Eight Ways to Save Money When Eating at a Restaurant

Eight Ways to Save Money When Eating at a Restaurant

Eating out is fun, relaxing, tasty…and darn expensive! The current tough economic times have forced a lot of people to trim their dining budgets, but it’s a hard thing to give up altogether. So in the spirit of indulgence — but within a budget — here are eight tips for saving money at the restaurant:

Split a meal

Most restaurants offer portions that are larger than a person would normally eat at home, so save the price of one whole meal by splitting an entree with your partner. Same goes for the kids — if you know neither little Sammy nor little Janey will eat a whole chicken fingers dinner, why buy two? Some restaurants charge a fee to split the meal, but it’s way less than another whole entree would cost.

Don’t split the bill

If you go out with a group, ask for your own bill. That way you won’t have to subsidize your buddy Buster’s six Dutch imports while you sip a Diet Coke. Everyone has a story about spending way more than planned because someone in the group overindulged (or worse yet, forgot her money). Even if everyone else in the group is sharing a bill, beg off by saying you need to leave early or something. You’ll be glad you did when you see the rest of the group struggle over that giant bill.

Drink wisely

Drinks can add up to a serious part of your dinner tab if you’re not careful. Four options: 1) certain restaurants, especially those without liquor licenses, allow patrons to BYOB. They may charge a “corkage” fee to open and serve the liquor you bring in, but you’ll still save a ton of money; 2) drink specials are often worth it — a bucket of Bud Light for $15 is a much better deal than buying six separate imports; 3) bottomless drinks? Yes please!; and 4) water is almost always free, and everyone knows how healthy it is, so drink up.

Stick with the specials

Restaurants promote specials, such as buy-one-get-one-free deals, to get you in the door. They hope you’ll buy drinks, appetizers, dessert, etc. to make your visit profitable. But they won’t complain if you just take the special without the extras (and guess what, they’re still making more money than if you didn’t show up at all). So take advantage of those deals. Same goes with Groupon and those other seemingly amazing “daily deals.” You’re saving money, the restaurant’s making a little money, and everyone is happy in the end.

Become a regular

Regulars are treated better, get the best tables, and generally have way more fun than the customer who shows up once a decade. But how do regulars save money? A couple of ways. First, no one cares if a regular comes and nurses one beer for two hours. So if you just want the restaurant experience without spending much money, go to your regular joint. Second, regulars get clued in on the best deals, get offered the most lucrative loyalty cards, and sometimes get free stuff. They get all this because the owner values loyalty, and if he gives you a free dessert tonight you’ll tell your friends how great it is tomorrow. So soak up the pleasures of being a regular, including a slightly fatter wallet.

Use the doggie bag

Don’t be embarrassed to take your leftovers home. You paid for them, right? If it was great for dinner tonight, it will be nice for lunch tomorrow.

Go for lunch instead of dinner

If your schedule allows, enjoy the restaurant experience at lunch rather than dinner. The prices are almost always lower…sometimes even on the same dishes! Plus many restaurants have quick lunch specials that beat any dinner special, because they know most workers on lunch break are on a tight budget and tight schedule.

Don’t stiff your server

No matter what you do, don’t think the tip is a place to save money. Servers work hard for you, so if the service is decent, give them the full 20 percent. Trying to save a buck by paying a measly tip will only bring you bad mojo. If you just can’t stomach paying the tip, go to a restaurant that doesn’t have table service. You’re not limited to fast food — every town has a decent cafeteria-style or counter-service restaurant.

Dining out is a major social event, and even the thriftiest tightwad wants to enjoy a restaurant now and then. If Scrooge follows these tips, he can have his fun and still have a fat wallet.

14 Responses to “Eight Ways to Save Money When Eating at a Restaurant”

  1. Anonymous

    You should note in the article how the people who are going to feel smart for getting up and asking for their own bill should be sure to count everything they ate.

    Especially with older people, leaving the rest of the group to pay for things like the service charge or the beverages bought for the whole table like that beer special mentioned equals to endless feuds.

  2. Anonymous

    @Hannah: An important distinction point should also be made when you are dealing with a discount or coupon: Your tip should be based on the REGULAR meal price, not the discounted one.

  3. Anonymous

    If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out.

    Personally, I always tip over 20% unless the SERVER did something wrong. On smaller meals, I’ll often tip over 30%. If you don’t value the service you got enough to throw down just one extra friggen dollar, or you pull out one of those inane “tip cards”, you should end up in customer hell where your food is always cold, late and wrong. And I will point and laugh.

  4. Anonymous

    We go to a spaghetti place on sundays, always order the same thing, 1/2 Mizithra cheese, 1/2 Rich Meat Sauce, salads are included, beverages too, nice loaf of bread and spumoni or sherbert..all for a low price of $10.25 went up a whole .25 cents last Nov 2011! The loaf of bread is replenished, beverages too, the spaghetti is great, spumoni so good..the servers are all young people going to college working there and other places since tuition at the junior college and regular university is soaring, I always leave either $5.00 or above, it is their wages, since the hourly wage is so little if a person doesn’t tip the customer it in essence stealing from the waitstaff, this place has been around since 1969 and for the value of the food served it is a big bargain, family friendly and no loud drunks at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Anonymous

    The thing with restaurants is that it’s very easy to save if you know where to look. Consider looking at sites such as Groupon and Restaurant.com. These are great ways to easily save up to 75% off. On top of that, also consider checking eBay and such for gift card discounts.

    @Marcus I completely agree. My Husband and I always avoid purchasing apps and desserts. I’ve also found that Mom and Pop restaurants are not only cheaper, but way better than chain restaurants.

  6. Anonymous

    I can’t believe your advice to save money when going out to eat is Be a Regular. The reason regulars get privileges is because the restaurant is staying in business thanks to your wallet.

    How about drink water, Eat out less, skip appetizer and dessert, and do not get fooled by the prices on the menu? Order appropriately because if you do not you will be a victim of price anchoring!

    And why is it a standard practice to tip on percentages of any number? The restaurant industry needs to be overhauled. Restaurants should work tips into the price and only expect a tip for exceptional service. I do not want to tip more at a more expensive restaurant simply because the bill is higher.

    Restaurants should increase prices and pay servers better. Stop putting a moral dilemma on he hands of their patrons.

  7. Anonymous

    I can attest that being a “regular” has its benefits.

    My wife and I have been getting a free appetizer for the last two months at our neighborhood Mexican restaurants on Friday nights.

  8. Anonymous

    Simply to point out a relevant fact as to the 20% rule, generally one reason it became known as a standard is because many restaurants claim tips of their employees based on a percentage of the employees’ sales. Usually that’s about 13% of sales. Because waiters often have people to “tip out” (bussers, bartenders, etc.) and bartenders do as well (bussers, barbacks, the kitchen, sometimes waitstaff and food runners), that often ends up with them “sharing” about 1/3 of their tips.

    So that often requires an average of 20% tips required to reach 13% after “tip out.”

    Basically, if a waiter doesn’t end up with an average of 20% tip they often get taxed on money they never made.

    I know you may ask “why is this my problem.” It’s not necessarily, but “the way it works” is often unknown.

    I bartended for 6 years and rarely got less than an average of 20-25% at the end of the night. But I worked my tail off, flipping bottles, spitting fire, entertaining and making great drinks. If a waiter works for it they should be rewarded with at least 20% IMO. If they are terrible then it could certainly go down from there.

    two cents

  9. Anonymous

    I was a server for years, and to reply to Justin, I would never be disappointed with a 15% tip. Somewhere between 15-20% is average. When I go out to eat, I assume I’ll tip 20%, and then make adjustments from there based on the server’s performance.

    I think a lot of people don’t realize that servers generally get enough hourly wage to cover their taxes on the tipped income (I got $2.13/hr), meaning that they don’t get paychecks of any meaningful amount. All the money a server has to eat and pay bills with comes directly from tipping.

  10. Anonymous

    I always tip a lot, the server is usally getting far less than most people would ever ever know..we don’t frequent expensive places, never order beverages unless it is included and pay almost only $10.00 for our meals, breakfast lunch or dinner, get a good deal for food I normally or my hubby would not make at home. 20% percent is the norm for us, it is a job most people have to have another job just to survive, they pay txes on an average amount of tips and a lot of people don’t tip at all..shame on them..I worked a servers job and the owner if he knew you stiffed us asked you not to frequent his place of business again, this was the late 60’s in beautiful san diego, california but we were all going to college and needed the money for our books, etc. he was a gem of a person and taught me more about life than most jobs I have had since I graduated college, why not be decent and tip at the very least 20% afterall you don’t need to go out to dine unless you really can afford to tip the server, plain and simple..Love your blog, it is interesting and I use your tips almost daily!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Anonymous

    “Give them the full 20 percent” ?

    Since when has standard tip been 20%? I grew up with the understanding that 15% is the norm for average service. I don’t like this trend of rising tip percentages…

  12. Anonymous

    I’ve never understood why large groups would split a bill equally. That is always setup so that someone pays more and someone pays less. I guess I can see it if you’re all just too lazy to care and the bill isn’t that big. But generally doing the math and having everyone pay only for what they ordered isn’t that hard.

    I think that if you’re a regular then you might also get slightly bigger food portions and maybe stiffer alcohol drinks.

  13. Anonymous

    Great tips. I posted my top 5 ways to save money on dinner recently and have a few others too. My favorite tip is to skip apps and the pie at the end and just get an entree. If you’re still hungry an hour later buy a cookie (or pie… mmm… pie…).

    And great to see the “don’t stiff the waiter” listed. It’s amazing how many people see not tipping as a way to save money. Terrible.

    Great post!

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