20 Ways to Save Money When Eating Out

There is an old American tradition called the “blue plate special” that originated in the 1920’s and was popularized in the 50’s. If you were looking for the best deal at any restaurant you knew to ask for the blue plate special.

Things are a little more complicated today with online deals and Facebook offers. But it’s still possible to find terrific dining deals, even if you’re not computer savvy. Here are 20 of our favorite ideas.

Fast Food chains

Ok, let’s get this out of the way up front. I know fast food chains have a bad reputation and for those who are concerned about health (and honestly shouldn’t we all be?) they may not be the best choice. Still, there are some great deals out there and these days fast food doesn’t necessarily mean grabbing a burger and fries from you local McDonald’s. There are fast food chains like Chipotle that offer a wide selection of meal choices made from fresh ingredients and at a reasonable price. Of course

sometimes you are just looking for plain old fashioned comfort food and a burger and fries may be just what you are craving. Fortunately, most fast food places and nearly all fast food burger chains offer some kind of value menu. So before you consider eating out at a pricey restaurant, take a look at what fast food places have to offer. You may be surprised!

Senior Discounts

A common myth is that senior discounts are only allowed for those 65 and older. The truth is that many restaurants offer “senior” discounts for those as young as 55. Sometimes you will find these discounts advertised on the menu. If you don’t see a senior discount listed on the menu of your restaurant of choice, remember: it never hurts to ask. Just ask your waiter if they offer any discounts for seniors. These discounts can save you as much as 10-15% of the price of your meal.

AARP Dining Discounts

Are you a member of AARP? Did you know that as a member you qualify for a variety of discounts when dining out. For example, AARP members can get a free donut from Dunkin’ Donuts, a free cup of coffee at Burger King, 15% off at Denny’s or at Outback Steakhouse, as well as many other great discounts. 

Order From the Lunch Menu

Most restaurants offer a lunch menu with smaller portions at considerably less cost. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can usually order from the lunch menu at any time of the day. There may be a small fee, usually a dollar or so added to the amount. But it’s almost always less expensive than ordering from the dinner menu for the same item.

Sharing a Meal

This is one of my personal favorites for several reasons. It’s a great excuse to meet up with a friend, a family member you haven’t seen in a while, or to spend some quality time with your significant other. It also cuts the calories from the meal in half. So if you’re watching your waistline it can be a real help! One word of caution however: some restaurants have started charging a fee for splitting meals. Be sure to check before you order.

Combo Deals

For those who would like to enjoy company for a meal, but aren’t comfortable sharing, many restaurants including Applebees offer a special combo meal deal which usually includes an appetizer and two entrees for one price. These can be great offers to take advantage of.

Daily Meal Specials

This is popular in both fast food chains and mom and pop diners. Ofen a sign will advertise the special of the day. A lot of restaurants offer huge savings if you order the daily special.

Skip the Drinks

We all know we should be drinking more water. And drinking a lot of caffeinated, carbonated, sugar-filled drinks isn’t good for us and can even lead to diabetes in adults. Those drinks can also hurt your pocketbook. Many restaurants including fast food chains count on drink sales to make a significant portion of their revenue. This is especially true if the restaurant offers alcoholic drinks on the menu. Skip the drink, opt for water, and save money as well as making a great choice for your health.

Take Advantage of Coupons and Deals

Look in your local newspaper for coupons and specials available at your local restaurants or go online to restaurants.com or groupons.com to find the best deals at national chains. There are a lot of great coupon deals out there. Take a little time and make a game out of finding these “hidden treasures”.

Make a Meal of Sides or Appetizers

Some of the best-priced items on the menu can be the appetizers or side dishes. When we eat out, many of us may not be all that hungry. Sometimes just a salad, or a bowl of vegetables or soup and a roll is enough. If you take a group, you can order one appetizer and split the check. This is a great way to combine saving money with socializing with friends.

Bring Your Own Wine

If you enjoy a drink with your meal, but don’t like paying restaurant prices for a glass of wine, consider bringing your own bottle. Many restaurants offer the option of BYOB and are happy to serve you drinks from your own bottle. In some cases you will pay the same prices for a glass of wine in a restaurant as you pay for the entire bottle. That means more for to share!

Order Pizza

This option works best if you are going out with a group of friends. There is no better option for feeding a large group on a small budget than ordering pizza. If you go out for pizza, be sure to ask about their specials. Chain stores like Pizza Hut offer deep discounts when you order more than one pizza. Bring a large group and the savings can really add up.

Save Money with Your Phone

There are a lot of great apps available for free that can save you money when you dine out. Here are a few you might want to try:

  • DealNews
  • Scoutmob
  • Groupon
  • Yelp
  • Living Social
  • Bite Hunter

It may take you a little time to download and figure how these apps work, but the savings are worth the effort.

Skip Dessert

It’s no accident that when you sit down at your table at your favorite Denny’s the first thing you see are photos of tempting desserts. Resist the urge to indulge! In many cases the cost of dessert alone can be nearly as much as the meal itself. Instead, stop by the store on the way home and pick up a gallon of ice cream and save your money for something important.

Value Menus

Many restaurants offer a special value menu. For instance, Denny’s offers a value menu that includes choices for as little as $2-$4. You just can’t beat those prices. So when you are deciding what to order, make sure you look for the value section of the menu first.

Get “Social”

Did you know many restaurants offer regular patrons special offers or discounts for liking them on Facebook? The next time you visit your favorite restaurant ask them if they offer any Facebook deals. Here’s another tip: Search for your favorite restaurants by name on Facebook. Go to the restaurants Facebook page and look for coupons or deals that they advertise there.

Discount Cards

Many places offer special discount cards where you collect point, punches, or stars toward rewards, often free food or drinks. My wife and I recently earned free drinks from Starbucks with their discount card worth approximately $10 for the two drinks. Be sure each member of your family gets their own card so they can start earning points and qualify for discounts as well.

Order to Go

How can ordering a meal to go save you money? When you order from the to-go menu you won’t be paying a tip or gratuity and you won’t be tempted to order drinks or desserts. I’ve found that I almost always spend less when I order take out instead of opting for dining in at my favorite restaurants.

Eat Out in Your Own Backyard

If you want to save money and at the same time enjoy the experience of dining out, why not create the experience yourself in your own backyard? Bring out the fancy table linens. Pour a bottle of wine or champagne. String lights and soft music can provide ambient atmosphere. Invite friends over and fire up the grill. Sometimes the best way to enjoy eating out on a budget it to stay home and do the cooking yourself!