How to Save Money When Eating Out

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If you are interested in saving money, then chances are you should be looking at your eating out habits and make some improvements.

For many people eating out doesn’t happen only on very special occasions, so it’s something you’re probably doing at least on a weekly basis. And it’s also one of the biggest budget busters, as well.

Here are some tips to still enjoy your meals and not break the bank:

Try to eat out less and cook at home more

If you start cooking your meals from scratch you’ll notice that, even if you are very picky with the ingredients, your meals will not cost as much, as compared to eating out every time. A recent Zagat survey clears it out: on average Americans spend $36.3 on a dinner. I’m sure you’ll be able to cook for less.

Sure, you’ll invest some time in the cooking itself, but, with some simple meals and a good plan you’ll also see some savings.

Select a restaurant you can afford

Over the years I ate at ‘regular’ restaurants and very few ‘fancy’ ones.

Just the fact a restaurant charges hundreds of bucks for a meal does n’t mean you’ll enjoy the food or really get an outstanding meal.

In all my experiences, there was bad food (or maybe I just didn’t like it) at expensive restaurants and more affordable ones, just as I got some amazing meals at a Michelin rated restaurant or at an ‘all you can eat’.

So just find a selection of affordable restaurants that constantly give you good meals and forget the fancy ones.

how to save money dining outDon’t go out to eat hungry

Hear me out, it makes sense.

Just as with shopping, when you’re hungry, you tend to spend/order more.

So, by having a snack before your restaurant meal will prevent you from ordering half their menu.

Have a budget

Eating out is fun and relaxing, but you should still keep an eye on your spending. Don’t go out with a too ‘lax’ budget, try to enjoy a good meal and not spend a month’s pay on it.

Get the meal as a takeout from your favorite restaurant

If you don’t really need the restaurant ‘vibe’ for your meal, you can always order it as a takeout. The price is gonna drop significantly and you can add any ‘extras’ from home, not having to pay for them. Not to mention the drinks, which can also drive costs up.

Order water

If we talked about drinks – avoid alcohol, its price is quite steep at a restaurant, usually one of the most expensive parts of your meal. Same for sodas, coffee etc.

Order water and you can still enjoy your meal, while not having to pay for expensive drinks.

Use coupons

Some restaurants allow you to dine out and use coupons as well. This can be a great way to get a more frugal dining out experience.

You do need to be cautions though, sometimes there are minimums required, which might cause you to spend more than initially intended.

Use restaurant loyalty and reward programs

If you have few favorite restaurants (you probably do), you can join their loyalty program and receive notification when there’s a special. Just getting into their email list can already save you a lot of money.

How to save money when eating outShare a meal

Most of the time the portions are absolutely huge.

I still remember our first eating out experience at a diner in Queens, back in 2010 (our first stay in NYC). When I received my order, I realized that I’d need probably 3 sittings to finish it out.

So, you can safely order a meal and ask for 2 separate plates, for instance.

If restaurants still have big portions (and most of them do), you’ll surely not starve.

Bring food for small kids from home

My daughter is 2 years old.

Whenever we went to the restaurant, we’d bring in some snacks with us. Not only for saving money, but because we’re still very strict with her meals and usually restaurants have food that’s too salty, sweet, greasy etc.

If you also have a toddler with you, it makes sense to bring in some food.

Choose food that’s good as a leftover

In many cases, if you cannot finish the meal, you’ll get it in a doggy bag.

Choose the type of meals that do well the next day, if you want to reheat or use for another meal.

Skip dessert

When you get to dessert, you’re most likely full, so it makes sense to just skip it.

Not easy for people who love sweets (self included), but a great way to save more money while dining out.

Eat a late lunch

Usually dinner is more expensive, even if in some cases it’s the same meal, so by just taking a late lunch you’ll save money.

Also look for great deals during the ‘happy hour’ or take advantage of great offers for ‘early birds’.

Skip the appetizer

With such huge portions, you can safely split a meal with someone. And not order the appetizer at all, since you’re already eating enough.

Another strategy is to take a nice appetizer and not the main dish. Whatever you choose, ordering both will just leave you with too much food to eat anyway.

Go out on Mondays or Tuesdays

The beginning of the week is usually slow for restaurants, so you’re more likely to get a good deal. And not have to wait for hours to get a table.

Avoid major holidays

I have noticed that a lot of friends don’t go skiing during Christmas or the New Year’s Eve, since prices are absolutely insane. They just spend a quiet holiday at home and then hit the slopes in January of February.

The same applies with eating out.

During holidays restaurants are crowded and the prices are high.


These are just few strategies that will save you money when eating out, while not spoiling the entire experience. Feel free to share your own tips.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Great list of tips! Not all are applicable to everyone, IMO, I would never skip on dessert and if I eat out I will have at least a glass of wine with my meal. Which brings me to my money saving tip: when eating out, I usually just order 1 glass of wine (or 2, if the eating out experience takes a bit longer than expected), instead of a whole bottle. Why? Because 1 glass costs a few bucks, compared to 1 bottle, that costs 5 times more (well, supposing you don’t order the cheapest bottle they have on stock).

    • Well this is a good strategy, that is of course until you unexpectedly find yourself on the third or fourth glass and then you start to regret that little move. Of course you can never see this one coming, but I have certainly been there before, and probably more times than it should have have happened. I guess it is all about planning ahead though, and knowing what you need and what to order. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Eating out is truly a silent money-eater. Enjoying good food at restaurants does have the tendency to make you forget that you are emptying some money from your pockets. In the past, I used to get ashamed in NOT buying drinks with my meals. Over the years, I’ve learned to save on restaurant dining by just ordering service water, as suggested in the article. The tip on eating light snacks do make sense. At least with some food in your stomach, your hunger pangs won’t go into hyper-drive. It’s truly when we are are very hungry that we have the tendency to order foods more than we could consume. As they say, you could definitely eat a horse when hungry.
    tabby recently posted…Philippine Stock market Performance a Day after the May 9 Presidential ElectionsMy Profile

    • I totally agree. I also order the water they serve ‘by default’ when eating out, I prefer it to any type of alcoholic or sugary beverage. I’ve never actually thought about how much money I managed to save this way, but just the thought that a glass of juice costs 3 times more just because you’re in a restaurant/food joint is motivating enough.

  3. I very much agree with everything you said in your article! I would only like to add one thing: never chose a restaurant based on their prices; you might save money, but you might also not enjoy the food or the whole dining out experience. There’s a small restaurant close to where we live with very low prices, compared to others in the area. However, their service is not that great and also, they mostly serve pre-made frozen meals. So, as a result, you will save money eating out, but you won’t actually enjoy it.

    • Well you are certainly right here my friend. You have have a good balance, and if you are eating out, you need to enjoy it. Think about it, if you go out and the experience is lousy, I would think that might make it more likely that you would want to make up for it, by eating out again. If you have a great time, though, and spend a little more, perhaps that satisfies your need to eat out, and you enjoy it and then you know that you do this every once in while to celebrate or for a special occasion. I am sure it is different for everyone, but this is the direction that I took it. Interesting stuff, though, and thanks for sharing.

  4. This is good advice. Eating out can certainly add up after a while, especially if you aren’t paying close attention to your purchases and your budget. It’s really important that you pick a place that’s within a reasonable price range for you and that you choose a dish that is affordable. Nicely said. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I often eat out, so your article really comes in handy!
    I’m indoors a lot, since I work from home, so I do feel the need to get out of the house more than I used to when working for a boss. However, I do have certain “rules”: I never eat out alone (if none of my friends are willing to go out, I save money by eating at home). If the weather is bad, why risk getting ill, I just order takeout if I have company over and so on.

    • Well I certainly understand the need to get out of the house, but I am also glad to hear that you have some rules for yourself, and well done there. We need to know how to limit ourselves, and I know that when it comes to food and drinks, those are really the easiest things that I let get away from me. I am pretty sure that I am not alone there, either, so this is a good reminder for everyone. Keep following those rules, but enjoy yourself too of course.

  6. Ramona, would it be possible to do a blog and link to sites that offer coupons or discounts on eating out? I know sometimes when I hear really good ideas on saving money, if I can link to more information on it, or access links that demonstrate what I was just researching, I will click or even buy, depending on the offer.

    Thanks for considering the suggestion. Thanks for this great article.

  7. My boyfriend and I love hibachi restaurants, but I always find the portions to be extreme! He loves having all the food piled on his plate, but I knew I could never eat it all even if I took it home. I found that most restaurants are willing to let you “Split” the meal. I put it in quotes because you still get the same amount of rice, veggies, the soup, or whatever is included, it is only the protein that they split between the two people. I’m not a huge meat eater anyway, so it is nice to be able to have the experience and the other parts without having to pay the full price. Most of the time, it is less than half the cost to split the meals. I found it to be our perfect solution and money saver!

  8. These are very sensible tips! Restaurant meals can really be expensive. However, fine dining is also part of the experience that I would want my child to have at a young age (he’s a teenager) so I make it a point to take him to high end restaurants at least twice a year and only on special occasions. I just make sure that I cut off on some expenses to be able to afford this luxury. On these occasions, we only order food that we don’t eat on a regular basis so it would be worth the money. On most weekends after church services, we go to regular fastfood restaurants and opt for packaged or value meals which are about 40% cheaper than buying the meals ala carte. We just stick with the regular sized-drinks that go with the meal and never ask for upgrades as this can make the meal 20% more expensive. And yes, we make use of any discount coupon we can get our hands on.

  9. I used to eat out at least few times a week a while back, lunch breaks, dinner, even breakfast! I thought it was so much easier to have your food served to you, so you wouldn’t waste time cooking or cleaning the kitchen afterwards. I can’t say I regret the experience though. At least I learned that eating out means spending tons of money. I still eat out every once in a while, but I no longer make it a habit.

  10. I love the common sense in this article! I agree with the first point that it’s so much cheaper to eat at home than it is to eat out. If you don’t like cooking (as I do), just keep what you eat at home simple instead of easting out.
    I didn’t know that eating out would be cheaper on Mondays or Tuesdays! Thanks for letting us know.

    Something I would like to add: always check your bill! The other night I was about to put a tip on the table when my friend pointed out that the server had already added it to my bill.

    • Great advice on always checking the bill. I cannot tell you how many times I have found some errors, and I remember one time not too long ago that they put another table’s meals on our check and the thing was like fifty dollars over what it was supposed to be. It was an honest mistake (at least I hope and think) and it was fine, but it just goes to show you what can happen. Always double double check that bill.

      • I used not to think about checking restaurant bills but I eventually learned to do so when an incident happened to my family a few years back. There was one occasion that we were actually charged more than what we ordered. Unfortunately, it was only upon returning home that I checked the bill and learned why our bill was higher. It was a hard lesson, so I now never forget to check before paying.
        tabby recently posted…how to withdraw funds from COLMy Profile

  11. I follow almost all of these by default. I go to two or three select restaurants and as a loyal customer always get a discount. I avoid eating out on holidays. Besides, I never order mineral water as it is very expensive in restaurants and the water they usually provide is always as good. One more advantage of being a regular customer is that I can always avoid the VAT(Value Added Tax) by telling them that I do not want the bill and will pay by cash, This is something no eating joint will allow unless they know you very well.

  12. These are wonderful tips for saving money when eating out. I don’t go to restaurants much, but when I do, it’s usually with a whole big group of friends or family, I hardly ever go out by myself. This list will certainly come in handy next time and could save me a small fortune. Thank you for sharing this.

    • I can honestly tell you I’ve been out to a restaurant a couple of times since reading this article, and I’ve already been able to save some money. These tips really work.

  13. One other thing I do to save at restaurants is eat an early dinner during happy hour. Many restaurants have great food specials during happy hour, so you can get a meal and a drink for $15-20. These are often nice restaurants. I always take extra food home if at all possible to take to work for lunch.

  14. Well thanks for the tips. This is an area that I have really made strides at in the last couple of years, and it really does add up quickly, all the savings that is. I used to eat out pretty much every weekend night, but I have started making meals at home and it is more relaxing, cheaper and usually a lot healthier. That said, the one trick on the list that I find useful is not going out to eat that hungry, and also do not split the bill if you do not eat that much. I always try to eat a little mini meal before going out so I can just get an appetizer and a drink. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Don’t go out to eat hungry! Yes, that one tip would definitely save us a lot. If I feel like I am starving my eyes get way bigger than my stomach and I order entirely too much.

    Lately we have really been trying to cut eating out down to once a week or less. Sitting down for a few minutes once a week to plan out good homemade meals and make out grocery lists helps. Freezer meals help a lot, too! I can cook a couple extra batches of whatever meal I am making, and stick it in the freezer to be warmed up and served on those crazy busy days where we would have just gone out to eat or ordered pizza otherwise!

    Having a plan in place and sticking to it really saves money!

  16. I rarely go out to eat nowadays but the times when I did I almost always just ordered appetizers as the portion sizes were huge enough to basically count as a whole meal. The times when I did order a meal they were so big I always ended up taking the rest home in a bag. Leftover pasta the next A.M. was always heaven to me back then so I really wasn’t complaining but still in hindsight now that I’ve cut down on being so indulgent (or at least am Trying to work my way to that) I’ve notices the portions are huge. I’m a pretty frugal spender on anything period so I utilized a lot of these already but I didn’t know that mondays and tuesdays were slower. That I could integrate

  17. I hardly go out to restaurants but on the occasions that I do, I’m usually with my whole group of family and friends and somehow I’m always the one who gets stuck with the bill. I really don’t know how that happens, but thanks so much for the tips in your article. They are really going to come in handy the next time.

  18. Hii,

    Thank you for sharing with us. Yes, you are right we should always prefer the restaurant we can afford. If you are going with your friends or family use coupons, it will surely not affect your budget. However. when your wife is not feeling well or maybe tired then you have no choice and that time you can’t disappoint your family.
    I always prefer to save money to have a dinner with my family once in a two week. In this way, they also feel relaxed and we can also spend quality time with each other .

    Regards,
    Attila Szabo

  19. Hi,

    I really like your post. It is really useful for me.Restaurant coupons are always a good way to save money. Look in entertainment magazines. They not only contain coupons but many restaurants also use these publications to announce special deals.

    Treat yourself on occasion but be wise and stick to your budget. There are some cheap eats out there you just need to be aware of what to avoid, what to look for, and how to get the most bang for your buck.

    Thanks for being sharing.

    Regards
    Julie M. Stowers
    Julie M. Stowers recently posted…Be an Amazing Host!My Profile

  20. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing. These are great tips. Me and my wife have been doing some of these already. I just google recipes and cook for my wife. In that way, the ingredients are fresh and you are sure that it’s clean. Do you also have tips on how to save money if you’re travelling?

  21. great tip…! this is very effective post about how to save money on eating food. we should try to cook at home for saving money. many people dont have any idea about this. so this article was very effective and helpful to us. thanks for sharing lot of way to save money easily. I have learned something to this post.
    jasonvick resently posted……..what is the best way to save money

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