Going out to eat at a restaurant can be just as much about the food as it is a fun way to spend time with your family and friends.
But if you’re not careful, it can also be a really quick way to spend a whole lot more money than you were planning on spending in one evening.
When it comes to dinning out, here are a few rules I like to stick to that help keep my expenses under control and my belly full.
1. Don’t go out in the first place
Either minimize the number of times you go out to dinner, or simply don’t go out to eat at all. No matter where you go, it’s all going to be ridiculously over-priced compared to what you could prepare on your own.
2. Use a gift card
Only go to places where you have a gift card to use. You can always easily earn them with credit card rewards.
3. Get a discount
Don’t forget you can also buy discounts for local restaurants through Groupon, Restaurant.com, or Entertainment books.
4. Look for specials
Frequent places that offer coupons, weekly specials, or discounts such as “2 for $20” meals.
5. Kids eat free
Frequent places that offer “kids eat free” deals. This can be a real win for parents with multiple kids who are already stretched thin on cash.
6. Make friends on Facebook
Friend your favorite restaurants on Facebook. It’s an easy way to get exclusive deals that aren’t regularly advertised.
7. Get a birthday gift!
Happy Birthday! Often your birthday will qualify you for a discount or a free item off the menu.
8. Set a budget
If you tell your party ahead of time we’re only allowed to spend (for example) $100 on eating out, then everyone will start making budget conscious decisions right from the get-go.
9. Never order soft drinks
At some places soft drinks are already approaching $3 per glass. That’s ridiculous when you consider how much it actually costs the restaurant. If everyone drinks water instead (maybe with a little bit of lemon for some taste), a family of 4 over $12 from the total price when you consider the tip.
10. Never order alcohol
It’s well known that this is where restaurants make their biggest profit. It will be FAR cheaper for you to buy it from the store and serve it in private at your home.
11. Watch your portion size
Sometimes the half portion is all you really need.
12. Or, order enough for tomorrow
If you’re going back home, order the full portion and save the rest for lunch tomorrow. Now you’ve just acquired two meals for the price of one!
13. Split it
Consider splitting a meal instead of everyone ordering their own. Pizza is a good example of something the whole table can share and lower the price per person.
14. Skip the pre and post game
Skip adding an appetizer, salad, soup, or dessert to your meal. The meal itself is likely a large enough portion size.
15. Watch out for “up-sells”
No, you don’t need mushroom and onions on top of your steak for $6 more.
16. Make an appetizer a meal
If you’re not feeling all that hungry, make your meal out of ordering just a cheaper priced salad or appetizer. Sometimes the soup and salad combo is plenty to eat.
17. More bread please!
Eat at places that serve bread before the meal. Bread will make you feel more full, and that will lead to you not eating your full meal and taking home leftovers for a meal tomorrow.
18. Eat a snack before you go
Eating something simple like an apple or granola bar will leave you feeling less hungry when you finally do make your order, and therefore you’ll get something more reasonable.
19. Try to eat mid-day between lunch and dinner
That way you get two meals for the price of one.
20. Conquer the buffet
If you’re really hungry, go for the buffet. Sometimes it may not be the highest quality, but it will certainly be more economical.
21. Be a loyal customer
Check to see if the restaurant has a loyalty card. This may (eventually) qualify you for some free food or discounts later on.
22. Look online ahead of time
If you know what restaurant you’re going to later, research the menu online ahead of time. You’ll make better decisions than you will in the heat of the moment when its time to order.
23. Get up-scale fast food
Skip sit-down restaurants and instead go for up-scale fast food like Panera Bread, etc. Not only does it usually cost less, but you also get to skip leaving a tip.
24. Consider take-out
Again, you skip the tip and the temptation to buy extras like drinks and desserts.
25. Go early in the week
Restaurants usually offer better deals since these are generally low traffic days.
26. Eat during Happy Hour
Again, the deals are generally better to try to attract more clientele. At one pizza place I used to go to, free pizza was served at happy hour. Score!
27. Avoid the holidays
Restaurants know they can charge more on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.
28. Max those credit card points
Be sure to pay using a credit card that gives you extra rewards when dining out. There are tons of credit cards out there right now that offer 2 or more points for every dollar spent eating out.
29. Always double check your bill
Sometimes mistakes will happen!
30. Don’t leave an enormous tip
You’re not a Rockefeller, and no one expects you to tip like one either. Leave a reasonable tip of 18-20% and move on.
31. Make sure the tip isn’t already included
Occasionally, you’ll get a sneaky server who won’t tell you they added in the tip already. Look near the bottom of the bill for a line marked gratuity.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr