April 14, 2008

Saving at restaurants #4 - general frugality

I've discussed a few general ways that you can save at restaurants in the past 3 posts. Today I'm going to talk about simply cutting costs by basic cost conscious and frugality.

  • Skip the extras : appetizers, beverages and deserts. When you eat out you can easily pile up the charges with extras like appetizers, drinks and deserts. Appetizers are usually $5-10, drinks can run a few dollars each and deserts are a few dollars more. Alcohol beverages can be especially expensive particularly if you have more than one drink. You either just have water or cut costs with a lower cost beverage like coffee or soda instead of a pricey cocktail. Deserts are optional. Skipping the extras can really add up. If I were to go to my favorite nice restaurant and have dinner for two we could spend $8 on an appetizer, $12 on drinks and $12 on desert in addition to $40 on entrees. Thats $72 before tip or $86 with a 20% tip. If we cut out the appetizer, skipped the desert and had water instead of cocktails then we'd spend just $40 or $48 with a tip. Thats about 44% difference in the total bill!
  • Pick a cheaper meal. You can of course save money by eating cheaper meals. A nice chicken dinner is usually going to run you a lot less than a filet mignon steak. Or if you want to be more creative you might save money by having a large salad instead of an entrée or maybe an appetizer plus a bowl of soup.
  • Share a desert. Rather than ordering two deserts simply share a desert. In my experience deserts run $3-8 so sharing a desert will save you that much off your bill.
  • Go to cheaper restaurants. Ok this tip is virtually common sense. If you eat out at expensive places all the time then you'll spend a lot more. Keep the costs of the restaurants you go to in mind and compare cost to quality. If theres two Chinese places of relatively equal quality and one is $1 a meal more on average then save that $1 by going to the cheaper one.
  • Take advantage of happy hour. Many restaurants have bars and lounges with a happy hour special or they may simply offer happy hour in their entire establishment. You can get some really great deals during happy hour so shop around. Of course happy hour may be at the wrong time for you to eat out.
  • Share a large meal. There is an Italian restaurant near me that serves you enough food for 2-3 people. So you can easily share a meal there and still walk away full. Restaurants may have a small fee to cover sharing meals but its generally much less than another entrée. But you do have to both want to eat the same meal so this can be tricky.
  • Take home left overs. Taking home left overs won't save you money off the cost of your restaurant bill but it will save you a little grocery money.
  • Share meals with children. If you have a family then ordering full meals for everyone can really add up, even if you use a childrens menu. Instead you might consider simply sharing meals with your children.
  • Find restaurants where kids eat free. Many restaurants offer free meals for children. The website http://www.kidseatfree.com/ has lists for reference.
  • Eat out lunch instead of dinner. Usually lunch menus are cheaper than dinner yet offer the same meals. So if you want to eat out for a special occasion then consider going out for lunch on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon instead of dinner.
Some of these will work for you and some will not. I don't do them all myself. But the more you do then the more you can cut costs.

You can still have a nice experience dining out and save money while doing so.

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