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Ways to Save Money When Eating Out

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She researches and shares remedies for using certain products for illnesses.

Family eating out at restaurant

Family eating out at restaurant

Save Money When Eating Out

The average household spends about $3,154 each year by eating out. You do not have to give up eating out because it costs more money than you want to spend.

There are many ways you can save money when dining out whether you are alone or with family and friends.

Limit the Number of Times

If you have been eating out two or three times a week, perhaps you can reduce the number of times. You can plan to go out on special occasions and not as often as you have been going out.

You will not only save money you spend on the food, but you will also save money that you leave for tips.

Plan ahead with your family and agree on the number of times you will eat out. Your decision doesn't have to be sealed in cement because your plans can change.


Take Home Your Leftovers

Sometimes there is enough left on your plate for another complete meal. This happens a lot with children. You can ask for a box for your leftovers. Taking home a doggy bag is no longer a taboo.

Some people deliberately order a big meal with the notion in mind to take some of it home. You save money when you turn one meal into two. You can have it for tomorrow's lunch or another dinner at home.

Olive Garden offers a meal plan where you order one and while you are eating, the server will box a separate meal for you to take home. Getting a second entree free when you buy one entree will definitely help you save money when dining out.

Fill Up on Hor D'oevres

If you can get to happy hour before dinner, you can fill up on hor d'oevres. Most restaurants offer free foods from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Sundays.

Since you have eaten the free hor d'oevres, you are less likely to order a big meal.

Water with lemon is free at restaurants

Water with lemon is free at restaurants

Order Water Instead of Expensive Drinks

Drink free water instead of paying up to $3 for a soda, coffee or an alcoholic drink. Diners could save the money they spend on beverages by drinking water before leaving home and with their meal.

When dining out, make the experience about food and not about the drinks. Order free water with lemon.

Depending on how often a couple goes out to eat, $624 can be saved every year.


Some restaurants have a BYOB policy where you can bring your own alcoholic drinks. You will save money by not buying the restaurants' drink.

If you are thinking about taking your own drinks to a restaurant, make sure you call ahead to make sure it is allowed. It is illegal to do so in some states.

If there is no "Bring your own bottle" policy, you can have a drink at home before your meal or even after you return from dinner. One glass of wine in a restaurant can cost you more than the bottle that is waiting for you at home.

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Go Where the Specials Are

Restaurants compete with other restaurants for business. Therefore, they offer specials from time to time to get customers to come in. Some people have favorite restaurants that they go to whenever they eat out. That doesn't have to be the case all the time.

You can be loyal to one restaurant, but that doesn't mean you can't go where the specials are. Red Lobster frequently has specials on their shrimp, lobsters, and other seafood. Even Italian food lovers head to Red Lobster for the specials if they also love seafood.

Even when a restaurant has not advertised a special, it does not hurt to ask. More than likely, they will have some dish that was not advertised.

Specials at some restaurants are sometimes offered on Monday and Tuesday because business is usually slow after a full weekend.

Use Discount Cards

Make sure you use any discount cards you have. A lot of restaurants honor senior citizen discounts for those who are at least age 50 and is a member of AARP.

Stores like Denny’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Outback Steakhouse, and Golden Corral are among those restaurants that offer senior citizen discounts.

Try not to order expensive appetizers that adds to your food bill.

Try not to order expensive appetizers that adds to your food bill.

Don't Order an Appetizer

If a restaurant serves delicious bread like Red Lobster and O'Charley's do, there is no need to purchase an appetizer. The bread, fries, chips, and salsa that might come with your meal can serve as your appetizer. You could save up to $8 if you skip the appetizer.


Choose Lunch Instead of Dinner

Whenever you can, go out for a late lunch instead of dinner. Make the lunch date as late as possible before the prices change. Some restaurants have a cut-off time. If you are seated at the time the prices change, you will be able to order from the less expensive menu. The portions are large enough to satisfy the average person's hunger.

Some restaurants serve lunch as late as 4 p.m.

Black Forest Cake for family to share at home after dining out

Black Forest Cake for family to share at home after dining out

Eat Dessert at Home

You can take your eating out experience home by foregoing the dessert, and have some at home.

Buy a cake or pie and let the family share it around the dinner table at home. Think of all the money you save that way.

Let the Restaurant Know It's Your Birthday

If you let a restaurant know it is your birthday, some of them will give you a free dessert. You don't pay for it, but it comes with a price.

The wait staff comes around and sing their version of a birthday song for you. The entire restaurant focuses on you because of the attention that the singing brings.

Kids enjoying their free meal

Kids enjoying their free meal

Eat Out Where Kids Eat Free

Many restaurants have days when kids can eat free. kids-eat-free night. Applebee's, Lonestar Steakhouse, Bennigan's, Texas Roadhouse and TGI Fridays have kids eat free nights. Check with the restaurants in your area to find out which nights the restaurant allows kids to eat free.

You could save a lot of money by taking advantage of that feature especially if you have a bunch of kids.

Order from the Kids' Menu or Dollar Menu

If you are not very hungry, sometimes restaurants will allow adults to order from a child's menu. The portions are large enough to fill you up. Make sure you honor any age limit the restaurant might have.

If you are at a fast-food restaurant, you don't have to worry about an age limitation. You can order anything from the dollar menu. It will save you money and might be enough to fill you up.


Learn How to Read the Menu

Restaurants want you to spend money when you visit their establishment. You, on the other hand, want to save money. Learn how to beat restaurants at their own games. For instance, they have a way to get you to spend more money than you had intended to spend by the way the menu is designed,

Menus are designed with tricks to get you to spend more. Items set off in boxes are usually the most expensive for you and the most profitable for the restaurant

People who work in print media know that when people look at a page, they focus on what's in the top right position. Some menu designers will put the most profitable items in that position. The center of the page is another place to put an item the restaurant wants to sell. Boxes, borders and white space draw the eye automatically to an item as well.

The flowery language also is deliberate on a menu to appeal to the customer's emotion. For example, "like your grandmother used to cook it" or "a reminder of your childhood."

The next time you go out to eat, notice those things on the menu.

Don't Sit Where You Will Spend the Most

Brian Wasink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and a leading food psychologist, explains that where a person sits in a restaurant has a lot to do with how much he will eat. His book is called Slim by Design.

You will be surprised to know that sitting near the bar provokes people to spend more as well as those who watch television while eating.

People who eat at a back table or in a booth spend more on their meals. They rarely eat salads, but they eat desserts.

Those sitting in a well-lighted area and near a window eat less, but those in seats away from the front door eat heavier meals and desserts.

Tips Not to Spend More on Vacations

If you are taking a road trip with your family that includes kids, a mistake you can make is to stop along the way to eat at fancy restaurants when everyone gets hungry. What is worst than that is to stop at convenience stores because there are few choices and what's there is quite expensive.

The best way to save money is to pack your own food and stop at rest stops and have a family picnic.

This will eliminate the need to find a nice restaurant and wait in restaurants and then pay a hefty bill including a tip. Perhaps that would be good for one or two times during the road trip but definitely not during the entire time.

Make Restaurant Food at Home

Instead of going out to restaurants, you can create your own dining experience by preparing your own restaurant food. Grocery stores are now letting items from your favorite restaurant.

If you can't get enough of Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden, make your own because it is so easy to make. Purchase garlic bread sticks from your local grocery and eat until your heart is content. Freeze left over to be eaten later.

You will have to buy a lot of chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A to feed a big family. Try making your own.


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on June 20, 2018:

Dred Cuan, Yes, coupons will save you money if you happen to have them.

Travel Chef from Manila on June 20, 2018:

Based on my experience, I like really like using coupon everytime I'm eating out. Food coupons are the best way for me to save meals. Though, most restaurants give discounts in their mid and above priced meals, still it's a money saving for me.

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on June 19, 2018:

Dora, we don't have to empty our wallets when we go out to eat if we follow some of the suggestions provided. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 19, 2018:

Voted helpful. All very good suggestions. Lunch instead of dinner, no drinks, no dessert. I can live with that.

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on June 16, 2018:

peachy, that is a very good tip. Thank you for sharing it with my readers.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 16, 2018:

When 4 of us dine out we would order 3 main course meal and share among ourselves. We never eat one meal for each person, cost a lot.

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