How to Eat Out Without Going Broke

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When people start talking budgeting and saving money, usually the first thing they suggest is “Eat out less” or “More meals at home”. 

Such great advice!  But, seriously, who wants to hear that?

While we wholeheartedly agree that those suggestions will definitely curb out of control spending, we also totally see the virtue in a nice meal at a restaurant once and a while.  It's one of our favourite pleasures, and when we go too long without this treat, well, we get grumpy.  Think: tired, toddler throwing a hissy fit on the floor at Toys R'Us. Times two.

With this in mind, we developed strategies to enjoy the occasional meal that we didn't have to cook ourselves.  That's what this post is about: sharing ideas for how you can dine out on a budget, too.

Check for specials.

Before heading out the door, do some homework:

Who offers mid-week specials for less popular nights of the week?

Google “Kids Eat Free” and the name of your town - see what comes back.  Usually, you can find a great summary some kind blogger has made for you. 

Try coupon searching on the restaurant’s website – major chains often put offers there that you don’t see anywhere else.

Time it right.

You can save big by switching up the time you go out. 

Lunch out is often just as great as dinner and almost always cheaper. Buffets are cheaper then too (especially on weekdays).  We've been known to get a babysitter for an hour or two and sneak out for a sushi lunch at our local place.  A simple affordable date.

Try an early bird special (there is a reason seniors are all over these). 

Often just doing appetisers and drinks will feel like a full meal and cost you way less.

Drink wisely.

When it comes time to order, ask yourself if it is worth paying the restaurant premiums to get a drink there. 

Sure, special occasions deserve a glass of wine, but the average meal out can stand on its own and drinks can wait for when you get home.  Most often you can buy a whole bottle of wine at a shop - for the cost of a glass at a restaurant.  (Heck even less if you make your own wine like we do!  You can find our wine making tutorial here.)

Ice Water is better for you and lets you really taste your meal.  Sometimes you feel like a cheapskate just ordering water - heck, we've even ordered more just to not seem cheap! But that's ridiculous.  You can just say, "I just prefer water, thanks." and leave it at that.

Make it count.

Look over that menu and ask yourself another question: What do I like and never make at home? Order yourself something you find hard to make and the treat of going to a restaurant becomes even better.

Try to forgo a few fast food meals in favour of one amazing meal at a great restaurant.  Make spending this money matter - instead of throwing it at a burger joint - where. let's face it - it's really not that hard to make the same thing at home.

Take advantage of big portions.

Most restaurants (especially the chains) serve portions that are too big for the average diner. Way too big!  Double often.  Don’t be shy about asking for a box to take leftovers away in. 

This turns your dinner out into twice the deal: an awesome meal at night and an envy-worthy lunch to take to work the next day.  (And no heartburn at bedtime or that rolly-polly I-ate-way-too-much feeling.)

Also, make your co-workers jealous when you heat up your lunch the next day. 😏 If that floats your boat.


Time to settle up the bill – here you can get help from Groupon, WagJag, Living Social and the social media pages of the restaurant itself.  Or maybe grab yourself a copy of your area's Entertainment Coupon Book.

Check out the Facebook and Twitter feeds to see if the offers are out there before you arrive, but if you forgot, a little searching on your smartphone might save you a fair amount at bill time. 

Get on mailing lists too – a quick email sign-up will keep the offers flowing for your favourite dining establishment. 

If the restaurant doesn’t offer any of these options, they may offer a discount for paying cash, so keep that idea in mind too.

Look for Loyalty Programs.

The other thing to watch for is a loyalty program. 

Stamp cards can often be filled up using lunches and then redeemed for dinner, making them even more frugal-tastic. 

Some businesses have Kids Clubs with even more offers to be had for making family dining more affordable.

Save dessert for at home.

While restaurant desserts always look amazing, we find we’re usually too full to really enjoy them. Rather than add another item to your bill that you won’t get maximum enjoyment out of, try saving dessert for later (like, at home). 

Conversely, when the sweet tooth is really calling, eat your main meal at home and then visit a place with an amazing dessert menu for the crowning touch.

Take it home.

It's often cheaper to get a takeaway meal.  You don't need to pay for overpriced drinks, upsold apps or server tips.  Many places offer a discount too.

We're big fans of having an at home date night with a take-out meal from a great restaurant.  We like to feed the kids their favourite foods early (which they love) and then we tuck into something we love, with a bottle of wine, later on.  Everybody wins!

Tip the wait staff well. 

Frugal doesn’t mean cheap.  If you used a Groupon or some sort of discount on the meal, keep in mind that your server still had to do a full bill’s worth of work to get it to you, so tip accordingly. 

Have you got a restaurant savings tip to share?  Please - comment - we love to learn new tricks from readers!

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