Monday, August 1, 2011

How to Save Money While Eating Out

Since our family has been in and out of town in the past two weeks, I haven’t done much shopping since I didn’t want to leave fresh foods to sit in the refrigerator.  That meant, of course, that we went out to eat more than we normally would ( 2 times a week instead of 2 times a month). We have plenty of pantry goods at home, but are low on things like milk, fresh fruit, and bread. Since we go out to eat so rarely, I was kind of at a loss for how to do it and stay within our budget. Once I started thinking and researching, though, I was able to come up with a ton of ways to save money at restaurants, even with the kids. And not one of the restaurants was a fast food joint!
1. Groupon -- My husband and I have not had a date night all year that has not involved a Groupon or Living Social Deal.  There are other daily deal sites, inlcuding the local “DealChicken,” but Groupon is by far the most popular.  Generally these “flash” deals can only be bought for one day, and offer at least a 50% discount on meals.  Some things to keep in mind: 
  • These do expire. Make sure you can use the deal before the expiration date. However, even if they do expire, they are usually still worth the amount you paid, so you haven’t actually lost money.
  • Read the fine print. Most of these deals cannot be combined with other offers, can be used on dine-in only, and some are not good on extras like alcohol.
  • If you find a good Groupon deal, you can order it through your Swagbucks account to earn extra Swagbucks. I just earned 90 Swagbucks this week by doing that. 

2. Kids Eat Free Days -- Many family restaurants offer a Kids Eat Free day at some point during the week. Since it’s always variable how much my kids will eat at a given time, this is a good way to save money but give the kids the experience of eating out. These deals almost only apply to meals on the kids’ menu. Try searching KidsMealDeals.com to find Kids Eat Free days at restaurants near you. 

One caveat: be careful to make sure what you order is on the kids’ menu. We recently went to Tully’s where “Kids Eat Their Weight” ($.02 per pound).  Neither my husband nor I noticed that apple juice, while on the kids’ menu, wasn’t included in the meal -- so we ended up spending $4 just on two glasses of juice that were spilled (by my 3 year old) and completely ignored (by my 1 year old). Save your money and order water. 

3. Coupons -- My husband makes fun of me for never going anywhere without a coupon, and restaurants are no different. There are always restaurant coupons floating around -- you just need to know where to look!
  • Newspapers -- There are several restaurant coupons in our newspaper’s Thursday Weekend section every single week.  
  • Online -- go to the website of the restaurant you are interested in and see if they are offering any promotions.  You can often get a free appetizer or dessert this way.  Right now, for example, Chili’s is offering a coupon for Free Chips and Queso.  Also, many restaurants have Facebook pages. If you “Like”  your favorite restaurant, you may be notified of upcoming deals.
  • Entertainment book -- I haven’t personally bought an Entertainment book since 2009, but I peeked at their website, and noticed that in the 2011 book for Rochester NY there are coupons for California Rollin’, Tandoor Flame, and The Old Toad -- all popular area restaurants.  Currently, you can buy two 2011 Entertainment Books for only $10. 

4. Restaurant.com is an awesome site that routinely offers $25 restaurant gift cards for anywhere from 50%-80% off. For example, I just found a $10 gift card to Lovin’ Cup Bistro and Brews (a trendy local coffee hangout) for only $1 when I applied code SAVE.  That’s less than the price of 1 McDonald’s medium cup of coffee!

One final "tip:" Please make sure to tip your server using the amount of the meal before any discounts are applied. Besides just being the right thing to do, this will ensure you get great service every time you go out!

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