7 Tips to Dine Like a King and Pay Less
A great meal doesn’t have to be expensive. While we are big believers in “you get what you pay for” there are some ways that anyone can save a lot of money even when dining at the most awesome restaurants in town. There are some relatively easy ways to control the cost of any meal dining out that you can use at any restaurant you go to.
Believe it or not, even some of the most expensive restaurants in town send out specials to their email list. I frequently see offers from one of the top-notch restaurants in Atlanta for a full three-course meal for $36 per person. Mind you, this particular restaurant I seldom have left without dropping $150 or more.
Since we go out to eat A LOT, I try to find discount dining guides that include BOGO or Buy One Get 1/2 Off entrée specials. I’ve paid up to $100 for these types of books because they really pay for themselves if you use them. Just make sure that the restaurants offered are ones that interest you and are close enough so you can take advantage of the offer.
It might surprise you the number of places who do some type of coupon. There are all types of coupon website out there so just google “coupon for <> <>” and you should get some interesting results.
Don’t be embarrassed about using coupons or other discounts when dining out. The restaurant extended the offer for that reason and they welcome seeing a return on their idea. Of course, present the coupon to your server at the beginning of the meal so when you place your order you server can let you know if anything you order falls out of the bounds of the coupon. This can prevent misunderstandings about the offer and clear details up regarding the offer before you order rather than when the check is presented. On a side note, you should always base your tip on the full value of the meal prior to discount.
Self Park and Make your FitBit Happy
Part of your advance research should be to investigate parking options. This is especially important in major cities on weekend nights. Parking can be at a premium in districts where popular restaurants are located and you might be charge premium prices. Valet service is often provided but then you typically have a charge of $5-10 for valet plus tip. It’s pretty easy to incur $15-20 of parking costs before you even enter the restaurant. Look for free parking, even if you have to walk. You’ll save a few bucks AND get your steps for the day!
Skip the Starter
Unless you’re looking for a real treat, skip the appetizer. Avoid arriving at the restaurant starving where you just want something fast to get started with. Appetizers are typically high margin foods so the restaurants make a lot of money off of your impatience. If you order salads to begin the meal, they can normally be prepared just as quickly as an appetizer. Many times, this is included in the price of the entrée or for a nominal charge. With the portion sizes getting larger and larger when dining out, you probably will end up taking food home if you splurge on an appetizer.
Tee-Totalers have smaller totals
Avoiding alcoholic beverages can save many diners a lot of money. Liquor is expensive to purchase by the drink and an extremely high profit margin product. Many restaurants make more than 50% of their total sales in booze. One very trendy thing restaurants are offering now are specialty cocktails prepared by “mixologists”. Hipster – YES, cheap – NO. I think most people will agree that the last thing they want to do is confront a police officer with alcohol on their breath. Come to think of it, if you want to drink that’s probably best done at home.
Squeeze the Soda
If you’re really looking for a way to squeeze a dollar, stick with water and ditch sodas and teas. Most restaurants charge $2.50 and up for a penny’s worth of syrup mixed with water. You can save five bucks right off the rip just by saying no to soda. With a small family, you can easily spend $10 just for soda. My last trip to the grocery store I bought 6 liters of soda for the same price. It’s another high margin item that restaurants count on.
Share and Share Alike
Portion sizes that restaurants serve have increased substantially over the past 30 years. (NIH Study) While this has had detrimental effects on obesity in the United States, smart diners can use this to your advantage by sharing the larger portions rather than ordering single entrées. When larger portions are presented, we have a tendency to consume more food. Remember your mother prompting you to finish your plate? That remains within your psyche. At many restaurants, two diners can each have a house salad and then share a single entrée and leave feeling fully satisfied.
Pass on the Dessert Tray
While the dessert tray often appears tempting, these are what nutritionists call “empty calories”. Desserts often range from $6-8 or more for a single serving. I’m not saying to deprive yourself of that decadent cheesecake – just ask for two forks and you both can enjoy it for half the price.
Dine and Enjoy!
While it’s pretty easy to have a great time and blow $150, it’s even better when you have a great meal AND you feel that it was money well spent. If you can save some money from implementing these suggestions, you can afford to dine better and then you’ll drive right by chain restaurants forever! Guten appetit!