Wondering if it’s possible to enjoy eating out on a budget? I think it is! Here’s 21 tips the most frugal foodies know!
By following these tips and being mindful of your spending, you can enjoy eating out on a budget.
However, remember that cooking at home is generally more cost-effective, so try to strike a balance between dining out and preparing meals at home. Approach eating out as a treat, and don’t let it become your Friday-night norm!
The average American household spends $3500 per year eating out, which is honestly an extraordinary amount for food spending. You might not realize it, but those quick stops at fast food restaurants add up!
If you love dining out, I suggest limiting your meals out to a few times per month at your favorite restaurants, and using these tips to save money on every restaurant meal.
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With a little planning, you can generally save a lot of money on your restaurant budget!
If your eating out money comes from grocery budget rather than your entertainment spending, that’s up to you, but either way it’s always exciting when the money goes farther.
These 21 tips for eating out on a budget will help you save a ton of money at restaurants!
Have a small snack before you go:
This might seem counter intuitive, to eat before you go out to eat, but if you show up at a restaurant ravenous you’re far likely to spend more than you would otherwise. Have some fresh fruit or something else small before you get there.
(I ESPECAILLY like to feed kids a bit before heading out to eat – they are more patient while waiting for food, and can often be happily fed with just a side dish!)
Choose the right time:
Next time you go out to eat, opt for lunch specials or early-bird specials instead of dinner, as prices are generally lower during these times. Some restaurants also offer discounted meals on certain days of the week, or free appetizers as happy hour specials.
Sharing a large entrée or main dish with a friend or family member is one of the best ways to save money and reduce portion sizes. I’m not a big eater, and neither is my daughter – I find that I can often share a main dish with her rather than ordering her her own dish.
Look for deals:
Search online for restaurant coupons, deals, or discounts. Sign up for restaurant newsletters or loyalty program, and follow them on social media to be informed of special promotions.
Take advantage of happy hours:
Many restaurants offer discounted food and drink options during happy hour. This can be a great way to enjoy a meal out without spending too much. Generally, alcoholic beverages are the focus of happy hour, so this is less useful if you’re trying to eat out with children.
Opt for appetizers:
Instead of ordering an expensive main dish, consider ordering a few appetizers to share. This can be a more affordable way to try a variety of dishes.
Skip the pricey glass of wine and soft drinks, and order water instead. Not only will this save you money, but it’s also a healthier option.
Be selective with restaurants:
Choose budget-friendly local restaurants, such as diners or ethnic eateries, which often offer more affordable meal options. Denny’s is our personal favorite budget-friendly restaurant in Canada, followed by Cracker Barrel in the USA.
(I really wish we had Cracker Barrel! We can get away with just 2 dishes there to feed all four of us – their portion sizes are huge!)
Keep an eye on portion sizes:
If you find yourself with leftovers, get a to-go box and take them home and enjoy them as a meal the following day. This way, you get two meals for the price of one. (The worst thing is over ordering and throwing away half of what you paid for!)
Utilize restaurant rewards programs:
Many restaurants offer rewards programs that provide discounts or free meals after a certain number of visits or spending.
Be sure to sign up and take advantage of these offers. There are also plenty of rewards credit card programs that offer special deals on restaurant dining.
Research before you go:
Look up restaurant menus online before deciding where to eat. Check the fine print! This will help you find options that fit your budget and avoid any unexpected surprises when it’s time to pay the bill.
Order from the “sides” menu:
Sometimes, ordering a few side dishes instead of a main course can be a more affordable option. Side dishes tend to be less expensive and can still be filling when combined.
Skip the dessert:
Desserts at restaurants can be one of the most pricey menu items. Consider enjoying a sweet treat at home or opting for a more budget-friendly dessert option, like a small scoop of ice cream or a single cookie, from a nearby store.
This can add up to significant savings but you don’t feel deprived at all.
Take advantage of kids’ menus:
If you have children, be sure to check if the restaurant offers a kids’ menu. These menus typically have smaller, less expensive portions that are suitable for younger diners and make a family meal much cheaper.
(If the restaurant doesn’t have a child specific menu, they may still offer student discounts, so always ask!)
BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage):
Some restaurants allow you to bring your own wine or beer, which can save you money on the typically marked-up beverage prices. Check the restaurant’s policy on this before you go.
Eat at the bar:
Some restaurants offer a separate bar menu with smaller plates and lower prices. Eating at the bar can also be a more casual and social experience.
If you’re not set on a specific restaurant or type of cuisine, use apps or websites that offer last-minute deals or discounts at nearby dining establishments. You can enjoy eating out even if it’s not at the absolute best restaurants!
Order carry-out or delivery:
Depending on the restaurant, ordering carry-out or delivery may be cheaper than dining in, as you can avoid added costs like tips and additional drinks.
Use gift certificates or vouchers:
Keep an eye out for discounted restaurant gift cards or vouchers, which can be found on websites, apps, or local promotions. This can help you save on the total cost of your meal.
If you love eating out, when people ask you what you want for your birthday tell them you would love gift cards to your favorite restaurants.
Yes – these things still exist (although they are harder to find than they once were) but you can get some cheap eats with coupons!
Limit your dining out frequency:
To save money, try to limit how often you eat out. Plan to dine out on special occasions or as a treat rather than a regular habit.
Set a spending limit:
Before you head out, set a spending limit for your meal and stick to it. Use cash – don’t even take your debit card along! This will help you make more budget-conscious decisions when ordering and avoid impulse purchases.
By incorporating these cheap restaurant dining tips into your dining-out strategy, you can continue to enjoy the restaurant experience without putting undue strain on your budget.
Remember, moderation is key – balance eating out with preparing meals at home to maintain control over your overall food budget.
If the majority of your food comes from a grocery store, you WILL save so much money – there’s not way around that.
Eating out less can help you reach your financial goals faster, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to deprive yourself of the experience of dining out 100% of the time – you have to enjoy your money sometimes, or there’s no reason to have any!