When someone is having a hard time managing their finances and overspending often, one of the first recommendations they receive is often to lower their expenses.
“Start by cutting wants and frivolous purchases”, people often preach. One of the first expenses to get the boot is dining out and with good reason.
People spend a ton of money dining out and hardly realize it. Sometimes it’s that quick lunch, that happy hour with friends, or the Friday night takeout habit you have when you don’t feel like cooking after a long week.
Regardless of what it is, dining out adds up. There’s just one problem. Most of us, enjoy going out to eat.
For me, dining out has been a difficult expense to just cut out completely so I do my best to minimize and control it. I enjoy dining out as a social activity with friends and family. But, I don’t want to waste money on buying convenient, yet crappy, fast food because I either don’t feel like cooking or didn’t do a good job planning out my meals for the week.
When I do dine out, I do is mindfully and use these 6 tips to stick to my budget.
1. Use Coupons
Using coupons is one of my favorite ways to save money on restaurant meals. I’ll gather coupons that I receive in the mail or even use sites like Groupon to cut the costs of local dining.
My one friend and I always try to meet up every few weeks for sushi, which can be quite the indulgence. To cut the costs of our meal, we often use a Groupon to try new restaurants out and we split the bill.
Normally, the Groupon will allow us to save 20% – 60% off the price our of the meal so we’ll end up getting $40 – $50 worth of sushi, drinks, and dessert and only spend $20 – $25 on the Groupon. Then, we’ll split the price of the Groupon.
Using this strategy allowed me to still dine out occasionally with my friend even when I was paying off debt.
Coupon apps are also good to help you save on your restaurant meal. My son is in Cub Scouts and he often fundraises by selling different products each year.
The cool thing about the app is that it picks up on your location and shows you all the deals available in your area. This feature comes in handy when traveling.
2. Order the Special
One of the simplest ways to save money when dining out is to order whatever the special is. If you know the restaurant’s menu pretty well, or you’re flexible and don’t mind trying something new, you could really lower your bill by doing this.
For example, Red Lobster is one of my favorite restaurants. But, it can easily get pretty pricey. However, they usually promote tons of special offers like their Endless Shrimp and Crabfest specials every year.
To save money, I visit when the specials are being offered.
3. Skip the Overpriced Drinks
Unless you’re dining out for the drink experience, it doesn’t really make much sense to spend a ton of money on alcohol and fancy drinks when you’re on a budget.
I save a pretty penny just by ordering water with most of the time or a fountain drink. Cocktails average $8 – $10 so if you’re dining out with your partner and you both get a drink, you’re out of $20 before you even eat real food.
4. Utilize Happy Hour
Happy hour isn’t available everywhere, but most restaurants have it for at least 2 hours each day. If you prefer to order special drinks and alcohol while dining out, happy hour would be the perfect time to do it and save money.
One of my favorite sushi restaurants has happy hour from 5 pm – 7 pm where you can order half-price cocktails, sushi rolls, and appetizers.
Happy hour special often extends to food items on the menu which is nice. It also might not even be called happy hour either so be sure to look out for any mid-day or early evening specials. Downtime at restaurants is usually after the busy lunch hour or right before dinner time so some places tend to offer discounts if you dine in during this time.
I’ve seen plenty of discounts and even kids eat free specials as well. If you have kids, be sure to make a list of all the restaurants in your area that have kids eat free specials.
5. Join a Loyalty Rewards Club
Another way to save money on dining out is to join a loyalty rewards club if you frequent certain restaurants. Usually, you can get punch card, download an app, or give your email to earn points for each visit that could be redeemed for free food or discounts in the future.
One of my favorite restaurants is Smashburger and I love how their reward program allows you to earn free meals and receive a ton of coupons each month.
I don’t always take advantage of the offers, but it’s nice to know they’re available if I happen to dine there one day.
6. Only Get an Appetizer or Go For Dessert
If you can’t get coupons, make it to happy hour, or join loyalty rewards programs, you can also easily save money by skipping the main meal altogether.
I know this sounds weird, but most of us just dine out for the social aspect and the experience. In order words, we want to get out of the house and try something new without having to do the dishes.
If you eat a meal at home, you can save by just purchasing an appetizer or a dessert when you go out.
My family does this sometimes for dessert. I cook a meal we eat at home, then we look forward to going to an ice-cream place or a bakery and picking up some dessert.
It’s so much cheaper and if you must dine out and still want to avoid overspending, consider going to breakfast instead of lunch or dinner.
Do you do any of these things to save money while dining out? Can you add anything to this list?