The Frugal Diner

dining-out-frugallyAre you a foodie who relishes the experience of eating out and trying new things? Do you frequently meet with friends and co-workers in restaurants?

Fact is, eating out is a major expense, and if you are trying to adhere to a budget, is often the first item to get chopped, with good reason.

But what if eating out is truly one of your major pleasures? While eating in and preparing your own food is cheaper, no question, there are ways to cut down on the expense of eating in a restaurant.

Negotiate (with Yourself)

If you truly live to dine, cutting restaurants out altogether can be a bit drastic. What about if you shifted from once a week, to once every other week- or once a month?

Since your outings will be more special, because they are infrequent, plan ahead to select spots that you really want to visit. Planning, as always, will help in cutting costs, because you will have time to seek out specials and to consider your dining decisions.

Include all the Costs

To make sure that this will work within the confines of your current budget, make sure that you are including all of the costs.

Although the meal is certainly the biggest cost centre, don’t forget things like tip, parking and babysitting- which should all be included when documenting this expense.

Water? Yes Please!

Stick to water for your choice of beverage (most restaurants offer filtered water for free, often with a slice of lemon or lime to add some flavour).

Cut out alcohol. While a glass of wine might seem like a natural pairing to your meal, it adds up substantially on your bill, including extra taxes.

For soft drinks and coffees, determine if refills are free before you order another one. A charge for three coffees (two of which you didn’t really want, but figured that you’d fill up as the server cruised by with the coffee pot) can seriously pad your bill unnecessarily.

Rethink the Menu

Who says you have to head right to the entrée page? Why not have an appetizer for your meal instead? Many are sizeable, far less expensive and could easily substitute for a meal. Chat your server up and find out.

If an entrée catches your eye, ask for a to-go box, so that you can pack up leftovers for your lunch tomorrow. An expensive entrée gets more dollar mileage when it serves as two meals.

Look for Meal Deals

Sometimes restaurants (and I’m not referring to fast food) will offer discounts if you order a full meal. As in, they offer a discounted rate if you select from a menu that offers a couple of courses together.

This may very well be more food than you need in one sitting, but again, you can always bring it home and eat it the next day.

Skip Dessert

Another sneaky bill inflater- dessert. While you may relish a sweet touch at the end of the meal, this one is one that you may just have to do without to keep your budget intact.

If your sweet tooth insists, than share with your dining partner and share the costs.

Read your Bill

There are numerous reasons to read your bill thoroughly. Firstly, you want to make sure that charges are accurate. Secondly, you want to ensure that a gratuity hasn’t already been charged (some restaurants include this with the meal price, so you want to verify).

The other reason is to see if there are further potential for savings. Read all the way to the bottom of your bill. Many restaurants offer coupons or free menu items at the bottom of the bill. There are often conditions attached (i.e. you need to fill in an online survey or the offer might be time limited or for specific days of the week), but can serve for savings for your next meal out.