Eating out on a budget

Eating out on a budget

Like many families, my husband and I enjoy eating out at restaurants, which seems like a luxury when it is easy to spend at least $50 on a meal. I’d like to share several ways we stretch our weekly dining budget. With a little planning and effort, using these fabulous resources, you can stretch your money twice as far.

  • Restaurant.com offers significant discounts nationally, including several restaurants in the Princeton area, typically selling $25 gift certificates for $10 or $15 certificates for $6. Add a promo code, offered several times a month, and cut the cost of these certificates in half. You can get a $25 certificate for $5 or less.  Check Google for current promo codes. Be aware that these certificates usually specify a minimum purchase amount and a tip percentage, which varies per restaurant.  Be sure to check the notes beneath the “Add to Cart” button before purchasing. I generally look for restaurants that offer $25 certificates with a $35 minimum purchase, which means we will end up paying less than $20 after tax and tip if our total purchase is right at $35.
  • Groupon.com and Livingsocial.com provide local discount offers which change daily and are not exclusively limited to restaurants. You can sign up for an account with each website and receive daily emails with their specials. I can usually get a restaurant voucher or certificate for 50% off or more. Usually the deals are “spend $20 for $40 worth of food” or “receive 50% off your entire food purchase.” Restaurant offers from either of these websites are reliable and ever-changing, so you can try new restaurants and cuisines while also saving money.
  • Restaurant EClubs are a great way to get coupons for many different restaurants. Many chain restaurants (Macaroni Grill, Red Lobster, T.G.I. Fridays, Olive Garden, Houlihan’s, Red Robin, Longhorn, Outback, and Ruby Tuesday) offer email clubs you can join to receive coupons and promotional offers. Several restaurants even offer free entrées or meals on special occasions. For example, Houlihan’s sends an email with a free birthday entrée for up to fifteen dollars. You usually have a week to use it, so you don’t actually have to use it on your birthday.  My husband and I look forward to every year to the weeks with our birthdays and anniversary, which are full of free meals and great coupons. Check with your favorite local restaurants to see if they have email or text signup offers.

Other helpful ways to save:

  1. Don’t order drinks. Order water or BYOB. Getting soda or alcohol for two can increase a bill anywhere from $5 to $30.
  2. Don’t order dessert. Getting a dessert, even to split, can add to your bill. Wait until you get home and have an ice-cream sundae or a piece of chocolate for less than half of what the restaurant would have charged.

Before you go to eat out, take a few moments to plan where you are going and check out the great resources listed above. You’ll be surprised how much you can save.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user a c h a n.

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