8 Money-Saving Rules to Follow When Going Out to Eat

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(Image credit: Lauren Naefe/Stocksy)

Going out to eat is one of life’s great joys — even when you have little ones whose ability to sit still for longer than five minutes is questionable (at best). Going out to eat can also be stressful — especially if you’re on a tight budget (and even more so if you’re dining mates are not).

Here are eight money-saving rules to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain.

1. Go early.

Happy hours aren’t just for wine, beer, and cocktails! Bars and restaurants looking to fill seats often offer specials for food and (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) drinks that can add up to big savings. Taking advantage of happy hour specials is a great way to try a local place that might otherwise be too expensive.

2. Go for lunch.

You can eat at some of the world’s best restaurants for a song if you’re willing to go at lunch — and willing to be a bit flexible with what you want. That’s because many fancy spots often offer a prix-fixe menu during the day. Yes, your options tend to be a bit limited, but it may also be just the incentive you need to try something totally new.

3. Read the menu ahead of time.

When we go off budget, it’s often because we didn’t plan well. But because most restaurants have their menus online, there’s no excuse for being unprepared. Peruse what’s on offer and decide what you want to eat and what you can afford to eat. If it’s a little over budget, consider packing a lunch one more day that week or skipping your morning latte.

4. Skip the drinks … and dessert.

Soft drinks, sparkling water, coffee, tea, and dessert — these are where restaurants really pad the pricing. Skip them and put that money toward your entrée.

5. Don’t order a $25 entrée that you can easily make at home for $5.

Speaking of your entrée! If you’re going to spend $25 on an entrée, pick something that you wouldn’t usually make for yourself at home. That may mean no boring grilled chicken, pasta, or salmon. Treat yourself to something more interesting! This won’t really save you money (you’re still spending a good amount of money on a meal), but at least it’s something different and you’ll feel like you really got what you paid for.

6. BYOB.

Alcohol mark-ups at restaurants are usually at least double what you’d pay at the liquor store and often much more. Call in advance to ask about the BYOB policy. Even if there’s a corkage fee, you’ll probably spend less than you would for something from the restaurant’s wine list.

7. Use an app to split the bill.

It’s always a little awkward when it comes time to split the bill and your friend who ordered the lobster and had three glasses of wine suggests splitting things evenly. Yes, it’s easier to have everyone pay the same amount — but there’s also plenty of apps that will let you divide up the check in a more equitable manner. (We like Tab!) If you’re worried about it, bring it up in advance.

8. Make the most of your credit card.

Credit cards often have special cash-back deals when you use them at restaurants. (Chase, for example, will have a quarter that gives you five percent cash back!) Take a minute or two to check what your credit card is offering and plan accordingly.

Do you have any other great tips for saving money when going out to eat? Share them in the comments below!

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