In this economy, many Americans find ourselves trying to pinch pennies wherever we can. Logically, one excellent way to save money would be to stop going out to eat altogether. Face it - by the time you add up the high price of food, the cost of service, and perhaps even the gas money to get there, you will have ended up spending a great deal more on your meal than if you had cooked at home.
However, we Americans also love our food, and more than that, the experience of dining out. It is often a social event even more than it is an opportunity to eat. I, too, face this conundrum. I am trying to save money, but I don't want to give up the occasional experience of going out to eat. If you're like me, here are 5 ways to save money when you dine out.
1. Save money by choosing water. Beverages tack a significant amount onto your restaurant bill. You might feel as though you're getting a deal when you get unlimited refills, but many times, you still end up overpaying for your drink and have consumed extra calories just to get your money's worth. Instead, choose water. Not only will you come away with a lower bill, but also the health benefits water.
2. Save money by taking half home. At least for people who are on the smaller side, restaurants tend to dish out twice as much food as one person needs. When my meal comes, I try to separate it into two halves - if not physically, then in my mind. The first or second time the server comes to check back, I ask for a box and put half out of sight. I end up having eaten the right portion for me, plus I've saved money by getting two meals for the price of one.
3. Save money by asking for smaller portions. Oftentimes restaurants will offer a smaller portion of a meal for a couple of bucks less. In my experience, the smaller portion is just the right amount of food for me, so I don't overeat and I don't overpay. As a side note, every once in a while, you'll come across a restaurant that will let you order off the kids' menu...
4. Save money by skipping the extras. As comedian joked, "It would be kinda embarrassing trying to explain what an appetizer is to someone from a starving country... 'Yeah the appetizer - that's the food we eat before we have our food... No, no you're thinking of dessert. That's food we eat after we have our food.'" You don't need either an appetizer or dessert. If you're still hungry for dessert after you leave the restaurant, pick up a pint of ice cream at the grocery store. I'll bet by the time you get there, you won't even want it anymore.
5. Save money by searching for deals. Before you go to a restaurant, search online for coupons. Save the coupons you get in the mail. Sign up for any in-house promotional programs a restaurant might offer. Know the weekly or daily specials at local restaurants, like "BOGO Burgers" Thursdays at Jed's in . Enroll in restaurants' email clubs that often send out promotional deals. Red Robin, for example, will give you a free burger for your birthday when you are a member of their email club - and that's on top of the free ice cream they bring you anyway!
It's fine to indulge our appetites for dining out every once in a while. The key is not to indulge them too often, and when we do, not to go overboard. Remember, every little bit you save will lower the impact of your restaurant bill on your budget.