During tough financial times, is it possible to save money while still going out to eat in restaurants? Going out to eat usually costs more than eating at home unless you frequent cheap and unpleasant eateries or feast on unhealthy fast food. However, if you are creative, there are ways to save money and still enjoy the occasional dining out experience.
You can order differently, share more, and skip certain items. If you do so, you will save a significant amount of money.
Order Smaller Portions
Smaller portions might mean ordering the child's meal (if allowed), or an appetizer instead of a main course. You will find that most restaurant fare is super-sized to begin with so ordering less will not necessarily leave you starving. Another option for a smaller portion would be to share an order with your dining partner. Although some restaurants charge a small fee to do so, you will still end up saving several dollars on your meal.
Order as a Group
Along the same lines as sharing your main course is the notion of the group order. This type of scenario is most popular in Asian establishments in which you order a number of dishes to be shared among the table. Ordering in this manner will save you money because the total bill for the group is split amongst the number of diners. Unless you order too much food for the group, it will always be less expensive than ordering individual portions. Plus, you get to sample many different tastes and flavors!
Stick to the Main Course
Another way to save money when dining out is to avoid ordering the appetizer and dessert courses. Both tend to be overpriced for the food that you receive. Often an appetizer will leave you little room for your main course, and a dessert may end up half-eaten because you didn't have room left or it was just too rich. If you still want to enjoy these courses, a good alternative is to have an appetizer at home before you go, and enjoy dessert at home as well, or at a less expensive locale such as the local ice cream parlor or caf.
Avoid costly wines, beers, mixed drinks, and soft drinks and stick to plain old water with lemon wedges to drink. Not only is water better for you and free, it will leave you more room for our food! If the idea of drinking plain water leaves a sour taste in your mouth, have your drink of choice but consider ordering a less expensive entre to compensate for your beverage.
Be an Early Bird
Be on the lookout for early bird specials and promotions. Some restaurants will even give you a free dinner on your birthday! If you have children, be sure to frequent establishments that offer free meals for kids.
Big Eaters Should Check Out the Buffet
Although buffet restaurants tends to be a losing proposition for the majority of the population, if you and your friends happen to be big eaters (think high school football team), a buffet restaurant will probably save you a few dollars versus going to a restaurant where you pay by the dish. Just be sure that you really have the appetite for a buffet and are not simply eating to get your money's worth. Otherwise, you will end up with a big bell and still will not have saved a dime.
These are just a few tips to get you started thinking about ways to save money while still enjoying the experience of dining out. Remember, it is not how much you spend on a meal that makes it enjoyable, but the company of friends, the enjoyment of new tastes and flavors, and a chance to get away from the everyday.