Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dining Out for Less

I love eating out. Mostly I love the not having to cook part. But I really dislike how expensive it can get. Especially with four kids. I'm sitting there calculating our bill and how much it would have cost me to prepare the same meal at home. Kind of ruins the enjoyment. Here are a few tips for eating out for less that we have been utilizing to help our budget. And it usually keeps me focused on having a good time with friends and family!

1. Sign up for birthday clubs, VIP clubs, etc. Most places offer something for your birthday- an appetizer, dessert, or even a full entree! They may even send you other coupons to use throughout the year. The coupons are usually good from the week before your birthday to the week after. The only hard part is deciding which one(s) to use!

2. Get a dining club card or coupon book. Here in Lincoln, the POGO card is our favorite. It has a variety of restaurants offering free items with a purchase. Buying this card benefits a local organization, too. I saw a copy of the Entertainment Book at Menard's last week, and have heard that at many stores they are on sale.

3. Use a store punch card. These are most often found at coffee shops or ice cream places. Although some others have a card that offers a discount on your food purchases. If you tend to choose the same restaurant over and over again, this is a great option.

4. Kids eat free night. There are a lot of places that offer a free kids meal with an adult purchase on certain nights of the week. I do recommend calling your location, even if the website says "free meal." Recently, we visited a restaurant for kids' night and they didn't get a free meal, just a balloon. Highly disappointing.

5. Try I first looked at this site a couple of years ago and there weren't any restaurants in Lincoln participating. Now there are quite a few. You can purchase $25 gift cards for only $10. I finally took advantage of this last month when I had a coupon code and bought a 1-year dinner of the month club for just $24. Yes, that's right, we'll get a $25 gift card each month that I paid just $2 for! Plus, we got a $50 certificate just for signing up! You do need to watch the fine print as some places have minimum purchase amounts. We may even use some of these over the course of the year as gifts.

6. Sign up to be a mystery shopper. This is by far my favorite way to eat out for less. It feels like I'm spending someone else's money! Check out last week's post for a list of some of the companies I've had good experience with.

That's what helps me save money on eating out. Check out Works for me Wednesday for other tips across a variety of topics. What tips do you have for dining out for less?

1 comment:

  1. My family loves restaurants, too. Here are my savings tips:

    Don't buy beverages, dessert, or appetizers that aren't included in your meal. (We do sometimes get coffee, which tends to be the least expensive beverage and have free refills.) Eat dessert at home after you've digested your dinner. Another day, have a small and humble dinner at home and then go out for dessert!

    Chinese restaurants tend to be very affordable for the amount of food you get. We bring containers and take home enough leftovers for a second meal, for about the same price as one meal in most other restaurants. (We're always prepared for leftovers, though--no point wasting food you've paid for!)

    Soup-and-salad bars can be a very good deal if they have a variety of things you like.

    Consider ordering a big meal to share instead of 2 or 3 smaller meals. For example, Denny's has some humongous breakfasts that will feed 2 or 3 people for the cost of a smaller adult breakfast + a child's breakfast.

    Consider ordering an appetizer instead of an entree, esp. for kids.

    When a combination plate includes something you don't like or shouldn't eat (unhealthy, etc.), always ask if you can substitute. Many restaurants will let you have salad instead of fries or whatever, at no extra charge.