No matter what anyone says, it is more expensive to go out to eat. When we were really tightening the budget we never went out. NEVER. In fact I remember one year we went to Pizza Hut, once. No take out, no drive-thru, no delivery, nothing.
It wasn’t my favorite year, but it allowed us to get out of debt and improve our financial situation.
I love going out to eat. In fact, I’d rather go to dinner than to a movie or other form of entertainment. There’s just something about someone else making my food (and cleaning it up) that makes me super happy.
However, I don’t like spending ten times more on a meal that I could make at home.
With a large family we don’t go out very often, but when we do we use many of these tips to help save money at restaurants.
- Skip the drinks. Soda and alcohol can really increase your bill. Stick with water.
- Skip the dessert and appetizers. Desserts are huge money makers for restaurants. If you are really craving something sweet pick up pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the way home.
- Order an appetizer as your entree’. Many appetizers these days are huge!
- Split an entree’.
- Dine at lunch, it is almost always cheaper and the portions aren’t significantly smaller.
- Use a coupon.
- Go early, many restaurants offer an early bird menu with items under $10.
- Seek out local, ethnic places. Many Mexican and Asian restaurants offer great authentic food for less money.
- Dine somewhere that doesn’t require a tip. Places like Panera, Chipotle, and Jason’s Deli serve good food at a decent price. Since they have counter service no tip is necessary.
- Forget dining in and order take out. No drinks and smaller tip.
- If you are dining with kids find a place that has a kids eat free night. When we lived in Virginia Beach we would occasionally eat at Joe’s Crab Shack. They had a special where kids eat for $0.99 on Tuesdays. Our family of 8 could eat for about $30.
- Another way to save money with kids is to order several kids an adult meal to share. Kids meals have become very expensive, by sharing an adult meal they usually are getting something slightly healthier (no nuggets and fries) and you might save a few dollars too.
- Stay home. I had to add this one, a gourmet meal cooked at home will cost you less than any meal at a fancy restaurant. Put the kids to bed, light some candles, get out your china and enjoy a fancy meal at home.
If you are really dying for the restaurant atmosphere, have one of your kids interrupt you every so often and ask how you are doing and have some total strangers come into your home and talk loudly at a table next to you.
Remember when dining out, please tip on the whole amount of the bill before coupons or discounts are taken. Waiting tables is a hard job, many people are trying to support their families, pay for school, or even get out of debt. If you can’t afford to tip appropriately order take out or stay home.
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Photo credit: Thomas Hawk