20 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out

My wife and I are like most millennials in that we enjoy eating good food at restaurants.  According to a 2016 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.

Food Delivery

20 Ways To Save Money Eating OutCarryout 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 people 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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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!

4. 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.

5. Buy Discounted Gift Cards. My wife and I love GiftCardMall.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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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!

10. 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.

11. 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?

12. Make it worth it. 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.

13. 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. Check out my list of best credit cards for restaurants.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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!

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  • Comment Author image blank
    Skylar Williams
    I like your tip to choose food that you cannot easily make at home. My brother just came back from a church mission and we want to celebrate at a restaurant that does private parties. I'll be sure to remember this tip for after we find a restaurant to go to.
  • Comment Author image blank
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    5 Tips To Save Money When You Go Out To Eat - FinanciaRUL
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  • Comment Author image blank
    Always check the portion. If you think that one order is good enough for 2 to 3 persons, then do 1 order only.
  • Comment Author image blank
    I use my rewards points on my credit card to get gift cards to restaurants I go to often (Panera, Red Robin ). It can be so tempting to let someone else cook for me, so I keep things in the house that are easy. Even a frozen pizza is less expensive than the local place. As noted comfy pants while the pizza cooks is a win. I have gotten dessert to go at restaurants like creme brule, or cheese cake to split later. I'm rarely ready for dessert right after dinner. As I grocery shopped this weekend I passed the ice cream case and had no interest. Alas. I also only let myself eat out a set # of times for the week. Lunch with coworkers will be one and I'm seeing family this weekend so I'm sure we'll go out one night too. Then I'll keep myself from going any other times this week. Best of luck. Hooray for being another not millenial not quite Gen xer either!
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    Making Your Money Matter
    My family generally eats at the same 4-5 restaurants consistently so I really should check sites like Groupon and Restaurant.com like you mentioned. I'm sure there are discounts all over that would be so easy to use. Great tips-I'll definitely be implementing some of these.
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    The Green Swan
    Before kids my wife and I would usually get away with sharing one big meal when we go out or we'd each get our own and take home leftovers. Now with a kid we'll usually get two meals and split it between the three of us. Kids eat free deals are awesome too! Thanks for the good tips!
  • Comment Author image blank
    Primal Prosperity
    Great tips! We are urbanites and eat out often, but we try to at least hit the happy hours for free or cheap food. :)
  • Comment Author image blank
    Mustard Seed Money
    My wife and I have been crushing some BOGO's when you buy a $30 gift certificate at Chipotle. We actually went last night to partake in it. But I definitely love when restaurants will give you 20-25% off when you buy a gift card right off the bat :)
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    Amanda @ centsiblyrich
    Those statistics really shocked me. I knew people went out to eat frequently, but it's quite a bit more than I would have guessed. All great tips! We eat out 2-3x/month. And at least one is usually 1/2 price sushi and wine night at a local restaurant. Taking advantage of weekly specials can save a ton when eating out.
  • Comment Author image blank
    Unconventional Sustainability
    Your suggestion #9 sounds very interesting - never thought about being a mystery shopper! In our area we also like to take advantage of holiday deals that certain restaurants offer. For example, there are some restaurants that will give you $5 for every $20-25 you spend on a gift card. This has worked out great for buying gift cards for others (as gifts) or for ourselves!
  • Comment Author image blank
    Mustard Seed Money
    That's awesome that you are able to take advantage!!! There are only a couple of places around us that let you BYOB :(
  • Comment Author image blank
    Max Your Freedom
    Great tips MSM! We love to take advantage of #19...most of the places that allow BYOB also happen to be reasonably priced as well. Nothing like a great meal with a good wine that isn't marked up 3-4X!
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    Mustard Seed Money
    Hi Mrs. COD! Too much ice is the worst. I usually say "no ice" if I do order a drink. Thanks so much for reading and for the feedback! MSM
  • Comment Author image blank
    Mrs. COD
    Good suggestions to keep in mind! We don't eat out a lot due to kids now, but we do save a bunch by skipping drinks in favor of water. Last summer Mr. COD got pretty peeved at fast food places where a drink was 75% ice. Always good to remember basic coupons, too! I love your dessert idea as well; you get so much more and the comfy clothes don't hurt?.