Eat Cheap But Good
Paula Dean, Tyler Florentine, Sandra Lee, Rachel Ray, Julia Child….
All of these are people who I cannot relate to.
I have never gotten into the joys of cooking.
I am always the one standing in front of the refrigerator at 5 o’clock wondering what the heck to make for dinner and why I didn’t defrost something earlier.
Not to mention the onerous task of cleaning up after the meal. All of those bowls and plates…ugh. Is cleaning up the reward I get for cooking a nice meal for my family?
There is no joy in cooking for me. Instead I enjoy dining out.
But, dining out is not always a sound financial decision. Dining out can easily cost three times as much as making a similar meal at home.
So what do you do when it’s time for dinner, you have nothing defrosted or ready, and your family asks what’s for dinner?
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You gather the family and head out for dinner is what you do…and you don’t freak out about how much you’re about to spend because you know how to eat out cheaply.
The first step in saving money while spending money is to choose the right place.
If you do your homework ahead of time you can save a lot of money while enjoying a nice meal prepared for and cleaned up by someone else.
Check out restaurants.com for deeply discounted gift certificates to some of your favorite restaurants. You can enter your zip code, city or state to search for participating restaurants. I searched by my zip code and found a restaurant 2 blocks from my house that I had always driven past and wondered if it was any good. Restaurants.com offered me a $25 gift certificate for $10. A seemingly good deal, right? Come on you know me, I never settle for a good deal, only great deals. If you enter the discount code COOK you can get that great deal. I got the $25 gift certificate at an 80% discount, for a total of only $2! How fantastic are those savings! Now I can eat a meal, support a local business, and not have to clean up after myself for only $2 plus tip.
Each restaurant has its own set of restrictions. Most have a minimum purchase — either $35 or $50. Look for the ones that have a $35 minimum or less to get the best bang for your buck. And remember to tip your waiter/waitress on the original amount so they don’t give you attitude about using a coupon.
Another way to do your homework ahead of time is to go online.
You know the drawer in your kitchen that is full of take out menus? Do the same thing with online coupons from your favorite local restaurants. Many restaurants have caught onto the idea of email lists to generate return business. These emails will give patrons information on current specials, deals, promotional offers, and coupons. To accumulate these coupons sign up for the email lists of your favorite restaurants.
Don’t be afraid to sign up for as many lists as you want. The restaurant will probably only send occasional emails when they have something new to announce.
Another way to acquire coupons for restaurants is to buy what is commonly referred to as an entertainment book. These books are typically sold by high school kids who are trying to raise money for a class trip or sports team. The books usually cost between $15 and $20 but are packed with coupons to local restaurants. And the coupons contained in the books are usually very good deals. My husband has a much younger sister who sold us one and we were able to get coupons like buy one entrée get a second entrée free. Check out entertainment.com for a entertainment book in your area.
You can also go to restaurants where you can skip the tip. Before I get a bunch of hate mail from waitresses and waiters let me explain. Places like Panera Bread, Pei Wei, Moe’s, Pollo Tropical and many other restaurants allow customers to order their food at a one spot, and pick it up farther down the line. The food is good and you don’t have to tip because they’ve cut out waitresses and waiters! That’s a 16% – 20% savings!
You can also check out restaurants that let kids eat free. These restaurants can cut your bill down significantly and make your kids happy. These links provide a listing of restaurants that are kid and family friendly and allow you to search by zip code, state or day of the week.
You can also Google “kids eat free” plus the name of your town to find a list of restaurants in your area that let kids eat free.
Check out these links for more discounts and coupons for restaurants.
Once you’ve picked out a coupon for a place to eat and arrived, how do you take it a step further and save money while eating?
Easy. Don’t order the extras.
Drinks can be an area that quickly adds up on the bill. Beers are typically $4 and cocktails usually start around $8. Have two beer and two cocktails and you’ve already added $24 to your bill before you’ve ordered a meal. Soft drinks can also add up. A coke, pepsi or root beer at a restaurant can run you $2.50 a person. Times that by four people and you’ve just added $10 to your bill all in the form of soft drinks. Ordering water is free and doesn’t add liquid calories to your diet either.
If you know you want to have a beer or cocktail with dinner then don’t order your favorite drink. Instead order a drink you like but that is not your favorite. When you do this you typically sip your drinks instead of guzzling them down which causes you to order more drinks than you intended on having.
Another extra to cut is dessert. In a lot of restaurants desserts cost as much as an appetizer but come in smaller portions. Desserts mean wide profit margins for restaurants. Instead pick up some desserts at the grocery store for about the same price you’d pay at a restaurant and feed your whole family.
Another trick is to cut your meal in half. If you go to a restaurant that serves large portions ask for a doggy bag right away. Put half your meal in the dogie bag and eat the rest. This works well at places that provide a salad or soup with your meal. These things help you fill up faster while still getting a good bang for your buck. You’ve just stretched one meal into two as well! This is also a great dieting tip that stars like Jessica Biel have revealed they use.
When the bill comes pay with a credit card. In my article last Wednesday I described many different types of credit cards. Rewards credit cards typically give you discounts, points or cash back when you eat at restaurants. It’s another way credit card companies get you interested in their card rather than their competitors. Citibank Professional cardholders get 3% back on restaurant spending, as does the Capital One No Hassle Miles for Dining and Travel card.
Whatever your strategy for saving money while dining out it’s best to look at dining out as entertainment rather than money for food. As long as you just eating out occasionally you won’t break the bank. Plus you’ll be able to enjoy a meal you may not be able to make yourself like fish or an exotic dish. In other words don’t order spaghetti when you go out, a dish you can easily make at home.
Just remember that no matter where you eat you can save money. Keep in mind that the menu is written in a way to sell, much like propaganda, to get you to spend more money and make impulse purchases.
And if you do your homework ahead of time and collect coupons and discounts for your favorite restaurants you’ve already won half the battle.
Keeping Money In Your Pocket,