20 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out

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Scan Daily Deal Sites

Deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial may yet have discounts for area restaurants and bars, in addition to attractions, products, and more.

Save Some for Later

Building off the tip above, if you’ve ordered a meal you can’t finish you can always pack it for later.

In fact, eating half of your meal and saving the rest for another time is a great way to save money when eating out, and is an active part of my strategy for saving money.

Being single, I often grab food on the go, and one of my favorite things to do is to get food I know I’ll be able to use for more than one meal. There have even been times I’ve been able to stretch my food into three meals!

Combined with some of the other strategies above, stretching your eating out into more than one meal will save you some serious dough.

Keep an Eye on Daily Specials

Restaurants frequently switch up happy hour specials. For example, Farmtable Kitchen + Spirits, for instance, has special from 3 to 6 p.m. daily and from 10 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays with food deals and buy-one, get-one cocktails, $4 glasses of wine and $3 domestic drafts.

Why is dining out so expensive?

To make a profit, restaurants charge about a 300% markup on the items they serve. You’re paying for service and convenience. In many cases, you could make a $15 meal in a restaurant for $5 at home.

Granted, the food you make at home might not taste exactly the same. Sometimes it’s worth it to enjoy a dish made by a professional. People eat at restaurants for lots of reasons – to socialize, to celebrate, to try something new, to take a break from busy lives. But if you dine out regularly for convenience’s sake, you could save some serious cash cooking at home.

Regularly Clean Out Your Fridge

Seems like a simple enough tip, but it can truly help illuminate just what exactly is in there. Set a weekly time to go through your fridge and throw out expired food. When you do this, you’ll probably discover some leftovers you might have forgotten about or ingredients you can put together to make something delicious for dinner so you don’t have to spend money going out.

7. Early Birds

Many restaurants, in an effort to increase business during their quiet hours, offer half-off or some other enticingly-priced meal, but only if you go there before the regular dinner crowd, typically from 4:00 to 5:30 pm. Look in your local newspaper and your mailbox for advertisements and information. Or pick up the phone and ask.

14. Speak Up

Lots of restaurants have discounts for teachers, students with valid ID, seniors, or military—really great discounts, like 10 to 15% off your total bill. But here’s the catch—you have to ask your server about it. Often these discounts are not advertised. Don’t be shy, speak up. Kindly ask if they’re offering discounts for which you might be eligible. It’s so worth it!

About the Author

Sam DiSalvo is an LA-based comedian, writer and actor who’s performed all over the country. Her written work has appeared in numerous digital publications. As a copywriter, she’s worked with a variety of major brands including GoldieBlox and Thrive Causemetics. Sam loves dogs and is currently perusing leisure suits to buy for her corgi mix, Barry

6. Know When To Go

Restaurants tend to offer promotions at times they are not very busy.

Going out for lunch instead of dinner, taking note of Early Bird Specials (usually offered before 6pm), and dining on Kids Eat Free Nights can all save you as much as 50% off your restaurant meals!

Keep these tricks on how to save on restaurant meals up your sleeve the next time you want to dine out!

2. Loyalty Cards, Apps & Emails

If you frequently go to ANY restaurant for meals you should be signed up for their email list, loyalty card and smartphone app, if they have one.

I am signed up for the loyalty card program with Chili’s and I constantly get offers for extra points. Sometimes those points can get you a free appetizer, dessert, or kid’s meal so you can save money at restaurants.

If I wasn’t signed up for Outback’s email list, I wouldn’t get all of their free bloomin’ onion alerts or 15% off coupons.

Some loyalty cards won’t pay off until after you’ve visited a few times, but when I used the Steak and Shake loyalty card app I got a free milkshake the same day. {Score!}

Drink Water/Free Refill Drinks 

Now that we’ve covered ways to save money when eating out when it comes to specific restaurants or types of restaurants, let’s transition into ways to save money that you can use anywhere.

First up is to skip the alcoholic beverages and stick with water or free refill drinks.

Of course, the way to save the most money with drinks is to stick to water because it won’t cost you a thing. Plus, drinking water while eating out will help you reach your recommended daily intake of 6 to 8 glasses a day. You can save money and be healthy!

If water isn’t your thing or you feel like splurging a bit, you can also save major money by picking a drink option that offers free refills. These drinks typically include soda, tea, and coffee.

However, before you order one of these beverages make sure you double-check to see if the menu says free refills. If it does not say free refills, make sure you ask a server before ordering. Plenty of places charge for refills on non-alcoholic drinks and zing you for $2 – $3 a pop and you don’t want that unpleasant surprise when it comes time to pay the bill.

Either way you look at it, avoiding alcoholic beverages when eating out will save you tons of money.

In fact, one of the quickest ways to derail your entertainment/eating out budget is to consistently go out and have drinks. While you can save money during happy hour, most beers will cost you at least $5 a pop, with mixed drinks costing even more.

A few drinks can quickly double or triple your bill.

Avoid holiday hustle

True, dining out on Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve sounds festive and fun… but plenty of other people are thinking the same thing. To make the most of the hot demand, some restaurants hike prices on holidays, often by offering special dinner menus. On top of the extra cash, you can expect longer waits and a harried wait staff. Do yourself a favor and avoid dining out on holidays. Celebrating the week before or after makes for a more relaxing, enjoyable and affordable evening. (Find workable recipes for every occasion!)

Practice portion control

Get creative with your order, especially if you have a lighter appetite. Try ordering an appetizer as the meal (often, appetizers are smaller portions of main course items, but at a much lower cost). Is the lunch menu still available at dinnertime? Choose an entree from that list. Again, portions will be smaller, but so will the bill. Or order a main entree and split it between two people. There’s sometimes a fee of a few dollars for splitting, but it’s still much cheaper than ordering a second $20 meal. Last but not least, if you do order your own entree, cut it in half before you dig in. You’ll be more likely to eat less, and you can take the other half home for tomorrow’s lunch, effectively getting two meals for the price of one.

Meal delivery services can help you save

If meal planning stresses you out and cooking is really not your thing, meal delivery services take care of planning all of that for you, with super easy step-by-step instructions.

You could argue that meal delivery is pricier than buying your own ingredients, but it’s still SO MUCH cheaper than most restaurants.

Why meal delivery services can save you money and time

  • No more throwing out extra non-eaten food sitting around in your refrigerator for days or weeks….and you can order food for the exact number of people you are cooking for. That’s savings right there.
  • Plus everyone is talking about how “easy it is” and fun, which means you will end up going out to eat less. More savings!
  • Going to the grocery store and buying food takes time; and as the saying goes, time is money.

Subscriptions average around $8-$12  per meal which includes 2 servings. Yes, 2 servings!

So the bottom line cost is quite reasonable and that’s why so many people have regular subscriptions and say that using meal delivery services has truly been life-changing.


Quick 3-minute video about meal delivery; here’s what it’s like!

With Home Chef it’s uber convenient (and fun) to get a box of fresh ingredients delivered to you.

I’m definitely a fan.

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