.

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20 comments

  1. I can relate to skipping the drink while eating out. I and my friends always get water, not soda or even juices. We’d rather buy the money that is for soda for another meal that we can share with and enjoy. Very interesting that lunch is cheaper than dinner. I and my friends go out once every two weeks, for us to have more time to get story we can talk about. Thanks Kayla!

  2. My wife and I split a meal quite often! Not ordering drinks is a great way to save money. If you want something other than water, buy it from the grocery store and drink it at home IMO. It seems like when my wife and I don’t share a meal, she orders from the kid’s menu. She thinks adult entrees are too big. lol

  3. A lot of restaurants now how half-price apps, so we usually order only the apps along with a glass of water. Two apps is usually enough to fill us up (or is our limit for unhealthy food) and at half-price, they are a steal.

    • That’s a great idea! Lots of places around here have half-prices apps during happy hour or during late night (8-close), which is good because my friend works till 8 anyway so we don’t usually end up going out until about 8:15 or so.

  4. My fiancee and I don’t go anywhere (almost) without a Groupon or LivingSocial. I know those services don’t work everywhere, but if it works in your area and you’re not using it, then you are missing out.

    • This is a great idea. Unfortunately, there aren’t many for places in my rural hometown. But whenever I visit my BFF in her larger city, we’ll have to start doing this.

  5. We don’t eat out much because we actually love the food we cook from home; however, when we do, we typically split an appetizer and an entree. It not only keeps the calories down but it also keeps the costs down.

  6. We save at a couple of restaurants with some hacks. One place, I like the cheese fries, which never leaves me room for the actual meal. And the meat always went bad. I’m weird about reheating chicken, and I don’t eat red meat.

    So my husband gets a salad as one of his sides and slides it over to me. For a steak dinner, we pay about $33 after tip. (We tip really well because the server there is amazing.)

    Lately, he’s been really into Outback’s steak and lobster. I don’t really like most of the dishes there. So we sit in the bar. I get a $5 appetizer and, again, steal one of his sides. That fills me up, and the bill is *slightly* less painful.

    When it comes to fast food, we rarely finish all of our individual fries. So now we order one combo meal and one sandwich, then split the fries.

    I generally only drink water anyway, so that save us a lot over time.

    • Taking some of your hubby’s sides to go along with your $5 app is a great idea! My family commonly shares fries when we go out for fast food too.

  7. We like to go out to eat maybe once or twice a month. We’re not really drinkers, so we save money there. We usually skip the appetizers, unless we’re just having appetizers instead of a meal (which is especially good during happy hour discounts). And yes, restaurant portions are way too big. The last time we went out, the entrees for the two of us could have served four to six people!

  8. All smart tips, Kayla! I rarely order pop when we go out to eat. It bugs the crap out of me to spend $2+ on something that cost them 10 cents. 🙂

  9. I always skip the drink! Besides, water is really the best for our health 🙂

  10. Another way we save money while eating out, is picking a place where kids eat for free. Honestly, I never know whether my son even eats it what I order, so it makes totally sense to go to the places where he eats for free.
    And of course skipping the sodas and ordering regular water.

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