MM note: I eat out a ton and so do most of my friends. It turns out you can actually save a lot of money when eating out. This is a guest post from Mustard Seed Money on the 20 ways he saves money when eating out. These are some awesome tips, I have already started using myself.
My wife and I are millennials. Actually, my wife is a millennial and depending on who you talk to, I’m either a millennial or Gen Xer. Since I’m married to a millennial and most of my friends are millennials, for this article, let’s pretend I am.
How Often and How Much Money Do We Spend?
My wife and I are like most millennials in that we enjoy eating good food at restaurants. According to a recent Zagat survey, on average, people spend about $36 per person while eating out. That seems like a lot of money, right? On top of that, the same study found that people eat out around 4.5 times per week. More people eat out in Los Angeles (average 5.2 times per week) and on the less frequent side, Bostonians dined out on average 3.8 times per week.
Carryout and delivery are other popular alternatives to eating out but still enjoying the same delicious food. Around 69% of millennial men in urban areas ordered restaurant delivery over a 3 month period while 58% of millennial women also did so. Overall, 45% of all Americans (all ages) utilized food delivery over a 3 month period.
Millennials vs. Baby Boomers
According to the USDA’s food expenditure data from 2014, millennials spend about $3000 annually, or 44% of their food budget, on eating out. In contrast to 2010, that is an 11% increase. In 2014, Baby boomers, on the other hand, spend around $2600 annually, or 40% of their food budget.
Americans Like To Eat Out
More recent data has been collected suggesting that Americans are currently spending more on restaurants and bars ($54.86 billion) than on their groceries ($52.5 billion). This is astonishing as it’s the first time this has happened in recorded history.
There may be a good reason for this, other than the fact that most of us really enjoy eating out. Over the years, more and more women are entering the labor force. In 1950, the rate was 34%. Now it is at 56%. For many single millennials and young working couples, it is much easier to take out food from a restaurant than to create your own meal. Time has become the limiting factor in many cases. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, restaurants charge about 4 times what a dish is “worth”. So most of us are not typically saving money when we eat out.
Whatever the reason may be, it’s apparent that we are frequenting restaurants and utilizing carry-out/delivery more and more. So how can we save some money while doing so?
20 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out
- Check-out online deal sites.The four biggest sites that may save you money are Groupon, Living Social, Restaurant.com and OpenTable. My wife and I scan these websites frequently to see if we can save money on places that we love eating at.
- Never leave home without a coupon.My wife is the coupon queen, and we always search online for any restaurant coupons. Most of the time, restaurants’ websites and Facebook pages have the best deals and you can save at least 10-15% just by looking.
- Join a restaurant loyalty club.After the E. coli outbreak at Chipotle, my wife and I were a little scared to go back, but then Chipotle started to text out a ton of loyalty deals. We have gotten free meals, BOGO deals, free chips and guac– I even frequent it so often that they sometimes give me free burritos without an actual loyalty reward!
- Many restaurants have a birthday or anniversary club.It’s pretty easy to check on your favorite restaurant’s website to see if they have any coupons. In conjunction to this, it is wise to see if you can sign up for any sort of birthday or anniversary promo. Some places will give a free dessert on your birthday, and others will give a free meal.
- Buy Discounted Gift Cards.My wife and I love Cardpool.com and Cardcash.com. Both are easy places to obtain discounted gift cards. We have saved anywhere between 5-20% off when we eat out at restaurants. It’s super easy. Just search for your favorite places.
- Take advantage of daily specials.There is a Tex-Mex place down the road from us that sells $2 tacos with free chips and salsa every Friday from 4-6 pm. They also offer $2 beers and $5 margaritas. It makes for a fun and cheap early dinner if you ask me. While we usually eat late dinners during the week, we adjust our dinner time on Fridays to take advantage of this deal.
- Eat at home.Wait, I thought this post was about saving money at restaurants? It is. Drive to the restaurant and order carry-out. This will allow you to skip paying a delivery fee, a service tip to the waiter, and even saving money on expensive drinks.
- Drink water.Do you know how much markup a soda or an alcoholic beverage is at a restaurant? Soda can cost anywhere from $0.05 to $0.25 for the restaurant, and they sell it to you for $3+. Alcohol markups can often time exceed 600%. That is nuts.
- Become a mystery shopper.I may be weird, but I have always wanted to be a restaurant critic. There are multiple mystery shopper networks that you can join, and you are reimbursed for the cost of your food plus a small payment for a review on a certain restaurant. Sounds like a win-win to me!
- Eat slower.At many restaurants, you receive a bigger serving portion than you actually need. I won’t bore you with the science, but it takes time for your full stomach to tell your head that it’s full. By eating slower, you probably won’t finish everything on your plate. In turn, you can take your leftovers in a doggy bag and enjoy a great meal the next day.
- Get a huge meal and then share it.While a restaurant may not love it, if you know you can’t finish the meal and you’re eating with a friend who wants the same thing, save some money by splitting the meal. Although beware– my wife does not think it’s romantic to share pasta like in Lady and the Tramp. I don’t know why?
- Make it worth it.According to this Seattle Pi article, restaurants markup anywhere between six to ten times of their costs for pasta dishes but sometimes barely break even on steak and seafood dishes. Go for the good stuff, not foods that you could easily make at home.
- Pay with a cash-back credit card.Depending on your credit card you can receive anywhere between 1% to 5% cash back on your restaurant purchase.
- Avoid Tipping.Go to fast-casual restaurants where you’re not expected to tip. Places like Chipotle, Five Guys, Panera Bread, Pei Wei, etc. These are all places to get great food while skipping the 20%+ tip.
- Do the Research.Check out the menu online before you arrive. If you’re like me, you may get overwhelmed by lengthy menus. You end up making a hasty decision and most likely, it isn’t the most cost-effective one. Scan the menu and prices beforehand, so you know what you are getting yourself into.
- Skip out on dessert and appetizers.Even though it sounds boring, my wife and I only eat entrees at restaurants because otherwise the cost of going out greatly escalates. If you’re so hungry that you need an appetizer, eat a light snack before you arrive at the restaurant. In addition, if you still want dessert after the meal, swing by the store and grab a gallon of ice cream for half the cost of a scoop. That’s what we do, and we find it more relaxing to enjoy dessert afterward at home anyways because we can change into our stretchy pants and relax as eat to our heart’s content.
- Go During Happy Hour.Many restaurants run drink and food specials. There use to be a burger joint down the road from me where I would crush $5 one pound burgers. I’m pretty sure they went out of business because of me.
- Go Eat Samples.Costco. Enough said. I know people who have gone there during their lunch hour and filled up on all the delicious samples. I said people, not me. Or my wife.
- BYO..Wine?Restaurants are getting lax with customers bringing their own alcohol. It doesn’t hurt to call up a restaurant and ask if there is a corking fee if you want to bring your favorite wine to pair with dinner. It’s certainly cheaper than paying for a bottle off their wine list.
- Utilize Kids Eat Free Nights.If you have a family, getting free food for your kiddos is an enticing offer. More restaurants offer it than you’d think (IHOP and Buffalo Wild Wings, to name a couple), so check around in your area!
Mustard Seed Money is a relatively new blogger who works for the federal government as an accountant and is on the way to achieving financial independence by 2020. He shares his thoughts and insights over at Mustard Seed Money.