How to Eat out without Putting Your Budget Planner in the Red

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Budget-Friendly Restaurant Tips

After a long day of work, sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking dinner, even though you know it would be cheaper to eat in. Americans spend an average of $225 a month eating food away from home, but there are many ways you can keep that figure down while still enjoying a change of scene:

Drink water. Consider that if you buy a soda at a restaurant, you will likely spend $1.50 to $2.00. If you went to the supermarket, you could get a full two-liter for less than that! And alcoholic beverages are also very marked up and can be a significant chunk of the final bill depending on what you get. So instead opt for water, it’s free!

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Split a meal. The portion sizes at restaurants are often gigantic and you’ll cut your bill in half by sharing your dish with someone else. If you’re afraid it’s not enough food, you can always order an additional side or opt to add that salad onto the meal. But you may be surprised how easy it is to fill up.

Save part of the meal for later. But what if no one wants to eat what you do? No problem. You can increase the value of your meal by splitting it with yourself! Ask the waiter to give you a to-go box before you even take a bite. Split everything in half and put it in the box to eat later. This is also a great way to control the calories you eat.

Make an appetizer your meal. Often, they’re cheaper than a regular meal and don’t include unnecessary extras that you don’t want. Another route that many people take is to order several different sides. It can be fun since you get to try many things!

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Skip dessert. Like soda and alcohol, these are often overpriced. You can get some ice cream at the restaurant for the same prices that you can buy a carton of ice cream at the store. Instead, make a stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Order from the kid’s menu. This trick is especially useful for people who simply can’t finish their entire meal at a restaurant. Sometimes the portions are smaller, but just as often, they’re not. Most places will allow you to order from the kid’s menu even if you are clearly over 12 years old.

Go out for breakfast or lunch. Prices go up for dinner. If you head out early, you’ll get the same food at a lower price. Some places even allow you to order off the lunch menu if it’s after the designated time. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Fill up on free starters. Who needs an appetizer when you get free breadsticks or chips and salsa? Consider that when you’re ordering your meal. You may not need as much food as you think.

Dine at places that don’t require a tip. Consider trying restaurants like Panera or Chipotle where they offer only counter service. You still have the experience of going out to eat, but you automatically shave that 15 to 20 percent tip off of your bill.

Look for “Kids Eat Free” deals. If you’re going out as a family, look for places that offer free or discounted meal for kids. Then you may be able to splurge a little on your own meal!

What dining out secrets do you employ to save a few bucks? Share your ideas in the comments!

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