In our fast-paced society, many of us rely on dining out. The problem is that even if you choose modest restaurants, eating out frequently can cost a lot of money, especially if you are eating out with your family. However, there are techniques that you can utilize that will save you money each time you dine out.
- Buy a discounted gift card. Yes, this is a hoop to jump through, but it can save you money. Check out one of the online gift card resellers such as giftcardgranny.com and buy a gift card for less than face value. For instance, if you love Starbuck’s, you currently can buy a $25 gift card for $22, giving you an automatic savings of 12%.
- Dine at lunch rather than dinner. Lunch portions are often as much as 20 to 40% cheaper than dinner portions. Go out for lunch and order off the lunch menu. You will get a smaller portion than you would if you ordered the dinner size, but most restaurant portions are too large to begin with.
- Become a rewards member. Many restaurants, especially family chains and fast food restaurants, offer reward programs. For instance, if you use the Qdoba Rewards Card, you will earn a free entrée every time you earn 1,000 points, which generally equates to a free entrée every time you buy 10 entrees. In addition, just for registering as a Rewards Card member, you will get a free order of chips and salsa or a regular drink. Each restaurant has different rules governing their rewards program, but all of them seek to reward you for being a loyal customer.
- Take advantage of the specials. Many restaurants offer specials for their lunch and dinner menu and give you a few dollars off the regular price for ordering their special. My husband knows that our favorite Mexican restaurant offers $4 off their steak entrée on Saturday nights, so if we want to go to that restaurant, we wait to go until Saturday night.
- Order entrees and water. Many people’s restaurant bills start to rise when they add drinks, appetizers and desserts. Even a soft drink can run $2 to $3 now. You’ll add even more if you buy an alcoholic beverage. Appetizers can run $7 to $12. Considering that most restaurant entrees are already larger than most people need, why spend money on the extras? You will have a more frugal restaurant trip if you just order the meal you really want and avoid the extras.
If you practice each of these techniques individually, you will save money every time you dine out. However, the real power of saving comes when you combine the techniques together. If you buy a gift card before your restaurant trip and save 10% off the face value, then go out to eat at lunch and order the lunch special, you could potentially save yourself 20 to 30% of what it would cost if you dined out when the mood hit, without a plan. In addition, if you use a rewards card, you have just helped yourself earn a free meal in the future. Dining out with a plan can take some of the spontaneity out of the experience, but I would sacrifice that for savings any day.