Saving money at a restaurant, made easy

People dining at an outdoor European restaurant.

Saving money at a restaurant? It isn't impossible. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Cancre/Wikipedia)

Eating out is a luxury that not everyone can afford, at least not for fine dining. The expense of appetizers, drinks and food can add up quickly. Thankfully, there are some frugal dining techniques to help you minimize the financial damage. Eating out will never be the same again.

Order less food

This may seem obvious, not everyone is listening, considering just how much of an epidemic obesity has become. Even if you’re hungry, don’t make dinner a multifaceted war on your waistline. Soup, appetizer, salad, tapas and whatever else comes before the meal is simply food that you can do without. By ordering less, you are of course saving money, too. If you’re still hungry at the end and simply must eat something, go for a small appetizer to go. You’re more likely to keep ordering if you stay.

Think in terms of portion sizes

If America is guilty of anything when it comes to food, it’s the distorted view of exactly what a portion size should be. Some restaurants serve extra-large portions as a matter of custom, because too many people are addicted to the rush of consumption. If that’s the law of the west in that restaurant, your frugal dining sensibility should kick in. Divide the meal into multiple portions that are more reasonable in size and take it home. Sometimes you can get as many as three meals for the price of one.

Split it up

If you aren’t going to take extra meals for yourself, think about splitting a large meal with someone at your table. Saving at a restaurant becomes much easier when you can find a partner in food sharing.

Don’t drink or mousse

Alcoholic beverages and dessert are delicious indulgences, but they tend to be expensive – particularly the drinks. If you save those consumption activities for the comforts of home, you will most likely save money. Restaurants mark up the price of alcohol quite severely, and a pie purchased from the grocery store typically costs the same as a single slice in a fine restaurant.

Embrace deals and rewards

Join the crowd that knows that saving money at a restaurant has a lot to do with the Groupons available. Groupon, Living Social, and similar websites offer consumers deals of 50 percent off or more on popular restaurant outings. These and other websites may also offer reward programs that enable consumers to earn points that eventually count toward frugal dining discounts. Memberships in organizations like AAA, AARP and other groups may also offer fine dining discounts.

Eating out – it’s not for dinner

Here’s a novel idea. If you must eat out, go for breakfast or lunch. Dinner prices are almost always more expensive, although there may be happy hour discounts to offset the blow.

Marilyn Hagerty’s tips for saving money at a restaurant


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