Saving at Restaurants

Everyone knows that age old formula: good food + good company = a (darn) good time. There really is very little that can compare to a good meal, more so when you didn’t have to slave over a hot stove. Dining out can be a truly wonderful experience and it is something that everyone should do at least once per month. No, I’m not crazy, and yes I do know that we are currently in a recession. However, that doesn’t mean we put our lives on hold completely. Enjoyment is still a necessity, and the fact of the matter is eating out doesn’t have to be an expensive affair. There are dozens of ways you can cut a restaurant bill down to size. So put away those pots and pans and make note of these tips to help you save when dining at mid-level restaurants.

HERE’S TO THE PEOPLE WHO LUNCH

Dining out isn’t restricted to dinners. There’s nothing wrong with a romantic lunch or a lunchtime pow-wow with friends or family. Lunch menus are dollars cheaper than those for dinners, sometimes costing as much as 40% less for the same item. This is true for practically every restaurant. However, for those special occasions when you absolutely have to make it dinner, remember that “early birds catch cheaper worms”. It surprised me a great deal when I found this out some months ago but it is true; opting for an early dinner costs you less. I still don’t fully understand why, but restaurants charge less for dinners between 4 pm and 6 pm.

TURN ONE MEAL INTO TWO

This is a great slight of hand to perform, especially when you’re out with friends. Restaurant portions are too large for one person anyways. That coupled with the fact that you are usually given complementary items like salads and breadsticks, makes it all the more sensible to split one meal into two. Another way of turning one meal into two is to bring home the portions you failed to finish. Most restaurants will prepare a ‘doggy bag’ for you free of cost and that food can double as lunch or dinner for another day.

TURN WATER INTO LEMONADE

Christ turned water into wine. As mere mortals we aren’t so skilled but we still have a few tricks up our sleeves. Beverages at restaurants are overpriced no matter where you decide to dine. The key to beating this unnecessary expenditure is to order the only free beverage available; water. If you’re like me and you need a little flavour in your drink: bring along a couple packets of sugar with you, ask for water with a twist of lemon and make your own drink. If your meal is an occasion that calls for wine then I suggest you bring your own. That way the most you’ll suffer is a corkage fee.

OFF NIGHTS ARE BACK ON

Restaurants do most of their business on Fridays and Saturdays. It will be in your best interest to avoid these nights as prices are higher then. The cheapest nights to dine out are during the middle of the week, namely Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There will also be fewer people in the restaurant, an added comfort if you’re not someone who likes crowds.

CREDIT HURTS

You’ve followed all the tips religiously and everything is going great. Now comes the time to pay for your meal, you take out your credit card and with a single swipe you’ve undone all the work you’ve done. I know credit cards are convenient; they save you the hassle of finding exact cash or calculating your change. However when you’re trying to save money, using a credit card is the same as being penny wise and pound foolish. Use cash to pay for your meals and avoid adding to the balance on your next credit card bill.

It is also important to remember that being frugal or fiscally smart is very much different from being a cheapskate. Never forget or refuse to tip your servers. These people depend on tips as the major part of their salary. Nothing less than 15% of the price of your meal, before discounts of any kind, is acceptable.