Eating Out and Cheap Simultaneously


Hello Savvy Saver!

Here are some quick savings tips that require very little work on your part and pay huge dividends.

My wife and I love eating out. I’m not a big fast food fan (at all), so when we eat out, I like to go to a sit down restaurant and do some savoring. (You can’t savor McDonald’s now can you?) Eating out can be extremely expensive! Here are some dead simple things you can do to cut your bill by about 75 percent.

Split the Entree

Most every restaurant serves portions that are way too big for you, or anyone else! Not only will you save yourself some money, but you’ll also save some calories as well! It’s pretty difficult, in the moment, to actually want to just split an entrée because there’s a lot of enjoyment that comes from picking what you want and knowing there’ll be plenty. We’ve become so accustomed to large portions now that we think splitting an entrée won’t be enough. It will! And if you’re really worried that you’ll honestly still be hungry, split an appetizer, soup or salad.

Go Out to Lunch

If your circumstances allow, and you have the itch to go out, make it a lunch date. Lunch entrees are usually 20-30% less than their (similarly-sized) dinner entrees.

Let’s take a quick break here and crunch a few numbers:

If your Friday night dinner usually runs $40 with tip, and you split the entrée and go for an appetizer, you’ll easily knock 25% off your bill. Instead of two $16 entrees and a tip, you’re looking at one $16 entrée, a $7 appetizer and a tip: $30 (and that’s a very generous tip).

If you choose to have the night out at lunch, you’ll easily knock it down to $24.

But now the fun begins.

If you’re smart and plan a little bit, you’ll knock even a dinner meal down to the rock-bottom. Here’s how.

Use Gift Certificates Strategically

My favorite little secret: restaurant.com. Restaurant.com has a database of over 8,000 restaurants across the country. Not every restaurant’s participating, but I can quickly enter my zip code and figure which restaurants are available. Restaurant.com basically sells gift certificates for these restarants, at a discount.

As I write this I’m looking at a nice little sushi place down the road where I can buy a $25 gift certificate for $10. Now on this specific restaurant, they require you have a $35 dinner purchase (read the stipulations for each restaurant), so I couldn’t use it during lunch, and I’d still have to spend another $10. I’m basically saving 43% — not bad!

Do make sure you read the stipulations. You can only use one gift certificate per visit and some of them require that you purchase two entrees (they’re on to us). Others have it only valid for lunch, or only valid for dinner. Most of them have a minimum spend on there (for obvious reasons). If it’s a $10 certificate (cost: $3) then your minimum spend is usually $25. A $25 gift certificate usually will have a minimum spend of $35. Some restaurants even exclude drinks (and most exclude alcohol).

Wait — this Just Got a LOT Better

Every once in a while, restaurant.com will run a special where they’re giving a discount on the gift cards. You’ll see discounts of 70-80% fairly regularly if you google around a bit. So, going back to our example with the sushi place:

$25 gift certificate costs $3 (normally $10, but we used a 70% off coupon).
Additional spend to reach the minimum is $10.
Meal Cost: $35
Your Cost: $13 + tip
Savings: 63% – tip

You can enjoy a $35 meal of sushi (or something else if sushi isn’t your thing!) for $13 plus a tip. Now that’s not too bad at all!

Have fun eating out for less!