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While you could save money by avoiding fast food and restaurants, sometimes it is nice to enjoy a budgeted treat. Especially when it’s a dish that you didn’t have to prep, cook, and clean up after.
Dining out on a budget can be difficult when you consider the prices of food, drink and the 20% tip at the end you can easily spend the same amount of money as you would on a week’s worth of groceries.
So I’ll be sharing menu secrets that can help you to save money while you are eating out.
How to save money eating out
Eating out as a family?
Here are a few friendly tips to help you to save money on feeding your kids.
Don’t take the kids
I mean this as a joke, but at the same time- if they aren’t there to feed, you CAN save money by not needing to feed them. Well, you’ll still need to feed them at some point, but at home with food that you already have instead of restaurant food that costs money and they probably won’t finish anyway.
Free Kid’s Meal Programs
Everybody loves free stuff. Right?
A lot of restaurants like Denny’s (for example) will offer free kids meals during certain days and times throughout the week. These usually come with the purchase of an adult entree and drink, so don’t think you can simply walk out without paying for anything.
That said, eating during these hours can get your kids a free plate of food while you and your spouse can enjoy your own meals at the same cost as if you hadn’t brought them along at all.
Share an Adult Entree
Kid meals are about half of the price of an adult entree, and while they may come with crayons, the portion sizes still seem off in some cases. Consider buying a single adult entree and splitting it between the kids (assuming you only have 2 or 3). More kids would mean more adult meals, but if free kid meals aren’t an option, this could definitely be a good idea.
Perhaps bring a couple of small coloring books and a small pencil case full of crayons so that the kids won’t miss out on any of the experiences.
If your kids are still small enough that they don’t eat much, this could be a beneficial menu secret. Order your plate as usual and ask for an extra plate. When your food arrives, take a small portion off and cut it up into kid-friendly pieces.
The cheapest places to eat out
You can find some great new restaurants to try that are frugal and budget-friendly by using these tips!
Groupons are restaurant coupons that you buy in advance. They can save you a significant amount of money and they are constantly changing. What’s super great is that Groupon offers a referral program, so if you sign up using someone else referral link, like this one right here, you can get a $10 credit on your first purchase. Then, you can use your referral link to get an additional $10 credit every time a friend signs up under you.
It doesn’t cost anything to join. You only pay money when you’re buying something, and Groupons are accepted pretty much EVERYWHERE.
Sign up for Groupon here.
If you live in some areas of the United States, you may be aware of a ValPak. A ValPak is an envelope stuffed with local restaurant coupons, retailer coupons, and other small advertisements that can save you money and entice you to use a local service.
They cost nothing to receive and are usually discarded like junk mail but sometimes the coupons within are pretty great and exclusive to the ValPak users.
Finding a restaurant that offers a reward program is like hitting a gold mine, especially if the points earned can be redeemed for free food and don’t expire too soon. You can get the most food for your money at the restaurant this way by saving money on future meals by using the rewards. There are often exclusive restaurant coupons available to reward program members.
Some restaurants offer a different daily deal with discounted prices. This can be anything from a specific meal that’s being offered cheap that day or can be something like additional discounts for military and elderly. Paying attention to these exclusive deals can help you to save even more money when eating out if you time them well with your families outings.
How to save money at restaurants
Part of the fun of going out to eat is getting to enjoy a nice meal and drink, but when you look at the additional cost of the drink you’re buying is it worth it?
Prices vary on soft drinks and while a lot of places will offer free refills, the price is still outrageous. With some drinks costing as much as a 12 pack of soda from your local grocery store, you would need to drink a lot of refills to get your monies worth!
Other drink prices could rival that of an entire meal! It’s crazy how much they can quickly rack up a bill. On the plus side, you don’t have to go thirsty. Almost every restaurant I have ever stepped foot in offers free ice water. You can ask for lemon wedges if you’d like it flavored.
It’s no menu secret that the prices fluctuate throughout the day. Eating during breakfast or lunch hours can be incredibly cheaper than eating that same meal during dinner hours. Some places only have a select menu available for these discounts, but it is worth looking at.
Not only can you save money, but restaurants seem to be less packed during earlier hours. With exception to Sunday when a lot of people are getting out of their church services and enjoy eating out.
My local teriyaki place has a 4 hour time window for lunch, once it’s over the price rises $4 for dinner! Absolutely nothing about the dish or portion sizes change, they just know when to target the higher traffic for maximum profit. Luckily, I know how to target cheaper times and still get my chicken teriyaki.
When you think of happy hours, you might just think of alcoholic drinks, and while that’s perfectly okay- there’s usually more to it then just beverages.
Here’s a really fun menu secret- appetizers are made in large sharing portions. During happy hour, a lot of restaurants will offer appetizers and drinks at half price. Fast food places like Sonic will offer desserts or milkshakes during happy hour too.
Instead of going out for an entire meal, consider piecing together some half-priced appetizers and enjoying a nice meal that offers variety.
Some buffets can be crazy expensive, but the benefit of getting to eat as much as you want, and having tons of different food options can be really fun. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck with something that you may not like, because you can simply get a new plate. When you compare the amount of food everyone can eat and how much you pay, the price usually works itself out.
Just make sure that you don’t have plans for the rest of the day so you can lay on your bed at home in a food coma.
We all love those restaurants that offer free chips or breadsticks while you wait for your food to get there. By filling up on the free food that’s offered, you can feel more comfortable with ordering a smaller portioned meal. Or you can choose to order a normal-sized meal and take home leftovers for later.
Olive Garden offers free breadsticks on their tables and often hosts a sale a few times a year when you can do a buy one take one dish. These are fantastic because you can eat a meal hot and ready at your table, and you can have a cold one with heating directions packaged and ready for you to take home.
If you are ordering takeout, like a pizza or something else with a delivery option, you can save a lot of money by choosing to go and pick it up yourself. This can cut the additional delivery fees that get tacked on to the end of the bill. *Note: You should still tip because the food was prepared and service was provided.
Other ways that you can save money on eating out
Sign up for the restaurant’s emails
A few days prior to going out to eat at someplace specific, sign up for their email rewards program. Almost every place will offer a discount or small freebie as a thank you.
Sign up for a text club
Text clubs are pretty great for instant gratification when it comes to getting restaurant coupons. Places like Subway and Papa Murphy’s both offer text clubs where they send you links to exclusive coupons once a week or so.
Go during your birthday month
A lot of restaurants offer birthday freebies for adults and freebies for kids when it’s their birthday month. While some say the freebies are exclusive to the actual birthday, some give a longer timeframe. Showing proof of your birthday is as easy as showing a drivers license or birth certificate.
Use discounted gift cards
Thanks to websites like the Raise App, you can buy and sell discounted gift cards. I personally use this website and talk about them a lot! You can save money before ever entering a restaurant by purchasing a discounted gift card before going out to eat. Use the gift card to cover your bill and save anything leftover for your next trip or resell it on the same app.
Earn free gift cards
Everyone loves to earn free gift cards. Thanks to a number of apps and websites, it has become incredibly easy to do this! With places such as Swagbucks helping you to earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards, you can spend a few minutes a day enjoying surveys and paid games or videos. This is a great way to save up and enjoy a completely free meal because you won’t have to buy anything thanks to the points making the gift card free.
Budget for it
With restaurants costing a small fortune, it can make sense to budget appropriately for it. When you’re on a lower income, finding the money to go out to eat can be difficult with a tight paycheck.
A good idea is to set up an entertainment sinking fund. By shoving aside $5-$10 per paycheck at a time, you can save up enough money to eat out without feeling like you’re spending a lot of money at once. Note that this is different from an emergency fund!
[Related] Why you Need an Emergency Savings Fund
With there being so many different ways to save money when eating out, and different menu secrets and hacks, you can enjoy a nice meal on any budget.
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