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How To Spend Less Money Eating Out: 10 Easy Ways

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Nothing does a number on your finances than developing a habit of dining out every night. There’s nothing inherently wrong with eating out.

We do deserve a little treat now and then. The problem that most of us have to deal with is spending the equivalent of a week’s worth of grocery shopping. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways on how to spend less money eating out.

Why Americans Prefer Eating Out

Aside from the fact that we all love eating out, there may be a plausible explanation for this. Through the years, more and more ladies are getting into the labor force. The rate has grown from a mere 34% in 1950 to a startling 56% today.

For most millennials, it’s way easier to take away ready-made food from a restaurant as compared to preparing it themselves at home. In most cases, time has become the limiting factor.

The Wall Street Journal reveals that restaurants charge approximately four times the worth of an average dish. Whatever your reason for dining out, it’s crystal clear that delivery/carry-out and frequenting restaurants is not cheap.

How Much Do We Spend and How Often?

A survey carried out by Zagat revealed that the average millennial spends approximately $36 per individual when eating out. As if that’s not enough, the same study learned that most individuals eat out approximately 4.5 times every week.

In Los Angeles, eating out has become a part of the residents’ daily lives. They will do this an average of 5.2 times every week. Their Bostonian counterparts, on the other hand, dine out around 3.8 times per week.

The Department of Commerce has also collected a Food Services report with a shocking finding that most Americans spend an average of $54.86 on bars and restaurants than they do on fruits and vegetables ($52.5 billion).

What it Takes to Trim Down the Cost of Dining Out

Now, you’re probably wondering how you could cut back on dining out costs. We all could use some extra cash. If you think about, it’s way cheaper opting for home-made food.

On the other, there is no denying the convenience (not to mention satisfaction) of eating out at restaurants. It is, in fact, a great way to spend quality time with your friends, family or significant other away from the confines of your home. In some cases, the food prepared at restaurants is better compared to what you eat at home.

Rather than sacrificing your most treasured burger joints and sushi places, there are a couple of ways in which you can work them into your budget. If you play your cards right, you could end up spending less than you would when dining in!

1. Take Advantage of Useful Smartphone Apps

If you find it challenging to stay under budget due to the expensive cost of eating out, there are dozens of apps you can use to score unbelievable deals on your next meals.

Other apps will even help you explore new eat out joints and grant you exclusive access to restaurant specials. These are some of the best apps you should be having in your phone right now:

1. Groupon

If you’re ready to spread your wings and soar to new restaurants in your locale, download the Groupon app. This app can help you find incredible package deals on drinks and dinner in a flash – from deep discounts to prix fixe menus on a single meal.

Be on the alert for Groupon’s very own local specials where you’re offered an extra discount on all deal purchases over a couple of days. You can still use your initially paid amount on your next purchase even if you don’t use your Groupon by the time the deal is off.

2. Scoutmob

The Scoutmob app offers big city dwellers exclusive restaurant deals. What differentiates the pickings on this sites from its counterparts? Well, the fact that a vigilant team of ground-based Scouts curates every deal.

You will receive restaurant recommendations that are sure to prompt a change in your dining venue. The best part about it is that you don’t have to pay a single penny. All deals are updated from time to time. 

3. Yelp

Have you had your eye on a specific dining spot for a while now? You can now read unbiased reviews on that place the next time you visit the Yelp app. Locate the small green price tag alongside the business name to be on the know on the latest deals.

Many discounts are for an undisclosed dollar amount off of every purchase you make. To make the most informed decision, you can see reviews and star ratings of a couple of the town’s most popular dining destinations.

4. DealNews

This app helps you find the best local deals at cafes, breweries, tapas bars, and local restaurants in a few swipes and taps. It is straightforward to use and gives you a chance to hone the day’s best deals, which are vetted by deal experts.

This will ensure you don’t receive fake deal alerts or expired coupons. If you’re in need of a few ideas or you need to check out the hottest and newest deals, the Editor’s Choice feature has it all.

5. Restaurant.com

Using only your tablet or smartphone, you can purchase the best deals using this app. With Restaurant.com, printing out vouchers and coupons is a thing of the past. You are also given full access to mobile transactions.

Utilize the built-in directions and mapping feature to locate your desired dining venue in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. 

6. BiteHunter

Use BiteHunter to get a real-time, comprehensive list of dozens of restaurant deals from multiple sources. With this app, you can find anything from brunch discounts to happy hour specials in your neighborhood.

The ‘BiteBuy’ function is a unique feature that eliminates the need to enter your billing information each time you want to make a purchase. The filter can be used to narrow down choices by a specific location or even by type of cuisine.

There are tonnes of other restaurant cash back apps. Just be sure to pick the app that suits your money-saving needs for the best dining-out experience.

2. Why Drink Alcohol/Soda When You Can Drink Water?

Just think; how much would you save on average if you substituted tap water (say no to bottled) for soda or alcohol each time you ate out. Every restaurant, be it fast food or not, always has an option of free water. Did you know that by merely substituting water for alternative drinks, you could save approximately $977 every year?

On average, sodas cost anywhere between $0.05 to $0.25. At restaurants, they go ahead and sell it with three bucks on top. Alcohol markups, on the other hand, can more often than not exceed 600%.

In any restaurant, a single alcoholic drink costs somewhere around $8-$10. In a month, you spend around $64-80 each month when you order 8 bottles. Prices are bound to be more than this if you live outside the Midwest. Unbelievable, right?

This is why, unless the alcohol is free, you should wait till you get home to indulge all you want. You will be doing yourself a huge financial favor and a healthy one as well. Indeed, it may be hard to adapt to this routine, but you’ll get the hang of it eventually. You’ll be surprised at how much you can save just by practicing a little self-control.

3. Use Reward Programs or Enroll in Restaurant Loyalty Programs

If you’re one to eat out more than you do at home, you can save some serious cash by joining your restaurant’s rewards programs.

Numerous restaurants offer email lists for their loyal members that advertise specials. If you happen to have a favorite restaurant, check if they have this sort of thing. If they do, don’t have second thoughts about signing up.

Many other restaurants give out freebies on your birthday. In exchange for your email address, you can dine out at zero cost for the better part of your birthday month.

  • iDine.com: This free rewards program enables you to link your credit card each time you dine out. Every time you dine out, you get 5%-15% of your cash back – but there’s a catch. You will have to complete an online survey based on your restaurant experiences. Every reward you get from iDine.com is paid back in an American Express card once you strike $20.
  • Opentable.com: When you make reservations with Opentable.com, you earn ten free points that, upon accumulation, can be exchanged for cash. It is a free reservations service for restaurants that also doubles as a review site. Though the chances of making a fortune through the system are slim, every dollar you get is worth something. The moment you reach 2,000 points, you are awarded a $10 certificate that applies to the next dining experience.
  • Upromise Dining: Upromise Dining is a similar rewards program but with a uniquely different mode of operation. When you eat out at participating restaurants, your rewards are deposited directly into your college fund.

4. Be Smart When Ordering Food and Drinks

While ordering the most affordable meal on the menu is an excellent strategy for saving on costs, an alternative approach is to order dishes that are less common (or harder) to make at home. For example, you can skip a burger and order a ‘homemade’ lasagna. Order a duck and prepare yourself a chicken at home.

As much as possible, try to skip out on appetizers and dessert. Although it may sound boring, you save a lot by only eating entrees at restaurants. If you really need an appetizer, grab a light snack and eat it on the way to the restaurant. You could alternatively stop by the store and buy a gallon of ice cream at half the price of a scoop.

Alcoholic drinks are, more often than not, the most costly part of meals at the restaurant. Are they all that important when you can enjoy all the wine you want from the comfort of your home?

If you need to sip on something strong after your fulfilling meal, look for restaurants with a ‘BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze)’ sign.

There are variations in rules and prices among venues with this sign. The more reason to be on the lookout for corkage fees. Don’t be shy to offer the restaurant a ring before your visit to learn more about the BYOB policy.

Some will allow you to exclusively carry beer and wine, whereas others don’t mind if you bring your own bottle of spirits. They will, however, charge you for the mixers alone. If you wish to be economical in your alcohol spending, here are a few mobile apps you can try out.

5. Arrive Early, Spend Less

Most high-end restaurants are known to offer ‘early bird specials’ for diners who are punctual in their visit. By punctual, you should be there earlier in the evening before other patrons start swarming the building.

Deals such as these are otherwise referred to as ‘pre-theatre’ deals. The initial idea was that you stop by for a quick dish before making your way to the theater.

Early bird specials enable you to get a limited number of courses at a somewhat discounted price as they understand that you’re going to be in and out pretty fast.

The menu is set in advance and not much is offered in terms of variety. This can be a great way to keep you from extravagant spending on meals that you’ll otherwise not end up consuming.

For instance, three courses with a maximum of only two choices to choose from for each course. On the plus side, the prices are extremely lower compared to the regular menu.

6. Share a Meal Then Split the Costs

Restaurants nowadays are generous in their serving portions. At the end of it all, you’ll be expected to pay for a dish that you cannot finish even if you tried. Rather than wasting money on meals that will, later on, turn out to be leftovers, why not split it with your friend(s)?

With this option, you can eat all you want with the assurance that you’re not footing the bill on your own. What’s more, you can always order more food if you were not particularly satisfied with the first meal. You can go on to share a salad/appetizer and an entree to ensure you get the best of your money.

The downside of sharing a meal in most restaurants is that they charge extra for split plates. If there is an additional fee, it will be indicated on the menu or the waiter/waitress will make it clear to you when you place your order.

Aside from being an excellent way to save you money, sharing a meal with friends and family can be fun. Compared to having a quick dinner on your own, you have someone to talk to as you satisfy your taste buds.

If you can do this on a more frequent basis, you’ll not only be cutting back on dining out costs, but also improving your relationship with your friends and loved ones. Killing two birds with one stone.

7. Eat Out at Restaurants Where Kids Eat for Free

“Do restaurants like these exist?”, you may ask. Well, of course, they do! This option is recommended for individuals or couples who love taking out their kids for a treat.

There’s no denying that eating out can break the bank when you’re making for more people other than yourself.

For this reason, there is a nationwide deal that runs exclusively on Tuesdays that ensures that kids do not pay a single cent on every meal they order. The following are a list of restaurants with free meals for kids:

  • White Castle: Every Sunday from 4-8pm.
  • Chik-Fil-A: Every Tuesday from 5:30-7:30 pm with a single purchase of an adult meal.
  • Hooter’s: Every Sunday from 11 am-11 pm
  • White Castle: Every Sunday from 4-8 pm
  • Pizza Hut: All day every Tuesday
  • Moe’s Southwestern Grill: All day every Tuesday
  • Steak ‘n Shake: All day every Sunday
  • Qdoba Mexican Grill: Only on Sundays and Wednesdays
  • Bob Evans: Every Tuesday after 4 pm with a purchase of an adult dish.
  • Denny’s: Every Saturday and Tuesday from 4-10 pm

There are, however, a few hotels that offer daily deals. Check with restaurants around your area as specials vary from one restaurant to another.

8. Set Financial Goals and Stick to Them

When it comes to dining out, the best you can do to limit your extravagant spending is by setting simple financial goals. By focusing on these goals, you put yourself on the right path to financial freedom.

At a restaurant, it will simplify the initially complicated choice between ordering a steak, a salad or an alcoholic beverage versus a glass of water. To be on the safe side, don’t keep your financial goals to yourself.

Share them with your dining-out pals, who will keep you on track should temptations overwhelm you. They may also offer their suggestions on a less-costly dinner spot rather than the exceptional dining location you frequent every night.

In fast-casual restaurants such as Pei Wei, Panera Bread, Five Guys, and Chipotle, you’re not expected to tip the server. You benefit financially by getting great food while being able to skip the 20%+ tip.

Among your goals should be to eat at home at least once a week. Dining out is great, but it can be a burden to your wallet when you do it every night. Plan in advance what you want to eat and purchase what you’ll need soon enough.

9. Have a Light Snack Before You Get to the Restaurant

The main reason we love eating out is that what we eat is prepared by someone else other than ourselves. The temptation to eat more and more arises when you have a monstrous appetite that can only be tamed by having more than one serving. This is why you should prepare your stomach for the main course by having a light snack.

When referring to a light snack, this is a fruit or a bag of chips. Nothing more and nothing less. What would be the point of eating out at a restaurant when your stomach is already stuffed to capacity?

It may sound counter-intuitive at first, but who would dare step into a supermarket or a grocery store on an empty stomach? With that said, your stomach is bound to dictate what you should and should not eat when you leave your home without sorting it out.

Make it a point to chew on fruits or snacks before you leave or on your way to the restaurant. The less hungry you are, the less you’re going to spend. This would also be a great way to keep fit if you’re out to shed a few kilos.

10. Do Extensive Research Before Visiting a New Restaurant

Doing your research beforehand and choosing the perfect restaurant in advance will more than triple your chances of enjoying a successful, less-costly night out. Why?

When it comes down to dining out alone, picking out a restaurant that is off the cuff usually turns out to be a daunting task. Add this to your already packed schedule and you’re in for the worst day of your life.

Wandering around the streets with the intention of finding a classy, good-enough place to eat out is definitely not the way to go. If anything, you’ll end up walking for miles and miles to the point of frustration.

It pays to do look up some of the best hotels around your area based on when you plan to eat out. Be acquainted with the foods on the menu and how expensive or affordable they are. This will enable you to plan ahead of time what you’re going to be having.

Go the extra mile and reserve a table in advance. Most restaurants allow this, provided you give them a strong assurance that you’re not going to be a no-show on the material day or time.

The Bottomline

Most of us consider eating out our Kryptonite and probably the most difficult habit to shake off. Even though it may be your guilty pleasure, it does not benefit your wallet (and your waistline) in any positive way.

Whether you’re a solo diner who wishes to explore the food scene or you’ve been in it long enough, but still don’t know how to cut down your dining-out costs, these should work out for you just fine. The outlined tips above should be easy enough for anyone to put into practice – irrespective of their eating habits.

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