Dining on a Dime

jluEveryone loves eating out, but the restaurant lifestyle can be a great hindrance to anyone who is trying to stick to a budget. While eating at home is always going to be a less expensive option, there are ways to diminish your restaurant tally.

Lunch over Dinner

Typically, you eat a smaller meal at lunchtime as opposed to the evening. This is reflected both in meal sizes and in menu prices. Meeting a friend for lunch instead of dinner accomplishes the same social purpose, but leaves a little more cash in your wallet.

Join the Club

The restaurant business is fiercely competitive, and is well aware what they have to do to lure in potential customers. Coupons and promotions are a fixture in the dining circuit. If you are someone who dines out frequently, it is well worthwhile to investigate and source these little super-savings tools.

Subscribe online to coupons. Sign up for major chain’s rewards clubs, which usually offer exclusive savings to members, like 2-for-1 meals, discounts or freebies.

Read through to the bottom of your restaurant receipt. Often restaurants will offer a promotion or a discount for filling out a survey.

Entertainment Books

Depending on where you live, many major centres offer Entertainment Savings books, which are a veritable gold mine of discounts for the socially savvy. Usually sold by charitable organizations, the pages usually contain dozens of freebies, discounts and restaurant savings.

Make sure you read the fine print though; many restaurants only offer savings during non-peak days (usually Mon-Thurs) or have other usage restrictions.

Choose Counter Service over Table Service

A major cost of dining out is a gratuity- which is typically between 15-10 percent for good service.  One way around that is to visit counter service eateries over those that require table service.  Counter service is not limited to fast-food drive thru either. There are a number of trendy cafes and sandwich shops all over the place that do offer decent, interesting, healthy meals where tipping never enters the picture.

Drink Water

Restaurant bills can be sneaky, in the sense that various add-ons, like drinks can jack your tally up substantially. Alcohol, particularly, is very expensive in a restaurant. Even pop or coffee can add up quickly- particularly if free refills are not offered. Water in restaurants is usually filtered and not too bad to drink.

Choose your Meal from the Appetizers

Who says your entrée has to come from the entrée section? Appetizers are generally less expensive, and are frequently sizeable, as they often are meant to be shared with the table. This is a good way to fill up without paying full price.

Pack it Up

Even if you do pay full price for a meal, make sure to bring home any leftovers, which ultimately stretches the food dollar that you are spending. If the menu price tag puts you off, try framing it in the context of two meals (or at least one meal and a snack!)

Kids Eat Free

Restaurants are growing savvy about the high cost of eating out with kids. Check out “kids eat free” promotions, offered frequently at chains and at local eateries.  Ask about details though, so you don’t get any surprises with the bill. Often a child eats for free only when accompanied with an adult (i.e. one free kid’s meal per paid adult meal). These are often limited to specific days of the week, or to specific service hours (usually non-peak days/hours).