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Eating out at restaurants can feel like a well-deserved treat, but it can definitely get expensive if you’re not careful. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to cut back on your bill, and they don’t involve you leaving the restaurant still hungry!
So before you head out for your next meal, consider these seven steps to eat out on a budget.
19 Ways to Eat Out on a Budget
Try any or all of these money saving tips when going out to eat.
1. Check Social Media Before You Go
These days, most restaurants have a page on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
They tend to post about specials or money-saving coupons for their followers. Before you go out to eat, check restaurant social media pages for special promotions.
This could save you a few dollars on dining out with very little effort.
2. Eat Out for Lunch Instead of Dinner
Most restaurants have lunch specials, allowing you spend as little as about $7 on your meal. Typically, you get a slightly smaller portion of an entrée for about half the price you would pay at dinner.
If eating out isn’t really in the budget then you can compromise and only eat out at lunch on occasion to save money.
If you like the idea of getting a combo — such as a half sandwich and a salad — for a few dollars less than the full amount of food. Lunch is a good idea for eating out cheap.
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3. Go for Happy Hour to save money
Happy Hour is not just about the drinks! Many restaurants offer discounted food as well as adult beverages in the early evening during happy hour.
Researching local restaurants happy hour offers can allow you to eat (and drink) at as much as half the cost. This might be the cheapest way to eat out.
Bar Louie features half price flatbreads and appetizers like the potstickers for half price during their Mon-Fri happy hours. This is a great way to eat out without blowing your budget!
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4. Order Water to drink
If you are looking for easy ways to save when eating out then just order water to drink. Not only is it healthier for you, but you are generally saving at least $3 by not ordering a soda.
And, if you skip the alcoholic beverages your restaurant savings can be as much as $15 a drink! Alcohol will really drive up your bill.
Don’t waste your money on unhealthy soft drinks! And, when you do order water, make sure it is tap water only. Some eateries might offer fancy bottled water and charge you for it.
5. Get an Appetizer as Your Main Meal
If you’re okay with not having leftovers from your restaurant meal, an appetizer might be all you need. If you opt for this as your main meal instead of an entree, your bill will be a lot less.
It’s usually the perfect portion for one person, and it’s often under $10 at most restaurants. This is an excellent tactic for saving money when you go out to eat.
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6. Order from the Kid’s MEnu
So this one may be difficult to do with a straight face if you are in the restaurant. But, ordering from the kids menu can help reduce your bill by a lot.
It might be easier to leverage this tip when ordering food for pick-up so you don’t have to be embarrassed. Instead of eating out in the restaurant, you can order food to go from the children’s menu and save a lot.
7. Order Takeout
As we just mentioned, you can order from the children’s menu and save and not have to put up with a disapproving eye from the server.
But ordering food to go can also save you money on tips and drinks. Which can add up! One of the best tips for eating out on a budget is to order your food to go and then take it home to eat it.
You can make your own drinks at home and serve yourself, knocking a lot off your total bill but still letting you enjoy restaurant food.
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8. Use Coupons and Groupons
There’s always the tried-and-true method of clipping coupons to save money, even at restaurants.
Keep an eye on your mailbox, since you probably get coupons to eateries where you can buy one meal and get one free, or save $5 to $10 on your bill. Just make sure you use them before the expiration date.
You can also check apps like Groupon and Living Social for the best deals and savings at restaurants in your area. You can save a lot of money by going to a restaurant with an advertised deal on sites like these.
9. Look for Kids Eat Free PRomotions
Many restaurants will run promotions where kids eat free. Sometimes it is even an all the time deal.
If you are feeding a family, this can really add up! So if you need to eat out on a budget, look for restaurants that won’t charge for kid’s meals.
10. Buy Discounted Gift Cards
If you want to save on your food budget, another tip is to buy gift cards to your favorite restaurant but at a discount. Sometimes the restaurant will advertise special deals on their gift cards.
Check out this list of 14 sites where you can buy and sell gift cards to search for reduced discount cards.
Restaurants.com offers discounts and restaurant vouchers at participating restaurants all the time.
Buying discounted gift cards in advance is also a good way to set your restaurant budget for the month and stick to it.
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11. Loyalty Rewards
If you want to know how to eat out on a budget, then sign up for loyalty rewards with your favorite dining establishments.
Many restaurants offer these programs. If you sign up for their email newsletters, they will send you deals like free birthday meals and savings.
So of course, once you sign up make sure you take advantage. Eat out on your birthday so you can get a free meal or dessert.
This is also a good way to find out when they are selling gift cards on promotion as we mentioned above.
12. Look for Weekly Deals
Many eateries offer special deals on certain nights of the week. Again, this is where doing a little research before you go out to eat can pay off.
There might be a Taco Tuesday or BOGO deal locally that you can take advantage of. And of course, we have all heard about “All you can eat” buffets. This is also an awesome way to spend less when eating out.
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13. Ask About REstaurant Specials
A lot of restaurants have specials at slightly lower prices on a daily basis. So as soon as you see your server, ask him or her if there are any specials that day.
You never know when a restaurant might be offering free appetizers or a particular menu item at a discount.
14. Sharing is Caring
Another cheap way to eat out is to share a meal. At many restaurants, the portions are too big for one person.
You can literally save 50% on your dining out bill just by splitting a meal. Plus, if you are trying to watch your weight this will prevent you from overeating.
You can also split a family style meal like pizza for even greater savings.
15. Take Home Your Leftovers
Again, restaurants tend to serve huge portions these days and you could probably just eat half a meal and be satisfied. So protect your waistline and your wallet by only eating half and then taking the rest home.
This is one way to make your meal cost half the normal price! You can even take the food as a packed lunch to the office.
16. Check Reviews
If you’re on a budget and need a restaurant you can afford, online reviews can help you find one that’s reasonably priced.
Check popular review sites like Yelp, and look for eateries with reviews that mention keywords like “cheap,” “affordable” or “great happy hour.” Some sites will show $ signs to indicate how costly an eatery is.
Even sites like Open Table where you make reservations, will show how expensive a restaurant is. And, some of these apps offer rewards points you can take advantage of for savings.
Conversely, stay away from the restaurants where most of the reviews say “expensive” or “overpriced.” You can spend less when eating out by doing your research first to find restaurants you can afford.
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17. Visit a QSR
One way to spend less when eating out is to go to what is called a Quick Service Restaurant. They are also called “fast casual” restaurants.
These are places that basically cost less than a normal restaurant but still let you have that “eating out” feeling. You don’t have a server, so you save a lot of money on tipping for one thing.
Examples of this type of place are Chipotle and Panera Bread Company.
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18. Become a Mystery Shopper
Did you know you can actually eat out for free? Yep, just by becoming a mystery diner. These are people who get paid to secretly eat out and rate the restaurant.
They pay for your meal, but you have to review and rate the restaurant. Big establishments like The Cheesecake Factory will do this for quality control. Eating out for free is much better than just eating out for cheap!
19. USe a Zero Waste Food App
There are actually apps now that are designed to reduce food waste. You can leverage these to help yourself eat out on a budget.
Restaurants will put food they need to get rid of before it goes bad on the app for a discount. And then you get to take advantage!
Set Your Restaurant Budget and Stick to It
One thing is sure, if you are trying to improve your finances, you should be budgeting. And, you should set your eating out budget for the month before you go out.
This is the best way to make sure you are not overspending each month. Start keeping track of how much you spend on everything from food to clothes to monthly subscriptions.
Here are two guides to creating a monthly budget that you can use to help yourself determine how much you should spend on food and eating out:
What are the Best Tips for Eating Out on the cheap?
So if you are wondering which of these tips are the best, first of all the best thing to do is combine several of them.
Buy a groupon and then order takeout. Or, purchase a gift card to your favorite restaurant for less and then order water and go at happy hour
And, start with research. Don’t go to a restaurant without first looking everywhere you can for special deals and discounts.
You can enjoy eating out without blowing your budget! Just take the time to find ways to save money before you go.
And, if you combine more than one of our top tips for saving, you can really maximize the dollars saved.
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iBotta for special offers and cash back on groceries.
Acorns which takes your spare change from purchases and invests it for you to help you make even more money.
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