12 Tips Savvy Spenders Use to Save Money When Eating Out

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You can be frugal and eat out too! Here are 12 expert tips on how to save money when eating out on a budget.

group of people sharing pizza

Eating out with friends and family is an enjoyable experience. The food. The atmosphere. The feeling like you’re treating yourself to something special.

The night off from cooking and washing dishes!

But eating out isn’t exactly cheap.

It’s almost always cheaper to eat at home than it is to go out.

But whether it’s a special occasion like a birthday, a work do, or just hanging out with friends, sometimes it’s just nice to treat yourself to a meal out!

Eating Out For Cheap – Top Tips for Saving Money

We don’t eat out all the time, but it’s nice for a special occasion. And when we do eat out, I like to maximise the deliciousness while minimising the cost.

So here are my top tips on how to save money when eating out.

1. Eat Out During the Week

Dining during the week can sometimes be cheaper than dining at peak times like Friday and Saturday nights.

For example, it can be cheaper to dine out on Tuesday, affectionately known as ‘cheap-arse Tuesday’ in Australia, because that’s often the cheap night of the week to eat and see a movie—some restaurants offer a movie and meal deal or just 10% off the bill.

To find cheap nights, do a Google Maps search of the restaurants in your area and check the business profile, webpage, and/or Facebook page for discounts and specials.

2. Kids Eat Free and Other Deals

In addition to eating out during the week, some restaurants have daily meal deals on the slower weeknights. Taco Tuesday, Wednesday $10 Steak Night, and Thursday Kids Eat Free are deals that can reduce the overall bill.

We only have one child who still eats kids’ meals, mostly because she finds the adult meals too big. When we recently ate out for a birthday dinner, it saved us around $25 – $35 (the cost of the mains), and she got a free drink too!

2. Look for Coupons and Discounts

Check websites like Groupon for deals.

If you’re looking for a fancy meal for a special occasion, you may be able to find a discount at the perfect restaurant.

Another way to get discounts is to sign up for the mailing list or loyalty programs for local restaurants.

I get emails from my favourite local restaurant where they do a fire tofu noodles. Every now and then, they offer discounts, especially off-season deals, and I get a birthday discount too.

3. Do Breakfast or Lunch

Breakfasts and lunches are usually a lot cheaper than dinner, especially if there are lunch ‘specials’ like a smaller meal and drink combo.

4. Eat an Appetiser Before you Go

Rather than having a three-course meal out, take the edge off your hunger before you go and just order a main at the restaurant. A single dish will be much cheaper than three courses, and you won’t come home feeling stuffed.

5. Eat an Entree as the Main Meal

Serving sizes can be HUGE at some restaurants. Even an entree-size meal can be larger than a meal I would serve myself at home.

Avoid waste (and the cost of a main) by eating an entree or an entree-size meal as a main course.

6. Limit Drinks and Ask for Tap Water

Drinks usually come with a hefty markup.

(My chef-and-restaurant-owner cousin told me that’s where they make their profit.)

So to keep the bill down to a minimum, try to limit your drinks to one and drink water as well. Or just drink tap water and focus on the meal.

7. Share a Meal

Whether you share a grazing plate, a selection of appetisers, or a selection of dishes, sharing food and the cost can reduce the overall price of eating out.

Some dining experiences lend themselves to sharing more than others. Sharing a couple of Indian curries or a couple of Thai dishes is easier than sharing a meal at a steak house. So when choosing a restaurant, look for cuisines that you can share.

Couple meal sharing with a coupon or discount, and you can eat out quite cheaply.

8. Share an Entree or Dessert

Maybe you don’t want to always skip dessert!

You can have your cake and your budget too by sharing a dessert – or an entree – and sharing the cost as well.

And of course, a dessert shared is a calorie halved.

9. Move on for Dessert

Rather than having an expensive dessert in a restaurant, if we still feel like a sweet treat after a meal, we might get a takeaway ice cream for a fraction of the cost.

And it’s nice taking a moonlit walk with an ice cream rather than still sitting in the restaurant.

Another alternative that is even cheaper but still satisfies your sweet tooth is to follow dinner up with ice cream from the supermarket or even a Mint Slice from the supermarket chocolate aisle.

10. Doggy Bag the Leftovers

Those huge restaurant servings don’t have to end up in the bin!

If you’ve paid for it, it’s ok to take the leftovers home and reheat them for lunch or tomorrow night’s dinner.

Recently my daughter and I went away for a few days. We ate out one night and her pizza was a lot bigger than we expected. So we asked for a doggy bag, and the wait staff were more than happy to help.

Then, the next day, we had the leftover pizza for lunch and didn’t have to buy another meal out.

11. Don’t Make it a Meal Deal

This tip just applies to takeout places like McDonalds.

Instead of making it a meal and adding fries and a drink, just eat the burger without all the sides.

Not only is it cheaper, but you consume fewer calories as well.

12. Be Careful When Splitting the Bill

Sharing the bill is easier, but it can be costly if you end up paying for someone else’s drinks and food.

If you’re trying to save by eating only an entree and drinking water while still enjoying the company of friends, be upfront about your budget and ask to just pay for what you consume (there are even apps that can help). You don’t have to pay for your friend’s drinks.

Being frugal doesn’t mean you can never eat out again. If dining out is in your budget and it’s something you enjoy, then that’s what life is all about. There are plenty of ways to maximise enjoyment, minimise cost and enjoy dining out on a budget.

What are your tips for eating out on a budget?

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  1. I’m on the road all day and like to sit down for a coffee most days. Typically I look for a cafe that has free papers which saves me a couple of dollars.

    We are big fans of the Entertainment Book, even though we buy it we get the money back in the first couple of months.

  2. I would love it if I was on a date and they whipped out a two-for-one coupon :)

    This week my housemate and I went to see Robocop, using a free double pass I won. We made our own popcorn and brought drinks along. It was a great, free night out :)