When creating a budget, dining out is often one of the first things to get cut. But for the busiest among us, the convenience of grabbing a meal is not always such an easy sacrifice.
Whether out of necessity or for pleasure, if you frequently enjoy dining at local restaurants, there are a few smart ways to save money on food and dining out, starting with these tips.
One of the simplest ways to save money on food at a restaurant is to go early. New York City restaurateur Randi Lee explains, “Happy hour is a great opportunity to taste the flavors of the restaurant without the high price tags. It’s usually a little less crowded time of day and there are specials on food and beverages.”
Anyone that is indecisive can agree that choosing what to order while the server is standing at the table can add some pressure. “Look at the menu online before visiting the restaurant and make a plan of what you want to order, so you stick to your budget. This will keep you from ordering too much or impulse buying (hello, mac & cheese!),” Lee said.
Credit cards are another way to save money on food, you just have to look for the credit card perks that suit your lifestyle. “Shop around for a card that meets your needs – some food-focused credit cards provide higher rewards and better benefits but charge an annual fee, while others charge no annual fee and still deliver solid rewards,” said Sean Messier, credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider.
Bring Your Own Cup
More and more cafes and restaurants are offering anywhere from five cents to a quarter or more to bring your own cup when buying a beverage – and these savings add up quickly. “Restaurants and coffee shops like ours are increasingly offering discounts to people who bring in their own thermoses or containers,” says Jeremy Lyman, co-founder of Birch Coffee, which has locations throughout New York City. If you bring your cup every workday, you’ll save $65 a year. It feels good to save money and the planet at the same time!
If you are wondering how to save money on food and you like glass of wine with your meal, Jessica van Dop DeJesus of DiningTraveler.com recommends calling the restaurant ahead to see if they have a corkage fee. Some restaurants that allow you to BYOB will let you have the first bottle for free.
Take advantage of these local events, when participating eateries offer prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at a fraction of the usual prices. Find a Restaurant Week near you.
Go for the Bottle
If you’re dining out with a group, don’t be afraid of the wines by the bottle list. “If you are three guests or more it’s not too big of a commitment (usually one and a half glasses each) and the value is almost always much better than ordering by the glass,” said Max Katzenberg co-owner of Olmsted in Brooklyn, New York. Sounds like a win-win!
Time of Day
One simple way to save money on food is to consider the time of day that you’re visiting an establishment. “Try popular restaurants for breakfast or lunch. They’re often less crowded and meals are typically less expensive,” says Lisa Huff from SnappyGourmet.com. And if you need to go out in the evening, opt for ice cream or a nightcap (just one!) as a less expensive dining out alternative.
This may take a little effort, but downloading restaurant apps and signing up for rewards is one way to save money on food. “I’m in the habit of checking for apps or rewards offers before we head to a new restaurant,” said Collin Morgan, owner of Hip2Save.com. “So many times there is a completely free offer I can grab to help stretch our budget. There are also tons of free birthday offers available.” Free birthday appetizer or dessert? Sign us up!
There are loads of great AAA discounts that members can enjoy on dining out and eating in, from food tours and food delivery to gift cards and fine dining. Restaurant.com has $25 restaurant certificates for only $7!
So instead of ditching your favorite restaurants, incorporate these ways to save money on food and dining out into your lifestyle.
Tell us how you save money on meals in the comments below.