How to Eat Out on a Budget


Eating out is one of the easiest ways to break your budget. Eating out can be very expensive, but it is also a lot of fun. If you are living in a small apartment or dorm room, this may be the best way to get together with friends. So, how do you eat out on a budget? Here are some tips to help you save some money and still enjoy going out:

  • Coupons: There are a plethora of different online sites that offer discounts and daily deals that can save you lots of money. Sign up for Groupon or Living Social. Check out Restaurants.com to find deals on gift certificates for your favorite restaurants. Join the e-club for your favorite restaurants to get exclusive deals and discounts.
  • Happy Hours: Many local restaurants have fantastic happy hour food and drink menus that can save you money and allow you to enjoy food in smaller portions.
  • Save on Your Entrée: Most restaurants serve large portions, why not split an entrée with your dining companion? Or, just eat half of your order and take the rest to-go. Check the appetizer menu, many restaurants offer smaller portions of their entrées as appetizers for half the price.
  • Kid’s Meal: If possible, order off the kid’s menu. This works really well at fast food restaurants that offer kid’s menus with smaller portions for lower prices.
  • Save on Drinks: Save on drinks by ordering water, to add some flavor to your water ask your server for some lemon, lime or a sprig of mint. If you want wine with your meal, call the restaurant ahead and ask about their “corkage” fee. Some restaurants will let you bring your own bottle and charge only a small fee to have the waiter serve it.
  • Skip the Extras: Adding appetizers and desserts can add a bundle to your check, either skip the extras or order one for the table. One great way to save on dessert is to have your entrée at the restaurant and then pick up dessert at the grocery store or local bakery on your way home.
  • Take Out: Enjoy food from your favorite restaurant without the additional temptations by ordering take out. You save on the tip and get to enjoy dinner in the comfort of your own home.
  • Seek out local, ethnic restaurants: Every neighborhood has fun, local, “hole in the wall” type places with good food at a bargain price. Ask friends for recommendations and you may be pleasantly surprised at the deals that you find.
  • Get Social: Follow your favorite restaurants on Twitter or Facebook to hear about good deals and weekly specials. “Check in” to the restaurant while you are dining and you may receive an offer for a free appetizer or drink.
  • Check for Specials: Many restaurants offer specials, beyond happy hour, at specific times during the week. My current favorite is the “date night special,” generally offered on a week day evening or Sunday. They offer a cheap and tasty dinner for two for a reduced price. You don’t have to be on a date to enjoy the special!
  • Don’t skimp on the tip: Just because you want to save money on eating out does not mean that you should skimp on the tip! If you are too cheap to tip properly (15%+) then you shouldn’t go out at all. Remember, even if you use a coupon, you should always tip on the original amount. Tipping on the discounted bill is cheap, not frugal.

Join the Conversation: What frugal tips do you have for dining out on a budget?

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