Eat Well for Cheap! How To Eat Out For Less

You can eat out for less, and cheap(!), at your favorite restaurants by just making a few adjustments.

eat out for less and for cheap, dining out
Photo by appaloosa

Even though I’ve only just downed my morning coffee, I can’t help thinking ahead to my next chance to dine out. When I want to go beyond mac & cheese , I’ll take these suggestions to go.

1. Decide on where you’re going.

Nothing’s more frustrating when I’m hungry than an inability to find a great place to eat. If I pick a destination before I leave home or work, I’ll save gas and get my food faster.

2. Search for coupons and don’t let them go to waste.

My mailbox pops out coupons for two or three pizza places a week. Other restaurants offer coupons on their websites or through those Entertainment books.

3. Downsize your meal and don’t order everything on the menu.

Dining out should be a fun experience. However, the one time I ordered an appetizer, entree, cheerful drink, and dessert at Chili ‘s, I spent the rest of my time away from home lurching around like the Michelin man. Next time I make my way there, I’m going to save my tummy and my spare change by narrowing my choices down to some favorites. A nice salad and a strawberry lemonade ought to do it.

4. Split a dessert.

Sometimes, the chocolate desserts say a lot more to me than the hearty-happy side of the menu. In that case, I’ll invite my family members to share the cake or sundae with me. That way, I don’t splurge on too many extra calories and I get to sample a luxe treat for less.

5. Enjoy what you can’t make at home.

I have no desire to become kitchen buddies with shrimp or scallops, so it’s a bargain to me if someone else sticks the seafood alfredo in front of my loved ones.

6. Compare the kids’ menu to the adult offerings.

If the size of adult entrees seem too large and a doggie bag doesn’t appeal because I have a long commute, then I’ll scan the kid-sized choices. Not every menu will allow grownups to order off the less-expensive kids menu, but the fast food places don’t seem to mind. This worked out well for me during a vacation a few years ago, when it seemed like we were eating every three hours.

7. Get some of the meal to go.

Some places like Applebee’s let you call in your order for pickup. Instead of dining in the restaurant, take your ribs to the park. Bring your own cooler filled with drinks you bought on sale elsewhere — and plenty of napkins. You’ll enjoy dining in leisure without the din of other customers. Plus, you won’t be tempted to spend extra money on pie or pricey drinks.

8. Keep the kids happy.

How many times have you seen parents drop an extra twenty on the table because their kids were too restless or tired to be out on the town? Taking the kids to a day or night out can be unpredictable on your wallet. In fact, a babysitter might even be more cost-effective in some cases. However, if I’m the one with kids in tow, I’ll ask for their meals to be served first — and I’ve got a pencil case filled with markers and puzzles just in case someone needs a distraction.

9. Set a budget before you go.

If I’ve got a barbecue bologna budget, then I won’t go to the filet mignon place. Also, I’ll listen to the waiter when he’s describing the specials, but I’ll ask for the price if he doesn’t mention it. Sticker shock makes a rotten dinner mint, so don’t be shy.

What are your strategies for dining out?

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