How to Dine Out On A Budget
Pretty much everyone likes to go out to eat. The challenging part is finding somewhere everyone can agree on, and afford. Millennials are the first generation to spend more eating out than at the grocery store. Elders of today see it as laziness, but millennials prefer the term time-efficient. The demand for convenient, fast meals continues to grow, and as it does, finding frugal ways to eat out becomes increasingly important. Use this guide and you’ll know where to go, when to go, and what to order.
Browse the menu beforehand
This will take away from the element of surprise, but for your wallet’s sake, do it anyway. Find a few different similar menus to compare price and selection (always check out daily deals and happy hours too). Keep in mind that sometimes appetizers are full-sized portions, just cheaper. Pay close attention to menus that list their daily specials. If you can hold out another day for a better deal, do it!
Go at the best time
Most places will have a different, cheaper menu for lunch than for dinner. Save a few bucks by hitting the fancier restaurants at lunch, or by comparing happy hour prices. When considering the best time to go, remember that saving cash isn’t the only important factor here. Use the restaurant’s knowledge panel on Google to predict popularity by the hour. If you are going at a popular time, plan ahead and use the restaurant’s recommended app to place yourself in line for a table.
Become a member
Some companies participate in a loyalty program, mostly chains. Whether you’re racking up points for free food, or receiving special discounts on your birthday, it’s worth a few spam emails. Or, just unsubscribe from the restaurant newsletter and other promotions that don’t matter to you.
Hit buffets or share large plates
Buffets are perfect for people who eat big portions. If you have troubles finishing one plate of food, a buffet may not be the best option. If you tend to always have leftovers when dining out, consider ordering larger portions to share. This saves cash, minimizes food waste, and is perfect for kids. Three children to one adult-sized meal usually works great.
Pregame and post-game
The easiest way to save is to drink cheap. Water is the healthiest choice, and you came here for the food so wait to have a drink from your reasonably-priced bottle at home. If you can hold out, save dessert for later. If you’re craving something sweet, ice cream and other treats are usually cheaper at different locations than the restaurant. Plus, this allows you to extend the experience between two locations.
Find demographic deals
This won’t work for everyone, but if you apply, ask the restaurant for a student, military or senior discount. Some restaurants even feed kids for free. If they don’t offer a regular discount for specific demographics, check if the restaurant hosts specific deal nights for students, vets, or seniors.
Use apps to find deals near you
Finding local deals is easy if you have the right coupon apps. Groupon offers an app version of its deals. Always check if a restaurant has an app specifically designed for their location. If they do, they are likely to offer those with the app exclusive deals.
Use city-specific Groupon pages
These deals aren’t free, but they are heavily discounted. Choose the page designed for whatever city you may be visiting and save half off or more at dozens of restaurants near you. For example, if you are visiting in Texas and try checking out the Things To Do In San Antonio page while you’re there. You can potentially save up to 50 percent on each meal. Start by familiarizing yourself with the page created for whichever city or town you live in, then experiment with it when traveling.
Earn gift cards on survey websites
There are tons of spam email holes to fall into here, so be cautious of this. For newbies, I suggest trying Survey Junkie or OpinionOutpost. The surveys aren’t too long, and the gift cards are always at really universal places like Walmart or Amazon.
Choose restaurants where tipping isn’t expected
There are dozens of places to eat where you order at the counter. Most of these places don’t even have a tip jar. Some do, but it’s not expected. Please be careful with this one. If you are waited on by a staff, be a reasonable tipper. This is not the time to be frugal.
Most of the time eating out will be more costly than savvy grocery shopping and cooking at home, but we all deserve a break from the kitchen here and there. Even for those who consistently eat out, frugality is still an option. Use these tips to put your budgeting conscience at ease, and enjoy your meal!