Dining out at restaurants is one of favorite indulgences. The food may not be superb, but I love being served, not having to jump and get things for the family and having no dishes or clean-up afterwords. I enjoy cooking, but it is nice to get a night off from the stove.
Restaurants and dining out gets really pricey, however. We have four children and often take my mother-in-law with us when we dine out. That’s seven times the price. Even at inexpensive diners and fast food or take-away restaurants, our tab is rarely under $40. When I do the math on a meal that I make at home and find that I can make it for half that price, my frugal self can’t relax and enjoy the meal. So I have come up with solutions to make dining out affordable for an occasional treat for myself. Here is my list of penny-pincher tips for dining out and saving money.
-Visit restaurant websites beforehand. Look for any specials, coupons or discounts that may be available. I don’t take a newspaper, so I don’t get coupons. But the same coupon can usually be printed from your home computer. Many chain restaurants offer email subscriptions with free printable coupons. Arby’s is one such restaurant.
-When you dine out, only order water as a beverage. Soda, coffee and tea have gotten more expensive. Specialty drinks like shakes, cappuccino,alcohol and mixed drinks have sky-rocketed in price. You will save at least $1 per person and more likely $3-$4 person if you skip the beverages. My daughter worked for several years at Applebee’s and often served tabs of $20 to $40 per person; only one half to one fourth of the bill being for food items.
-If menu specials aren’t posted at your local restaurant, ask. Our local family diner runs a special price of $10.99 for two full dinners. It isn’t well-advertised and really saves money.
-Many restaurants have ‘special discount’ days. There may be one special menu price each day. One restaurant near us, Vic’s Tavern has ‘taco Tuesday’s’ where tacos are half price.
-You’ll save a great deal by ordering from a luncheon menu or dining before 4pm. Buffet restaurants, Chinese restaurants and many lunch and dinner chains have excellent lunch specials, usually the same food as the dinner menu, at much lower prices. The Olive Garden, for example has a soup, salad and bread bar that is all-you-can-eat for under $6 during lunch hours.
-Don’t overlook the more expensive restaurants in favor of ‘fast food’. We have a lovely restaurant downtown Grand Haven, The Kirby House, that serves a wonderful fire-grilled pizza, salad and pasta lunch buffet for $6 during the winter months. Most ‘value’ meals at BK or McDonald’s cost about this much.
Okay, now I’m really hungry!