Monday, January 10, 2011

Dining Out 101

Going out to eat can be expensive, especially if you have a large family (or kids that actually EAT for that matter!), but the good news is, there are a lot of ways to save money at restaurants.

*Free Appetizers
Pick a restaurant that offers FREE appetizers: bread, salad, chips, etc. Take advantage of their "endless" or "bottomless" promotions. Salad is good for you, why not load up while you can?! Some even offer free ice cream (Jason's Deli, Dickeys), so if you don't get a free snack before your meal, you might be able to score a sweet treat after.

*Share an Entree
Portions these days are huge, and most of the time we end up bringing home leftovers. Why not eat the recommended portion size and leave not feeling over-stuffed. And remember, if you went to a place with free appetizers (see above), you won't leave feeling hungry after sharing your meal. ; )

*Get 1 Drink
Most restaurants offer free refills. I can't think of one that doesn't. Why pay for two if you can just get a refill? Order one, and if you're feeling ashamed that people will know 'what you are up to'... order a water also. Problem solved.

*Make Lemonade
Not sure what to do with that extra water just sitting there (since you are sipping off your partner's drink)? Make lemonade. (Cudos to Collin from Hip2Save for this idea and for taking a beating for it.) Or maybe you don't drink caffinated beverages, but are sick of plain 'ol water. Again, make lemonade. Need something to entertain your toddler/preschooler with until the food arrives? You got it, make lemonade!

*Kids Eat Free
Scope out the places that offer Kids Eat Free promotions. Make a little list and stick it in your wallet. Then, if you are out & about one day and can't decide where to go... let the list decide!

*Sign Up
Many of your favorite restaurants have promotional offers for their "special" guests... so sign up for their email/newsletter, become a fan on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, get a punch card, etc. You'll likely score a free meal after signing up, or maybe a Buy One Get One Free coupon. Make sure to update your birthday (and your family members' birthdays) and anniversary, as many will send out a free meal/coupon. Our July dining is covered with 3 birthdays and 1 anniversary withing 3 weeks of each other. : )

*Save Coupons
Along with your little Kids Eat Free list, you could keep a stash of coupons for your local restaurants. You can find them in all kinds of places... newspaper, Valpak/Money Mailer envelope, Clipper/Ad Pages magazine, online, etc. Take your Kids Eat Free list and your coupon stash with you. Then you will always have them when you're on the go--which is usually why you are dining out, right?

*Ask for a Discount
Military discounts and Senior Citizen discounts are the most common, but you might find one that offers discounts for Students. I wouldn't be afraid to ask for a discount for really bad food/service either. Hopefully, the manager would be aware of any screwups if it was that bad and offer to comp it for you. But customer service these days can sometimes stink, so in that case, speak up!

If you have time to plan your night out ahead, you might want to check out They frequently run promotions where you can buy $25 gift certificates for as low as $2! The catch to these certificates is that you usually have to spend a minimum amount and 18% gratuity is added to your bill. We've used these several times and have been able to try out spendier places for the price (or less than) we would typically pay at a "regular" place.

If you've got a tip for spending less, I'd love to know, and would love to share. Please leave a comment below!


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