Over the years, restaurants have honed the art of getting you to open your wallet – as well as your mouth – wider. When they’re doing it right, you might not even realize that it’s happening. And now that you know, you might feel like you should just stop going out if you want to spend less at restaurants.
However, you can still have a great meal out without blowing your budget. Here are a few simple tips that can help you spend less at restaurants with no stress.
It’s no secret that on holidays like Valentine’s Day, most restaurants jack up their prices. Other holidays to watch out for include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or any other occasion that might inspire a restaurant to put together a special prix fixe menu.
Instead, make a special meal at home for that occasion and go out another time. You don’t have to go out just because it’s a popular restaurant night. Plus, you’ll probably get better service and tastier food by steering clear of hectic, busy holidays. It’s a win-win!
Go for Happy Hour
Lots of restaurants offer screaming deals at happy hour. From half-price drinks to cheap appetizers, you could cobble together an inexpensive yet satisfying feast by only ordering off the happy hour menu. Just make sure to pay attention to the time! You don’t want to end up paying full price because you put your order in at 7:01 instead of 6:59.
Along the same lines, lunch tends to be a cheaper meal to have in a restaurant than dinner. So, if you can, try to go out for lunch instead.
Skip the Appetizer
Appetizers are super tempting, but often they’re just unnecessary extra calories that also take a bite out of your budget. Ordering a couple of apps for the table can add up quickly to spending an extra $20 or $30. Plus, these salty and savory dishes are often designed to make you thirsty so you’ll order more drinks.
If you must have a snack, nibble on something at home before you go out to eat. Try making a green salad, having a handful of nuts, or snacking on some cheese and crackers to take the edge off.
And while we’re on the topic of add-ons, unless a restaurant is known for their stellar desserts, it’s best to have your sweets at home. Dessert can be a bit of an afterthought in a busy kitchen, and you want to spend your sweet cash on treats that are really worth it, right?
Share With a Friend
Many restaurants serve enormous portions that you can’t possibly finish in one sitting. If you’re not fond of eating leftovers, see if a friend will split a dish with you. This way, you can also split the cost of the meal and avoid food waste.
If you’re feeling extravagant and your budget allows, you could use sharing with a friend as an excuse to get an appetizer to split too. Or, at a restaurant with smaller plates, share everything so you can taste a variety of things without having to buy too many different dishes.
One cup of coffee or glass of soda in a restaurant could easily end up costing you $3 or more. To save your budget, sticking to a free glass of water is your best bet.
However, if you want to indulge in an alcoholic bev with your meal, try this rule of thumb. Only order a special drink that you can’t get anywhere else. You could probably get a six pack of beer for the price of one glass on the menu, but if the restaurant has a specialty house-made craft cocktail and it’s in your budget, go ahead and treat yourself to one.
Follow Your Faves
Sign up for your favorite restaurants’ email lists and follow them on social media. Lots of restaurants send special deals to their subscribers and followers. Make sure you’re in the loop and take advantage of offers when your local hot spots send them out. Some places might even have loyalty programs that can help you get deals the more you keep coming back.
Get Cash Back
Finally, you can use your credit card’s rewards program to get cash back when you dine out. Just be sure to pay off your balance in full each month or you’ll be sending your cash right back to your credit card company.
Don’t wait to get out of debt! Read this: A Complete, Step-By-Step Guide to Get Out of Debt.