It’s no surprise that people love dining out. A restaurant is the perfect place to go on a date, catch up with friends, or simply get out of the house. Dining out can also save time over preparing your own food, and it offers a vast variety of options that nearly every member of the family can enjoy.
However, dining out isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. Americans spend an average of more than $3,300 every year on food away from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 report. That’s around $275 a month.
Although dining out is typically more expensive than grocery shopping or buying a meal kit, it can still be an enjoyable experience for both you and your wallet. We’ve put together the following tips on how to dine out inexpensively.
It pays to do your research. Many restaurants offer early bird discounts, weekly specials, or “kids eat free” nights — particularly at the beginning of the week when eateries are at their slowest.
Check out the menu online before you head out to eat, and pay attention to any daily specials, customer appreciation discounts, or age-related offers you can take advantage of. Also, do some price shopping to look for the most budget-friendly restaurants in your area — one restaurant’s regular prices can still be less expensive than another’s discounted offers.
Many restaurants offer discounts for birthdays, anniversaries, or customer loyalty for joining their rewards programs, and some even provide weekly or monthly discounts in their online newsletter or on social media.
Check out your favorite restaurant’s website and social media profiles to see if you can sign up for customer loyalty emails or join a birthday rewards club. You could receive anything from a free dessert to a discount on your entire meal. If you don’t want to be overwhelmed with daily emails, set up a separate account you can use specifically to receive these offers and check it for relevant deals when you’re considering heading out to eat.
Did you know you can buy someone else’s unwanted gift cards at a discounted price? Gift card exchange sites allow you to purchase other people’s unused cards for less than they’re worth, essentially putting free money in your pocket. These sites offer gift cards for nearly every major restaurant chain, so you’re sure to find something you and your loved ones will enjoy.
Drinks are an enormous money-maker for most restaurants. While soft drinks cost restaurants only pennies per cup, each glass typically sells for a couple of dollars. For the consumer, this cost can add up quickly, especially if you have a lot of people in your party. Instead, skip the specialty drinks and opt for non-bottled water, which is usually free, instead.
While a side of mozzarella sticks or an after-dinner slice of pie might sound tempting, the cost of appetizers and desserts can quickly add up to an entire extra meal. Make it a point to eat only entrées at restaurants. Try finding an eatery that offers free bread or chips and dip before the meal instead.
If an entrée alone isn’t enough to satisfy you, then eat a light snack before you go out, or pick up a snack from the grocery store on the way home. The cost of a store-bought gallon of ice cream will typically be less than one scoop at a restaurant.
Some restaurant dishes come in portion sizes that an individual consumer can’t eat in one sitting. If you and a friend want to order the same meal and know you probably won’t be able to finish it all, consider splitting one plate — and, hence, the bill — rather than ordering two separate items.
Knowing the best days and times to dine out — and which ones to avoid — can also help you save money. Many eateries have lunch specials or other offers at specific times of the day. Check the restaurant’s website for special discount days.
On the other hand, nearly every booth of your local eatery will be filled on holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Prices are usually more expensive around a holiday, so avoid going out on, or close to, these occasions. Instead, consider making your loved one a home-cooked meal — or celebrating a couple of days before or after the actual holiday.
Throwing away all your leftover food is like throwing away hard-earned money. You paid for a full meal, so you should enjoy it all — even if you can’t finish it in one sitting. Take home the leftovers for an enjoyable meal you won’t have to pay for later.
With our cash rewards credit card, PSECU members can earn 1.5% or 2%* cash rewards on every purchase using our Founder’s Card.
We’d love to help you save money while dining out. Apply for our Founder’s Card today, or contact us for more information. Be sure to check out our WalletWorks page for more money-saving tips to help you balance dining out with your budget.
*You can earn 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. You can earn 2% cash rewards on purchases if you maintain a PSECU checking account and qualifying monthly direct deposit(s) of at least $500. See the Visa® Founder’s Card and Visa® Alumni Rewards Card Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for full details.