Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How To Save Money While Eating Out

We have a large family, so eating out for us is rare and usually consists of the $1 menu at a local fast food joint. But occasionally we have the opportunity and funds to go to a sit-down restaurant as a family. This can easily be 60 - 80 dollars for all six of us but we've learned some ways to keep the costs down.

  • We make a point of eating before the dinner menu is in effect. Most restaurants switch from a lunch menu to a dinner menu around 4 pm. Prices go up but portions don't get any bigger for some reason. So if you plan to eat your meal before that time you can get the same amount of food for a much smaller price.

  • If you're kids are still able to order off the kid menu, take advantage of it. Kid menu's are an amazing price and many times I've found them to have either the perfect portion size for my child or more food than they can handle. I don't think I've ever found it to be too little food for them.

  • Don't order drinks. Oh My Goodness! It should be illegal what they charge for a soda pop in a restaurant when I know darn good and well that If I walked to a vending machine a few blocks away I could get it for $.50. The last place we went to charged $1.50 for a glass mostly full of ice and no refills. Forget it. We always order waters with lemon wedges at no charge. Then the kids squeeze their lemon into the water and add a packet of sugar from the table and they have homemade lemonade. That shaved $9 off our bill.

  • Most restaurants have a lunch special or soup-salad-bread special for a discount price. This weekend when we headed to the beach I had a large bowl of clam chowder, a giant salad with shrimp on it, and garlic toast for $7. It was billed as a "Quick Lunch Special" and my plate had more food on it than anyone else at the table. It was a great deal for a restaurant meal. (I had to block out the memory of how cheap that would have been to make at home so I could actually enjoy it.)

The last meal we ate out for ended up costing us $39 for six people using these tips. If you're traveling this summer and find yourself eating out, I hope these tips will help you keep costs down too!

For more great ideas go to WFMW.

21 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I have used the "don't order drinks" rule for a while now. It really does add up!

Gayle said...

Thanks for the tips. I try and find coupons for buy on get one free to cut the cost of eating out. Check the circulars that come in the mail or paper each week.

{ L } said...

Thank you for the tips! I love to eat out but appreciate these guilt-free tips.

5dollarsaday said...

A lot of restaurant/bars have great happy hour deals on food. Where we play pub trivia, appetizers are half price before 7pm. If I'm going to eat, I always get the Salmon brochette which is a nice salad and three large slices of smoked salmon with bread, capers, and sour cream. It ends up being $4 for the lot. A number of my local bars also have things like $1.50 taco night.
Many of those places won't be right for a family but some of them are ok, especially earlier in the evening.

Kelli said...

My husband and I always split an entree--sometimes we just split an appetizer. We have three kids-two of them either eat off the kids menu or split with one of us. The oldest ds 16 can't share with anyone, he eats his entree and then eats all of our leftovers lol

Lisa said...

When we lived in Las Vegas, we would very occasionally take visitors to the Paris hotel's buffet. it was by far the most elaborate buffet in town, with a matching price tag.

I'm sure our friends thought we we nuts, but we would hustle them down there before 4:30 when the prices changed. As we worked our way around the "lunch" buffet, dinner items like crab legs and prime rib would appear.

You could stay as long as you wanted and this saved about $20 A PERSON!!!

Julie said...

We, too, are a family of 6 and you are SO right. Eating out can be crazy expensive. Shoot, ANYTHING for a family of 6 can be crazy expensive LOL! My little crew loves Mexican food. We found a wonderful place that serves HUGE portions.

Of course chips and salsa come with dinner.

My daughters share, my son usually eats one taco and cheese dip with the free chips on the table.

The youngest son shares with mom or dad.I usually get something small, I did mention the free chips and salsa, right? . Not everyone ends up with water (Dad is going to get sweet tea no matter what!), but most are very willing to do so.

We came away last trip spending $23 for all 6 of us! And they added a free, shareable dessert.

While still not as cheap as eating at home, eating out doesn't have to break the bank!

Anonymous said...

be careful with the lemons the doctors tv show did a lab test on lemons from restruants and they carried tons of really gross germs!

Anonymous said...

Great tips! I recently started ordering water also. I like adding Herbasway green tea extract to my water to make a light and healthy green tea. I buy mine at iHerb.com, it's about $14 and last thru 60 servings according to the bottle. I think mine lasts longer because I use less than the recommended amount and just flavor to taste. It's delicious, healty and cheap.

Wanda said...

Yes....the drink cost should be illegal!
I refuse to pay it.
My family? Likes ordering anything but water! :(

We have 3 teens to feed....so going out is costly for us too.
Great tips.

Jennifer said...

My sister took me to Red Robin for my birthday and the drinks were $2.50!

~Sara said...

We are a family of 6 and we do alot of these too! Great tips.

staci @ teaching money to kids said...

My kids are smallish eaters still, and we have found that it is actually cheaper for them to share an adult meal, than to buy two kids meals. Too many times the price for the kids meals include a "free" drink and dessert. But we would just rather have double the food!

Serving Him said...

I work at a national Italian chain and their lunch portions are smaller (ex: 2 chicken breasts instead of 1, lesser # of ravioli, less ounces of pasta, etc) ... but I don't believe the lunch price reflects the decrease ... my suggestion if your going for dinner is to get one entree and split it and it'll be plenty

Julie Bagamary said...

Great tips! Water is a HUGE saver.

grannie said...

We have a credit card (only charge what we can pay--our monthly bills even insurances) that you earn points for restaurant cards. This is our way of eating out; it doesn't cost us anything and is so much fun. You can earn money, but you lose a third compared to the cards. For us, it is a great deal.

Smart Cents Mom said...

Oh yeah! No drinks at restaurants for us. My kids know to order water. If we go to a buffet, my first question is "Are drinks included?". If the answer is yes, then my kids know that they can order whatever drink they want.
Drink prices at restaurants are highway robbery. We have pretty much stopped going out to eat because it is too expensive.

Michelle said...

You sound like me...I find it hard to enjoy a dinner out because I'm constantly tallying up how much I could be SAVING by cooking it all at home!

frugalchick said...

I just want to add one thing: coupons! Our favorite restaurant sends out BOGO free coupons so we take advantage of those when we eat out.

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of restaurants.com. You can search for participating restaurants by zip code and they often send out coupon codes for as much as 80% off. I usually stock up then since you can buy $25 gc for $2.

There are restrictions such as not good on Saturdays or meeting a minimum purchase requirement, but they offer a huge savings.

Last night we used one at an upscale italian restaurant and spent $25 (including tip and purchase price of teh GC) for a $50 meal.

Saryn

Robert said...

Many restaurants are now charging .50 for water and they refuse lemon. We have discovered this the last few weeks. We left two places due to policy. I am frugal and demand certain things for my dollar. A glass of ice water should not be .50. The eat before 4:00 is a great tip. When traveling with teens I fed a snack and early dinner then a snack later it is easy to carry the snacks and get a good large lunch in around four if you sit just before 4:00 it is almost the same as dinner anyways and peanut butter and crackers can go along way too. We had four teens all about one year apart they get very expensive to feed out on the road. I always kept drinks, pretzels, applesauce in the car in case we wanted to have a picnic. Snacks including Peanut butter and crackers whenever we traveled far and extra spoons (these work well if you stop and get ice cream from a grocery store then they can just share from the carton it is way cheaper than each a seperate cone.