We try to save money by eating at home, but there just comes a time for all of us when eating out is the only way. But rather than throwing your budget goals into the wind, think about ways to save when going to restaurants.
Consider the value menu. Many restaurants now have a value menu with specially priced items at a lower price. Senior discounts are also common in many of our restaurants. And they aren’t limited to those who are over 65. Many local restaurants have discounts with some even kicking in for those who are 50 or older. When you go out to eat, ask if they have a senior discount and what age they consider you a senior.
Do you belong to a group? Sometimes these groups have discounts in certain restaurants. AARP membership gets you a free donut at Dunkin Donuts, a free coffee at Burger King and a 15 percent discount at Denny’s. Check with the restaurant and see if it offers a discount for any of the groups you belong to.
Watch your portions. The amount of food on many plates is quite large. The serving might be twice or three times as much food as we would commonly eat. Share the meal with a friend or take the extra home with you. Instead of a full meal, opt for appetizers, which come in smaller amounts so there is less waste. Recently, when dining with a friend, we ordered two appetizers during happy hour. There was plenty of food and we ate for half the cost of a regular meal. Not only is this easy on the pocketbook, your waistline will thank you for it.
Drink water. We all need to drink more water. Restaurants and fast food establishments rely on drinks to increase their profits. Drinks add a considerable cost to your meal, particularly if they are alcoholic. Drinking water will reduce the cost of your meal and you won’t be adding lots of empty calories in the form of liquids.
Rethink when you eat out. Breakfasts and lunches are often cheaper than a dinner. Breakfasts offer a large meal at a good price. If you are meeting friends for a meal, meet for breakfast. Or you can choose to order from the lunch menu. These are smaller plates at a lower price. In many restaurants, you can order off the lunch menu regardless of the time of day.
Like or follow your favorite restaurant on Facebook. Not only will you receive announcements of special prices, you may get a gift for being a loyal follower.
Check the coupons. Look in the newspaper for coupons or specials. Or go online at restaurants.com for special deals. You usually buy a coupon for half of the face value. Be sure to pay attention to what you must spend. You may get a $20 gift certificate for $10, but it requires you to spend $50 to get that discount. Many of our local restaurants have certificates on this site.
Restaurant meals don’t have to break the bank. Make smart choices and you can still enjoy a meal out on occasion.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (907)474-7201.