First thing you should know is that I am one of the biggest foodies that you will ever meet. I have a restaurant list in my phone detailing the places I love, or want to go – and eating out is a luxury that I would have a very hard time giving up (especially since I can’t cook, and NYC has the best restaurants in the world). Fortunately, I have also found some great ways to save money at restaurants so that a fun night out doesn’t cost me the ability to eat for the rest of the week (although that is a decent weight loss strategy). Here is my guide for saving money at restaurants without looking like a cheap-ass:
Eat lunch: I have friends who will skip meals in anticipation for a big dinner, but then end up starving – eating three rolls of bread and then ordering the most unhealthy/expensive thing on the menu. Snacking before dinner will make you more likely to make smarter and potentially cheaper menu picks.
Yelp the restaurant: I personally will never go to a restaurant before Yelping it first. I want to be sure I’m going somewhere that has a great menu and food so that money isn’t wasted on some nasty chicken at “Sal’s chicken Emporium” that has me sick for days.
Online coupons: Deal sites like Groupon and Living Social have daily deals for restuarants in your area all the time that could save you big. You can also do a google search for the restaurant you love + coupon codes to see if there are any available. Restaurant.com also offers you the ability to search for a restaurant and then give you a $25 gift certificate for $10. Guys, just remember that although being frugal is a nice quality to have, please do not use a coupon for a first date… actually, for the first five dates. Just saying.
You can also follow favorite restaurants on Facebook, Twitter and Four Square – they often post deals and coupons for their loyal customers that will pop up in your timeline.
Credit card rewards: If you have little or no debt, you really should be using a rewards credit card to get points on your purchases. Need help finding a good one? Check out my post on reward cards here. Many cards also give double or triple points for your restaurant purchases.
Drink Water: Fewer restaurants are offering free refills, so anything other than tap water can end up substantially bringing up the price of your bill. If you’re ordering cocktails, forget it – those will usually end up costing more than your actual food. If you want to get drinks, wait until after dinner and go somewhere that has a more exciting atmosphere and where the drinks are probably cheaper. Not to mention, if you want to lose some weight, drinking more water is a key move – so this is an overall good deal.
Think 2 for 1: Especially on nights that I’m going out after dinner, I’ll split an appetizer and an entree with a friend, or get my own app and just split an entree. Restaurant portions are usually huge, and half is the perfect amount of food. If it’s a weeknight, I’ve ordered my own entree and there’s a lot left over, I can always bring it home for dinner another night.
Just order an app: Alot of restuarants offer appetizers that are practically as big as the entrees. If you see one on the menu that looks really good, ask your server how big it is and just have that as your meal.
Bring cash: If you’re going out for a big group dinner, it is always a wise idea to bring cash with you. If you made smart meal choices while every one else boozed it up – throwing in your card to split evenly can be a deathtrap. Throwing in the cash that covers your portion plus the tip is a much safer way to go.
So go out and enjoy a nice meal without having to be so scared when the check arrives that it gives you indigestion.