Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tips for Saving $ when eating out

Fortunately, the budget at my house is decent enough that we can afford to eat out. It hasn't always been this way though and many times I wish it wasn't because I could be saving CALORIES and not just money by eating at home. Even on the tightest budget, it is nice and sometimes necessary to relax, treat yourself and your family to a meal. Here are some ideas about how to save some money while going out:

Skip the extras. Drinks are nice, appetizers are awesome and so is dessert. But these items are often overpriced. Take for example, potato skins. In many places you'll pay $8+ for 6-8 potato skins covered in cheese and sprinkled with bacon. Skins that they would have thrown away otherwise. For $8 you could buy a 3 lb bag of potatoes, a block of cheese, and bacon pieces and made 3 lbs. worth. You'll save calories by choosing water, instead of soda or alcohol. And dessert? Buy some ice cream on the way home because all you're getting at the restaurant is a brownie made from a mix, with some vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Eat appetizers. Dinner doesn't have to be off the dinner menu. If going out as a couple, order an appetizer and a meal to split. This will save cost, calories and reduce leftovers. You could also just order an appetizer instead of a meal. They're usually made to share and restaurant portions are so large they're practically meals anyway.

Plan for leftovers. Whenever I eat out, I know there are going to be leftovers. When my food comes, I decide what will reheat the best at home and save it for last. I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy it at the restaurant. Save the majority of the best reheatable part for the next day and thoroughly enjoy what won’t be so tasty reheated while you're there.

Eat early and know what days are special. Lunch specials are usually cheaper than dinner and many places offer Early Bird specials (not just for the elderly!). Some restaurants offer special family nights, free meals to kids of a certain age, special priced appetizers, or free kids nights. Call ahead, learn when the special nights are and take advantage of them.

Eat smart, choose an affordable restaurant. Eating out shouldn't break your bank. If money is tight, perhaps going to the swankiest restaurant in town is not the brightest idea if it isn't a truly special occasion. You want everyone to get what they like, be full, and happy. Consider going to a buffet. Without resorting to fast food, there are many reasonably priced restaurants that offer a decent meal. Search out local establishments and try them, many times you will get an excellent meal for an excellent price. In my hometown, we have a restaurant that will serve you a giant Belgian waffle with fruit and whipped cream for less than $6. Not low on calories, but good on price!

Fast food. They're by far your cheapest option. But they don't have to be the unhealthiest one. Get a salad without chicken or dressing, or apple slices without caramel. Hold the secret sauces. Not everything at Subway is healthy; Jared lost the weight eating subs without mayo and cheese. You can do that too.

Take advantage of rewards programs.
Many places offer reward programs. You should take advantage of these as much as you can. If you can get a punch card for a burrito place, a sandwich shop, wherever it is that you go...you should be doing it. Some places, like T.G.I FRIDAYS offer a rewards program called "Give me more Stripes". You get "stripes" for every dollar you spend and can then use them to get coupons for things like $8 off your meal, or a free steak dinner. It also puts you on their email list, so from time to time they'll send you emails with coupons in them. I just got a coupon for free steak dinner. While there are some restrictions on the coupons, they are pretty reasonable. If you're going to eat there anyway and the restaurant offers you some kind of "credit" for doing it you should take advantage of it.

Last but not least, please make sure you tip your wait staff.
Tipping is part of going out to eat and you should automatically figure in a tip before deciding on a place to eat. The inflated prices of the food aren’t going to the wait staff. If you’ve never worked in the food service industry, you probably don’t know that wait staff usually makes less than half of the current minimum wage. Waitstaff relies on tips (from good service of course) to make a living. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out to eat. Plain and simple. And before everyone gets up in arms about bad service, my personal opinion is to leave a minimal tip for bad service, but leave one nonetheless.

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