5 Tips for Eating Out on the Cheap

Eating out is one of our favorite things to do, but it can get expensive. We only allocate $100 month for dining out so we’ve learned to stretch our dollars so we can enjoy more meals out without breaking our budget. Here are five things everyone can do to save $$$ when eating out.

1. Drink water! – Having a soft drink or ice tea will add 20-40% to your bill. Add a glass of wine or a cocktail and you’re looking at 50% or more. Unless it’s a special occasion, drink a glass of water with lemon and enjoy that glass of wine at home.

2. Share a meal – Most restaurants simply serve more food that you can eat in a single meal. We both have healthy appetites. I will literally stab you if you come between me and food when I’m hungry. But we still share meals 90% of the time when we go out for breakfast or lunch and I always leave satisfied. But before you order make sure the restaurant doesn’t charge a split plate fee.

3. Use a coupon – With the down economy restaurants are eager to keep customers coming in and many restaurants that didn’t before are now offering coupons. Check your weekly circular mailings, local newspaper or coupon mailers for offers. Many are offering buy one get one free. But be careful of those that require a two drink purchase as that will eat into any savings on the meal.

4. Go out for lunch instead of dinner – Lunch entrees are typically priced 20% lower than the same entrée on the dinner menu.

In addition, many restaurants offer lunch specials for around $5 or $6 dollars. Chinese restaurants seem to set the standard and serve you enough food for two meals. Many Mexican restaurants serve huge portions and also include chip and salsa bars with unlimited refills. And it’s not hard to fill up on salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden before your entrée even shows up. Lunch and dinner for the price of lunch!

5. Happy Hour – Check out restaurant happy hours. If you’re in the mood for a drink and light meal this could be a great option. Happy hour specials often include drinks and appetizers at half price.

Also, check with your employer to see if they offer any programs. Mr. Frugal works for a large company in the area. They worked with local restaurants to set up a dining program that includes offers ranging from free soft drinks at local fast food joints to buy one entrée get the second free at some of the more upscale restaurants in the area. Often these programs are not promoted well internally. It took 8 years for Mr. Frugal to discover his company’s program!

Using these strategies to cut costs we’re able to eat out 4-6 times a month on $100. We get to do something we really enjoy on a pretty small budget.

What do you do to make your dining out budget go further?