Trying to cut down on household expenses this month? Dining out can take its toll on your wallet, so it’s likely that going out to eat isn’t at the top of your agenda. While cooking at home will save you money in the long run, it’s OK to treat yourself to a chef-prepared meal. Here are some great money saving ideas for dining out on a budget.
Order appetizers as a meal
Many restaurants serve up generous portions of appetizers and salads. These easily can be eaten as a main course, so don’t be afraid to choose from the “starters” menu if you see something you like. These items are usually priced much lower than entrees. Add a small house salad to make a complete meal.
Keep an eye out for early bird specials
Don’t mind eating dinner a little early? Look for early bird or happy hour specials at your favorite eatery so you can get a discount on your entire meal. Half off appetizers, buy-one-get-one-free offers and other discounts can make it much easier to stay within your budget and still enjoy the restaurant experience.
Look for discounts online
Many popular restaurants offer online coupons and Web-only special offers. Do some homework on your favorite place to see what’s available. A few money saving ideas include discount gift certificates, coupons and special promotions available online; these are all great ways to pare down your dining bill.
Cut your entree in half
If you can’t find any discounts or coupons and must pay full price for your meal, consider taking half of it home. You can enjoy the second portion of your meal for lunch or dinner the following day, which saves you from making (or buying) another meal. Just divide your entree the moment it arrives so you’re not tempted to overeat, and pile it into a take-home container for the next day.
Enjoy a late lunch
Most restaurants that serve both lunch and dinner will serve their lunch specials and lunch menu right up until 3 P.M. or 4 P.M. If you eat a very late lunch, you probably won’t be hungry for dinner. Lunch prices are usually 10 to 20 percent lower than dinner menu items, so consider readjusting your schedule if you want to save a few dollars.
Skip the soft drinks
The price of soft drinks can be up to $2 or more in some dining establishments, so if you order 4 to 5 drinks for the table, you could be spending the equivalent of an appetizer or entree. Consider sticking with water so that you can splurge on an appetizer or dessert instead.
Base tips on service
Don’t feel pressured to leave a 20 percent tip at all costs; if you didn’t receive exceptional service, or were disappointed with your dining experience, plan on tipping between 10 to 15 percent. Over-tipping can quickly make a dent in your dining expenses, so think about how much you’re paying the server.
Dining out doesn’t have to take a backseat when you’re strapped for cash; all it takes is a little planning to practice these money saving ideas. Treat yourself — or the family — to a great dinner at your favorite restaurant tonight!