It’s Friday night and you’ve just arrived home after a stressful week at work. The baby is crying and your toddler is “asking what’s for dinner?” You ask, “what do you want for dinner?” He replies, mac and cheese. So you spend 25 minutes making a box of Annie’s mac and cheese that you bought over Kraft because it was on sale and the box says organic and that has to be good.
Upon serving the mac and cheese to your toddler they claim “I don’t like that.” They won’t eat it and you reach for the wine bottle.
Then your husband appears and asks “what’s for dinner?”
Your reply: “I’m not sure. What were you planning for dinner, darling?”
No good response comes after that snarky question.
You, my friend, need a date night! Out. At a restaurant. With food and cocktails and your significant other.
Date nights are something I absolutely look forward to. My daughter is 3 and while I love her more than anything, she can drive me to the brink of crazy. My husband and I need time to relax, connect, have an adult conversation, and simply enjoy each other’s company.
While there are many nights we spend in (check out our favorite date nights in here), we also really like to go out when the opportunity arises.
Date nights involving eating out don’t have to be expensive. You can always find a way, even if not glamorous, to save money when eating and drinking out.
Check out some easy and unique ways to save on eating out
1. Try ordering dessert only. Or appetizer only.
Standard dinner portions (even some lunch portions) are typically more than you’d eat anyway. You’re pretty much guaranteed to not feel disgustingly full at the end of the meal if you are only there for an appetizer or dessert. Furthermore, you will actually enjoy and savor every bite! This is good for your waistline and good for your wallet. A win-win situation.
2. Don’t go out without a coupon.
Many restaurants offer discounts or promotions you can find online and either print off before you leave your house or show on your Smart Phone. Places you can commonly find coupons to restaurants:
- Living Social
- Local Flavor
- Mailed to you directly – check your junk mail
- Facebook page of the restaurant
- The website of the restaurant you are going to
3. Check out the website of the restaurant in advance to find deals.
Do they have happy hour specials on drinks or appetizers? Knowing what specials the restaurant has and the times of said deals are important. Are mojitos buy one get one between 4 pm – 6 pm? Do they have half-price appetizers during a specific time? If you’re interested in going out on a budget, you can maximize the dollar investment by knowing what and when the deals are before you step foot out of the house. This is also a great option for choosing a location for a happy hour after work.
4. Share an entrée.
Entrees usually are so big you are likely not going to be able to finish the entire thing yourself. Sharing one entrée is a cost-effective way to cut down on the cost of the meal. Cheaper, less caloric than devouring the entire meal yourself. Plus you’re likely going to be able to walk, not waddle, out of the restaurant. I hate that I’m-too-full-to-even-move feeling. Avoid it by sharing an entrée.
5. Check out birthday/anniversary deals.
If you are celebrating something special, many times there is a deal or coupon you can take advantage of. Or mention the special occasion to your server. They may throw in a complimentary drink or dessert, but you have to drop the hint!
6. Go out for lunch instead of dinner.
Many times there are lunch specials or combos that offer a phenomenal deal for little money. In many cases, the portions are as much as the dinner portions that are more expensive just a few hours later. Going out for lunch instead of dinners offers the “going out” feel without the price.
7. Don’t eat everything on your plate.
Meals are generally more food and more calories than you should be consuming anyway. Aim to eat only half of what’s on your plate and take the rest to go. Stop when you’re satisfied, even if your taste buds want more. You’ll likely have a second meal on your hands by taking leftovers to go.
8. Purchase used gift cards.
Head to my favorite site to save on gift cards, giftcardgranny.com and explore options. This website offers thousands of gift cards you can purchase for less than their value. You can find discounts on restaurant gift cards of 10-20% or more.
9. Take the meal to go.
Maybe you’re in love with the entrée but not the beer selection. Or you’re too tired to get out of your comfies to put something decent on to be in public. Why not take the food to go and eat at home? You can save on the tip and beverage expenses, significantly reducing the overall cost. Plus you can eat in your jammies in front of the tv.
10. Order from the kid’s menu.
Some restaurants may crackdown on a specific age range, but many do not. In most cases, the “smaller” child’s portion is more than enough for an adult. Usually, they are pretty flexible, too. You can swap the apple slices for fries or the milk for another beverage.
11. Check out a BYOB restaurant.
Many establishments that don’t have a liquor license will allow you to bring in your own alcoholic beverages. They may charge a minor corking fee, but you can enjoy your $7 bottle of wine instead of a $40 bottle of wine. Enjoy!
12. Join the loyalty program at restaurants you frequent.
You can typically receive free apps, coupons for dollars off, or buy one get one 50% off meals. Think Chipotle, Starbucks, or Chick-Fil-a. What is your favorite restaurant? Download that restaurant’s app and use every time you visit to take full advantage.
13. Drink water instead of a costly beverage.
Odds are you haven’t consumed enough water today yet anyway. Save yourself some money and calories and just ask for a glass of water. You won’t even notice you don’t have an expensive beverage in front of you. If I order a beer and a glass of water, can you guess which one is gulped down and which one isn’t touched?
Or, order the glass of water first, and order the beverage you *really* want, once the water is gone. You get hydrated for cheap before you get dehydrated, and save some money by only buying 1 expensive mixed cocktail.
14. Choose your entrée wisely.
Did you order something you can easily make at home? Try to order something that you don’t normally make for yourself. It will make the dining out experience feel more like a special event than something you get to do all the time.
15. Take advantage of holiday deals.
Often, around the holidays, restaurants will offer bonus gift cards for purchasing gift cards for their establishment. For example, buy a $100 gift card get a $25 gift card free. Purchase a $50 gift card, get a $10 card for free. Typically see or notice them when I’m already in the restaurant. It’s a no brainer if you are already there and seated. Buy the card, and use it to pay for your current meal. Use the balance and the bonus card the next time you dine. It’s that easy to save!
16. Look for weekly specials.
Is it taco Tuesday night for $1 each? Yum, I’m totally in! Maybe they have free bingo on a certain night or offer a crazy low price on their signature dish once per week. Check out daily deals and specials and take advantage of a cheap bite on a specific night of the week.
17. Ask about portion sizes before you order.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how much food to order. Italian restaurants may have a huge portion of pasta that could easily feed two people. Your eyes might be larger than your stomach at a new tapas restaurant. Your server would be more than happy to guide you toward portions that make sense for you.
18. Take your time and slow down.
You’re so hungry that you arrive at a busy restaurant and immediately order an appetizer. Then before the appetizer arrives you order a large entrée. You’re one drink in by the time the appetizer arrives and two drinks in by the time dinner is served.
You’re full and buzzed before you’ve even started eating the main course. S.L.O.W down. Enjoy the experience. Just because your server is at your table asking if you’re ready to order doesn’t mean you have to.
This is especially helpful at restaurants that are notorious for fast service. I find a lot of Mexican restaurants locally are lightning-fast. If you want to have more than one sip of your margarita before the entrée arrives, you better delay ordering because it will be out in what feels like a minute. Take your own pace, and sip and savor the entire experience.
19. Try a buffet.
If you’re interested in eating out and know you’re quite hungry, try an all-you-can-eat buffet. You’ll know the price before you even get into the restaurant and can enjoy as much as you want for as long as you want. Plus they typically appeal to a wide variety of appetites.
20. Order a pizza.
When in doubt, order a pizza. There are usually many cost-effective options that can be delivered. They can be customized to specific tastes if you’re with a group who all have different favorite toppings. Plus, they can feed quite a few people cost-effectively. Flexible to many taste buds, convenient, cost-effective and can be delivered? It sounds like a plan!
There are so many easy ways to save on eating out if you plan in advance. Once you decide where you are dining, take a few steps to check out any specials the restaurant may have online or on social media. Take note of any happy hours and identify a sharable entrée or two. You can have fun and get the dining out experience, but not break your budget to do it!
What are your favorite ways to save money when eating out?