Love eating out? If so, you probably know how easy it is to quickly run up an expensive tab. A drink here and an appetizer there, and you're easily at $20 per person. If you include the whole family, you could be looking at a $100 bill. Then there's tax. Then there's tip.
It's common knowledge that eating out, as much as we love the experience, can be unhealthy for our wallets. Worst of all, it's tough to find a good restaurant deal. High-quality coupons are few and far between, and usually, it's tough to find a promotion for the particular place that you're craving. Instead of listening to your culinary impulses and shelling out the big bucks, here are six simple ways to save at restaurants.
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1. Avoid Appetizers
These small portions, while delicious, are not a good value for your money. In general, appetizers are expensive for the amount of food that you'll receive. If you're looking for an additional dish, consider ordering an extra entrée. You'll be able to feed more people, and extras can go into a takeout box to eat later. Alternatively, if you can't justify the extra food, then don't order it. Even if you're extremely hungry, one entrée should be plenty.
2. Ditch Drinks
Drinks tend to have some of the highest markups of any item on a restaurant menu. Instead of ordering one, ask for a glass of water. It will cost you nothing and will complement any meal.
3. Clip Coupons
If you're an expert couponer, you know that finding restaurant deals can be tricky. Try signing up for email lists, visiting your favorite restaurant's website from time to time, and keeping your eyes open for happy hour deals or seasonal promotions.
4. Split Meals
If you're visiting a restaurant with notoriously large portions, split your meals. There's no need to order more food than you can eat, and you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of sharing.
5. Eat Half
When you receive a big portion, you shouldn't feel obligated to eat all of it. Health-wise and wallet-wise, you're better off eating half your food and taking the rest to go. With some entrees, you can even split your meal into thirds. This strategy will help you bring down your cost per meal. For instance, if you eat a $10 entrée over two meals, you will end up paying $5 per meal instead of $10 per meal. An added benefit is that you won't have to cook for two meals in a row.
6. Shop Around
By reading reviews, you'll quickly learn that expensive isn't always better. You'll be surprised what great food you'll find at your neighborhoods' hidden gems. Before you take your family to a new place, preview the menu online so that you can budget your night out. Research other options before letting big names win you over.
The Bottom Line
Cooking at home will always be your least expensive option, but that doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself of a good night out. Enjoy what the chefs of the world have to offer, but do so in moderation. Don't waste food, and despite what your hunger cravings tell you, stick your budget. Your stomach and wallet will thank you.