Food is great. It’s delicious. And even more tempting when you don’t have to cook it.
Let’s face it, most of us want to try as many different dishes as possible, but the thought of having to cook them at home can lead to frustrations and sometimes kitchen disasters.
So, how do you keep feeding your inner foodie, while still saving money along the way?
Below I have listed 5 ways to eat out and still be frugal.
1. Use Coupons and Make Use of Promotions
Once you have decided that yes, you must go out for dinner check out the promotions and coupons offered for the restaurants in your area.
The websites Groupon and LivingSocial may have some some delectable offers that could help you stay on budget and still satisfy your inner foodie.
It also never hurts to sign up for newsletter emails from your favourite restaurants. They may let you know of specials you otherwise have never known about or even timed offers selective to their email subscription clientele.
For a couple of years now every summer and winter many restaurants in my home city partake in seasonal and limited promotions called either “summerlicious” or “winterlicious”.
The participating restaurants create a smaller, separate menu with items that are only available during the run of the promotion and they are usually more affordable, because they are part of the fixed price items.
I tried a restaurant in my neighbourhood that was participating in the summerlicious event a while back and I was surprised that I could get an appetizer, entree and dessert for a fixed price and still have enough options to choose from.
2. Dine in Company of Frugal Friends
Who hasn’t been in the awkward situation when friends want to go out for dinner, but it has to be “someplace nice”, which usually means tear-jerkingly expensive with a side of them showing off how much they can afford to order? Not the greatest feeling.
You can still go to those nice places to eat, but it really pays to go with a date or friends, who understand that you are on a budget and share your sentiments.
Having said that, once you are in good company the fun can really begin, because you can share and try different options.
When you are on a date, it is not necessary to order two separate appetizers, most of the time one is enough to satisfy the first hunger hankering and allow you to try something you would normally not make at home.
When in a group, you can order two or three appetizers and pass them around so everyone can try them without having to pay full price for them. Of course, this strategy can also be applied when ordering entrees and even dessert.
The same is true for entrees. When I’m on a date with my significant other we sometimes share or order our individual entrees with swapping in mind.
I order the side of fries he likes that are not included with his choice for some reason and he orders the french onion soup that is part of his entree, but not mine.
When it comes to dessert, we always share, because it puts some romance back into the relationship.
Paying when having been out with friends and sharing dishes should be decided before the ordering begins. If everyone decides to try every dish, the bill can be split by the numbers of friends plus their individual drink orders.
Couples, who already share a bank account can rejoice in the fact that they could enjoy date night and saved some money while doing so.
Couples, who still have their separate bank accounts or just started dating should also decide how to pay the bill ahead of time, because in this day and age the man should not be held responsible for always paying and women are just as capable of paying for their own meal.
3. Have a Budget in Mind
This may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes when the hunger kicks in and your date or friends arrive you just want to dig in and celebrate with food.
Make a conscious decision of how much you want to spend on dinner before getting to the restaurant. And more importantly, decide on how much you can afford to spend on dinner and stick to it.
Take a look at the prices, do the math (I know math can be hard, but it’s for your own benefit) and take control of your spending.
Ask yourself, if you really are hungry enough for all the food items that sound so delicious on the menu, or if your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
It may take some self-restraint, but your bank account and stomach will thank you later.
4. Don’t Fall for the Upsell
When eating out in a restaurant the waiter or waitress will usually greet you and describe their specials of the day that are usually more expensive than regular items on the menu.
While you order they will ask you for any add-ons to your already delicious steak meal, such as sauteed mushrooms, bearnaise sauce or even the Atlantic lobster tail (I’m getting hungry just writing this), but stay strong.
Most dishes at more upscale places already come with a delectable assortment of sides to choose from that are included with the entree and the side of veggies is actually also quite tasty.
Let’s say you are just in need of lunch on the go. You just got out of the gym and on your way to work and you are in dire need of that burger (I mean, it has protein and carbs, both of which you need after working out), stay away from the combo and supersize options.
A regular burger and a bottle of water still cost less money than a burger, fries and a bottle of water. And do you really, really need those fries anyway?
5. Make Smart Choices
Here are some other smaller tips that can make a difference to your bill.
Order water, instead of soft drinks or alcoholic drinks. Most meals are generally already quite salty that can leave you rather thirsty. Quenching that thirst with a soft drink or cocktail usually doesn’t go that well, so you are more likely to order a second drink, which can add up quickly.
I am aware that some of us have difficulty with tap water or still water in general and some of us wouldn’t eat out someplace nice unless there is something to celebrate, so in general make choices that don’t feel like a punishment, but that are still smart.
Order a glass of wine, instead of a bottle. A glass of red wine or even prosecco goes oh so nicely with that steak dinner I have been fantasizing about ever since starting this article, but a bottle may make getting home a bit sloshy and rake up your dinner bill.
If you still feel like having another drink after dinner, consider having one at home. Most alcoholic drinks at restaurants start at around $8-12, while that bottle of prosecco you have been saving in the fridge was probably not more than $17.
Consider leaving enough of a left-over to be packed up for lunch the next day.
It’s the treat that keeps on treating you. Yes, the dinner you are having is divine, but your waistband is starting to push against your stomach. You don’t have to finish it. Most restaurants are quite good at packing up your left-overs. This way lunch at work the next day is covered.
Skip the dessert, if you know there is still cake or ice-cream at home. Sharing a slice of cheesecake with that sweet, but slightly tangy raspberry reduction sauce with your date can be very romantic. And it makes sense to savour the date when you don’t live together.
But if you are both living at the same address, sharing a bowl of your favourite ice-cream you just bought at the store while sitting on your couch in your sweats can be just as romantic.
Eating out can be so tempting, no dishes, no cooking, no hassle and then no money left in your pockets. It can be a real nightmare for the dedicated foodie.
But following the above tips can help you make decisions when ordering out that could save you money in the long run.
Enjoy your meals and make smart choices, the world is your never-ending menu.