How to Save Money When Going Out to Dinner

by David Ning · 11 comments

When trying to save money, going out to dinner becomes a real treat. This one is about going out for a great meal, having some fun while keeping your wallet in mind. It takes a little planning and a bit of work, but with some clever strategies, you can still enjoy a good night out.

Family Fun

Tons of restaurants offer free kids meals with the purchase of adult entrees. There are websites dedicated to helping you find these restaurants in your area. Check around online and keep a list of those restaurants your family likes and when they offer free kids meals.

Some restaurants require an adult meal per kid meal; others offer two kids meals for each adult meal. Pick which one suits your families needs best. You can easily spend $20-30 for a family of four at that restaurant with the arches these days, but the same amount of money can mean a good BBQ joint with free meals for the kids and something tastier for the grown ups.

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Whether you find them in the Entertainment Book, the newspaper, or local savings magazines; use them. I recently discovered a great coupon that turns up monthly in our local circulars. A family meal for four, including salad, breadsticks, drinks, and two family sized entrees at a great Italian place for $19.99. Even with a tip, the four of us were full for $25 and have enough leftovers for the three kids to enjoy the food again for lunch. If I take them to another Italian place, I could easily spend three times that for the same amount of food.

Many places offer buy one get one free coupons. You need to plan a bit with these, since you are stuck with two people eating the same thing. Though if you can make this work for you, it is a great deal.

An extension of the coupon phenomenon is purchasing gift certificates for specific restaurants on discount websites. You can usually pick up the certificate for less than half price, and if you have a promotional code, the deals are even sweeter. With a little luck, I have picked up $25 Restaurant.com gift certificates for $3 here.

Discount Dining

If you are going out to eat and can’t find a coupon or a deal, avoid the extras. Drinks are marked up a tremendous amount; up to 400% in some cases. Have water or seltzer if it is free, and save your money for the meal. Skip appetizers and desert. That $5.00 piece will buy you a whole cheesecake to eat when you get home.

Another option is to make a meal out of appetizers. Truly, the portion of most appetizers is more than enough to fill you, especially for lunch. Share two appetizers with your dining companion and you get variety and a smaller check.

Personally, I hate to eat alone and dining out makes it easier. Still, I live on a limited budget and can’t waste money on eating out. Seeking out the best deals while still going out to dinner translates to having my cake and eating it too.

This is yet another article in the How to Save Money on Everything. Check out the whole ebook for free by signing up for the newsletter (also free) here.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

John DeFlumeri Jr November 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

That makes a lot of sense, dessert and beverage alone is usually eight dollars plus tx Per Person. Use coupons, or know about early bird specials, and weeknight promotions, right again.

John DeFlumeri Jr

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Dawn November 22, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Great ideas for saving $. Eating out is definitely a treat, especially in these tough times.

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kenyantykoon November 23, 2009 at 12:10 am

when dining out the last thing that is on my mind is saving cash in restaurants but i should start being frugal in this area because if i don’t it will be a case of penny wise and pound foolish. It makes no sense to live frugally in many areas, save a lot of cash and blow it all on food or something

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Jack November 23, 2009 at 9:58 am

We always buy dessert elsewhere. $7.00 for a piece of cake is way too much. We get a whole one and have it for days for less than dessert out.

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Craig November 23, 2009 at 11:29 am

Drinks are usually what jack up the price of a meal. Stick with water and split appetizers. That way you can save money, or get something for dessert.

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Ashley November 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I’m a big fan of drinking water at restaurants. Also, if you’re an adult that doesn’t eat much, consider ording a kids meal as well. Same food, smaller portion, better price.

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Credit Card Chaser November 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm

I also pay with my cash back credit card that saves me anywhere from 1% to 3% off of the total cost of the meal. Not a fortune but it certainly adds up over the course of the year.

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Cd Phi November 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm

I am an avid restaurant.com user. Sometimes they offer discounts on the coupons as well so it is even cheaper. Not only do you get to save money, but you can browse restaurants in your area and even try new ones that you may have been curious about. The only way i go out to eat nowadays is if i can find some kind of deal for that restaurant and that saves me a LOT of money while being able to enjoy eating out as well.

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Evan December 1, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I would absolutely add Restaurant.com . The best site EVER. When they are having delas you can get a $25 coupon for $3 (normally it is $10 which is still an insane deal)

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Michelle Travers December 7, 2009 at 9:37 am

When I eat out it depends on who’s with me and what I do. If it’s just me and my daughter I usually just split a meal. If I go out with the family I use http://www.kidseatfor.com because then I can eat a a good place, i’m not restricted to a certain day and not have to worry too much. I don’t order a soda, appetizer or dessert. I think when I go out to eat with my family of four, we can get out for under $25 with a tip.

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Susie B June 1, 2011 at 7:31 am

While meals coupons and websites like Restaurant.com can save you a ton of money, please be mindful of the actual value of what you are getting when you go to leave your tip.

The author of the article mentions a family Italian meal for four at the bargain price of $20 that was probably worth $60. A $5 tip on this meal means you aren’t really tipping your server appropriately for the value of the meal and the amount of work they are doing. Especially if you’re bringing along three kids.

It’s all too often that those of us working hard to serve you quality food at a discount get the short end of the stick. It’s hard to want to continue providing stellar service for coupon-toters who only tip based on the discounted price of their meals.

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