We all know that eating out can create a big hole in your budget. What began as a simple treat for the family adds up quickly between the cost of drinks, appetizers, and entrees. We as the previously unthrifty couple know all about this as our latest installment of our Deep in Debt to Debt Free series specifically addressed how eating out cost us thousands early in our marriage – no joke! But we have learned a thing or two since then. As such, each Friday we post our Best Deals On Restaurant and Entertainment so you can maximize your savings whether you are treating the family, on a date with your spouse, or just happen to be out running errands and need a quick pick-me-up.
But there is sometimes a dilemma that you can’t account for – how can you save money at the restaurant when you don’t have access to coupons or discounted gift certificates? We all know that sometimes you just might not have the final say on the restaurant choice or maybe you just love the food so much at your favorite restaurant that you want to splurge! Let us help provide some tips on how to reduce the expense and save a little money just when you thought there was no hope.
- Check out those restaurant specials – Make sure you know all the specials the restaurant is offering before you order. A few years ago I ordered a burger at a gourmet shop only to find out later a larger burger with a drink was on special for a cheaper price!
- Sign up the club of choice at the Restaurant – Restaurants often offer their customers a club to encourage return visits – better yet many restaurants allow you to register online. It depends on the restaurant but you can sometimes receive a coupon for a free appetizer (yes – we can’t totally stay away from coupons even in this article – but make sure to sign up 24-48 hours prior as sometimes they delay sending you your coupon), receive credits towards meals that night or for future visits (e.g., TGI Friday’s Give Me More Stripes club and Subway club), or just get some awesome perks such as the ability to skip the line (back to TGI Fridays) like a true VIP.
- Ask if they have a coupon available and whether they will honor it – This truly comes back to the principle that if you don’t ask you will never know. Obviously the server has no obligation to honor a coupon that you don’t have but sometimes they just do it! We also refer to the treat your server with respect category as the service you are given is often reflected by your demeanor and attitude.
- Split large meals with others in your party – C’mon, we have all been there – when the meal comes out and you wonder whether the entree you ordered would have better shown up on Adam Richman’s Man vs Food. If you know as soon as you order that later you’ll be asking for the doggie bag (what a terrible name for a leftover container) then maybe you can save by splitting the mammoth meal with the person next to you.
- If you’re a big eater, sure why not, try to get that 72 oz steak for free – On the other hand (compared to the bullet above), if you’re famished and you just won your county’s hot dog eating contest last week, then maybe its time you eat for free if your restaurant-of-choice has one of those “eat all this and you get it for free” types of specials. Just make sure you don’t overestimate your hunger or your pocketbook may have been saved by ordering the side salad.
- Order the appetizer as your entree – Sometimes the appetizers are just a couple of bucks less than the entrees and just might satisfy your hunger. Why not order it in place of the entree and save some moola.
- Split the salad before the meal – If you are really craving that salad prior to your entree, possibly consider splitting the salad with someone in your party. Depending on the restaurant, even cutting the cost of one salad can save you a few bucks!
- No dessert for you – When the server asks if you’ve saved room for dessert, make sure you know the answer prior to even arriving. 🙂 Yes, those desserts can really add up on your tab. If you are really considering the dessert maybe consider splitting it or having another pre-planned dessert at home.
- Drink water – After discussing desserts we best settle the drinks issue. We both know those drinks are waaay overpriced and will add to your bill significantly.
- Check for the student, military, or senior discount – Is someone in your party going to school (ask even if part time!) or fit in one of these categories? You might as well ask if the restaurant has a special discount just for you!
- Read between the lines on the menu – What this is really trying to say is to check the whole menu and nothing but the whole menu before ordering. Often the restaurant will attempt to direct your attention using color, fonts and pizzazz to a more pricey item whereas you just might find the more economical fare to be just as appealing.
- Have the kids split an adult entree instead of getting the kid’s meal – Obviously this tip depends upon circumstances including ages of children and costs of adult entrees as compared to the children’s menu. But at least consider the possibility of whether splitting an adult entree (e.g., between 2-3 kids? really depends on age and appetite) is more economical than their kids meals.
- Watch for All You Can Eat Lighter Fare – Both Olive Garden and Chili’s are offering an all-you-can-eat option for their lighter fare, such as salads, soups and breadsticks/chips. Although a simple salad may not usually curb your appetite, when you have the chance to make it a meal (we love Olive Garden’s salads and breadsticks!) it can definitely save you some dough!
- Adjust your eating time if your schedule allows it – This tip really covers a number of situations. Obviously the lunch entrees will be more economical than the dinner prices. But don’t forget the happy hour specials (including Sonic’s happy hour – yes, we are talking about some fine dining here!). Also just a few months ago, our local Applebees was offering 50% off appetizers after 9pm. If you know the restaurant and the time-sensitive deals they offer, you just might save some green.
- Find out which restaurants give you bottomless refills – If you must buy that drink, then make sure its bottomless! In addition many restaurants offer a bottomless option on entrees or sides. Think of Chili’s with their bottomless chips and dip, Red Robin with their bottomless fries, and unlimited chips and salsa at many mexican restaurants.
- Become mayor of your local restaurant – Ok, so although we may not use the foursquare application very often we do understand you can snag some great deals doing it. We just saw a local restaurant offering a discount for checking in on foursquare. When we were invited to the Yoplait event with Nancy O’Dell a few months ago we checked in to the Hard Rock Cafe using Facebook places and received 15% off our bill.
- Use social media to your advantage – With small risk of crossing into the “coupon zone” (I know this is a savings without a coupon article), remember to follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter and Facebook. Some of your restaurants you enjoy might offer deals and/or coupons for their followers. Just a few weeks ago we received an additional 10% off our favorite Chinese restaurant just because we had liked them prior to coming in or even with your smart phone while you are there.
For your sake we need to stop there. There are many other ways to save at your favorite restaurants without using a coupon. We would love to hear from you on your favorite tips and tricks for saving! Just leave a comment and share with us!
Disclaimer: Before following any tips that encourage eating 72 oz of steak, please consult with your physician and/or licensed practitioner. Nothing in this article should be construed as giving any medical advice or treatment for any specific person or condition. We choose to not be held accountable for any adverse health effects that result from caloric consumption as a direct result of reading this article.