It’s hard to stick to a food budget when you love eating out.
Restaurant dining is expensive, and with the cost of living going up, it’s more important than ever to find ways to save money on your food spending.
If you’re not willing to forego the pleasure of having someone else do all the cooking (not to mention cleaning) for you, here are some ways to indulge but still keep your costs down the next time you eat out on a budget.
53 Ways to Save Money When You Eat Out on a Budget
1. Use a discount gift card
Check warehouse clubs or online sites like Raise.com for discounted gift cards to your favorite restaurants. You can often find restaurant gift cards selling for 10-20% off, which can immediately take a big bite out of your bill.
2. Sign up for newsletters and loyalty programs
Many restaurants will offer discounts and coupons if you sign up for their newsletters or loyalty programs. It’s usually a quick and easy process, and it could save you money next time you eat out.
3. Download the app
Did you know lots of restaurant chains have mobile apps now? They often have coupons and deals you can only get via the app. Download your favorite restaurant’s app before you go out to eat to help you save a few extra dollars.
4. Take a survey
Some restaurants will offer a discount or coupon if you take a short survey about your experience. This is usually offered after you’ve received the bill, so be sure to ask if there are any surveys available.
5. Celebrate “National Days”
Did you know there’s a National Pizza Day? And a National Cheeseburger Day? Restaurants often offer special deals on these days, so if you’re craving a particular food, check to see if there’s a national day for it. You might be able to get a cheaper meal than usual.
6. Save half of your meal for later
Meal portions are getting larger by the minute. Instead of stuffing yourself or contributing to food waste, get a to-go box when you receive your meal and save half of it for later. You and your wallet will feel better for stretching it into two meals.
7. Share your meal
Dinner entrees are often much larger portions than you would normally eat. Consider splitting an entrée with your dining companion to save some money.
8. Order off the kid’s menu
If you have a small appetite or are just looking to save more money, consider ordering a kid’s meal. You’ll get a smaller portion for a lower price.
9. Skip appetizers and sides
Appetizers and sides can add up quickly, both in terms of cost and calories. If you’re trying to save money or eat healthier, stick to the entrées and skip the extras.
10. Check Groupon for deals
Groupon and other daily deal sites often offer great discounts on restaurants. Before you eat out, check to see if there are any deals available.
11. Get it to go
If you’re really trying to lower your dining out expenses, get your meal to go. You’ll save money on tips, and you won’t be tempted to order dessert or drinks.
12. Kids eat free
If you have kids, take advantage of restaurant deals that offer free or discounted meals for children. This can help you save a lot of money, especially if you have more than one child.
13. Take advantage of happy hour specials
Many restaurants offer reduced prices on appetizers and drinks during happy hour, which is typically from 4 pm to 6 pm. It’s a great way to sample the menu at a fraction of the cost. Some restaurants may also offer early bird specials for folks willing to eat during these off-peak times.
14. Use credit card discount offers
Some credit cards, like American Express, offer discounts or reward points at restaurants. If you use a particular credit card regularly, check to see if there are any discount offers available.
15. Only buy appetizers and sides
If you’re really looking to save money, don’t order an entrée at all. Instead, focus on the appetizers and sides, which are often cheaper.
16. Skip the drinks
Soft drinks, juice, and alcohol can add up quickly, both in cost and calories, so it’s best to just drink water. Make sure they don’t charge you for bottled water, though. Stick to tap water when dining out and you’ll save both money and calories.
17. Check the menu in advance
Many restaurants post their menus online, so you can check the prices before you go out to eat. This can help you budget for your meal and avoid ordering something that’s too expensive. You may also be able to find a cheaper food item to try on the lunch menu or the dollar menu that you may not see when you’re in a hurry to order.
18. Ask for a discount
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or are a loyal customer, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. You might be surprised at how willing the restaurant is to give you a break on the bill.
19. Take advantage of birthday offers
Many restaurants offer special deals or freebies on your birthday (and sometimes for the whole month!). If you’re eating out around your birthday, be sure to ask if the restaurant has any special offers.
20. Eat during lunch hours
Lunch at restaurants is often cheaper than getting a meal in the evening. So if you’re looking to save money, try dining out during the day.
21. Snack before you go
If you’re worried about being too hungry (and spending too much money), have a light snack before you go out to eat. This will help you control your hunger and avoid ordering something you don’t really want.
22. Drink a full glass of water before you eat
Drinking water will help you feel fuller faster and avoid overeating. Eat until you’re satisfied and take the leftovers home to stretch one meal into two.
23. Use a rewards credit card
Get cash back or points when you eat out by using a rewards credit card to pay.
24. Search for coupons online
Before you order in or go out to eat, search for coupons or discounts online. You might be surprised at how many you can find. Do a quick Google search for “restaurant + city + coupons” to see what’s out there.
25. Follow restaurants on social media
Many restaurants offer exclusive deals and discounts to followers on social media. So if you’re looking to save, be sure to follow your favorite spots.
26. Choose your restaurant wisely
Some restaurants are simply more expensive than others. If you’re on a budget, stick to cheap restaurants like fast food, a chain restaurant, or other casual dining spots.
27. Location matters
The location of the restaurant can also impact the price. Downtown restaurants tend to be more expensive, so if you’re looking to save money, choose a spot that’s not in the heart of the city.
28. Eat mindfully
Pay attention to what you’re eating and how much you’re spending. It’s easy to mindlessly order food or drinks when you’re out, but if you’re conscious of your choices, you’ll be more likely to save money.
29. Pay attention to added gratuity
If you’re dining in a group, be aware of any added gratuity charges. These can add up quickly, so it’s important to factor them into your budget.
30. Skip dessert
Ordering dessert can quickly increase the cost of your meal. If you’re looking to save money, skip it. If you have a sweet tooth and are tempted by desserts, just make sure to have some ice cream back home that you can always look forward to.
31. See if you qualify for discounts
Many restaurants will offer affiliate-related discounts. For example, if you’re a member of AAA or AARP, in the military, or a student or teacher, you may qualify for special deals. Make sure to ask before you order.
32. Look for lunch specials
If you’re eating out during lunchtime, see if the restaurant has any lunchtime specials. These can be a great way to save money on a meal.
33. Order online for pickup
If you’re really looking to cut costs, order your food online for pickup. This way you won’t have to pay for delivery or tip the server.
34. Visit all-you-can-eat buffets during off-peak hours
If you love buffets, visit during off-peak hours to get the best value. You’ll often find that the cost is lower during lunch or early dinner.
35. Avoid restaurants that require minimums
Some restaurants require a minimum spend in order to dine there. If you’re on a budget, avoid these spots.
36. Buy a coupon book or school spirit card
If you eat out frequently, consider buying a coupon book or school spirit card. These can offer significant savings at local restaurants and fast-food chains.
37. Check your mail for coupons and deals
Many restaurants send coupons and deals through the mail directly or via Valpak. So start to pay attention to your junk mail. You might find some good savings deals in there.
38. Sit at the bar
Some restaurants offer different pricing if you eat at the bar. If the bar is open, ask if you can sit there. You might be able to save a few dollars on your meal.
39. Ask for separate checks
If you’re dining in a group, ask for separate checks. This way you won’t have to pay for anyone else’s food or drinks.
40. Bring your own food for the kiddos
Many restaurants will allow you to bring in outside food, as long as it’s not from a competing business. This is a great way to enjoy a special night out without overspending.
41. Let your kids split an adult meal
If you have young children, they might be able to split an adult meal. This can save you some money and ensure that everyone gets enough to eat.
42. Skip holiday meals
If you’re really looking to save, avoid restaurants during holidays. Prices are often inflated and the crowds can be overwhelming.
43. Plan ahead
Plan where you want to eat and what you want to order before you go. This way you won’t be tempted to overspend when you’re at the restaurant. You can also arrange your meal around any restaurant specials that may help reduce your overall cost.
44. Make sure you check your bill
It’s not uncommon for restaurants to make mistakes on your bill. So always double-check it before you leave. If there are any discrepancies, be sure to point them out and get them corrected.
45. Use cash
If you’re trying to stick to a budget, using cash instead of credit or debit cards can help. Once you’ve spent your allotted amount, you won’t be able to overspend.
45. Ask about any unadvertised specials
When you’re seated, ask your waiter or waitress about any daily specials. Many restaurants offer significant discounts on certain menu items, and you might find something you like even better than what you originally planned to order.
46. Use your smartphone
There are plenty of apps and websites that offer coupons and deals for restaurants. Do a quick search before you go out to see if you can save some money.
47. Check your hotel for flyers and brochures with discounts
When you’re traveling, swing by the hotel lobby and see if they have any coupons or discount cards for local restaurants. You might be able to save a few bucks on your next meal with these dining deals.
48. Check Restaurant.com for deals
Restaurant.com offers discounts at thousands of restaurants across the country. You can search by location, type of food, or even specific restaurant.
49. Try a combo or value meal
Most fast food places offer combo or value meals at a lower price than if you were to order the items separately. So if you’re on the go and looking for a relatively cheap meal, this is a great option.
50. Become a mystery shopper
If you’re willing to put in a little work, you can get paid to eat at restaurants and provide feedback as a mystery shopper. It’s a great way to earn some extra cash while you indulge in your favorite restaurant meal.
51. Use cash instead of credit
Paying with cash can help you stick to your budget better than using a credit card. When you use cash, you’re more likely to be aware of how much you’re spending.
52. Know when to splurge
Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little extra money on a meal, especially if it’s a special occasion. If you’re on a budget, though, stick to cheaper options most of the time and save the splurges for special occasions.
53. Budget for it
If you know you’ll be eating out, make sure to factor it into your budget. Create a “Restaurant” budget category so you won’t be surprised by the cost and you can plan accordingly.
Eating out can be expensive, but it is possible to save money at restaurants.
By following these tips, you can save money and still enjoy a delicious meal.
So the next time you’re planning a night out, keep these tricks in mind and you’ll be able to stick to your budget.