10 Ways to Eat Out for Less

Posted by Madison on July 20, 2015

Years ago I mentioned that restaurants were a budget buster for us. We ate out a lot for the convenience, great food, and because we really weren’t very good cooks. Fast forward seven years and while my cooking skills have really improved, we still like to eat out. However, instead of it being for convenience, it’s more for enjoyment now.

If you dine out, it’s always good to save money. Back when my children were toddlers, I put together the following tips to reign in the spending on our dining out expenses. They still work today and are a good reminder on how to eat out for less.

(Photo Credit: Bala/Flickr)

10 Ways to Eat Out for Less

  1. Eat for free at a “trial night.” When new restaurants are built, ask when the kitchen will do a practice run. We’ve eaten for free a few times the night before a new restaurant opens. Often there is a limited menu to give the staff a chance to practice, but it’s great food at an unbelievable price.
  2. Dine on days when kids eat free. There are restaurants that offer kids eat free nights; find them at Kids Eat Free.
  3. Get cash back. Use a cash rewards credit card to get money back on your purchase. In addition, some restaurants participate in Upromise, letting you get even more cash back.
  4. Try family style restaurants. Since you’ll pass all the dishes, order one less meal than the number of people. There will be plenty to go around and you’ll save the cost of one meal.
  5. Eat early or late. Sometimes restaurants offer discounted meals for dining during off-peak times. In addition to early bird and late night prices, try dining out for breakfast instead of dinner when prices are considerably cheaper.
  6. Drink water. You’ll save by avoiding pop or alcohol. The restaurant business has a large profit margin on drinks, especially pop. Skip it and your wallet will thank you.
  7. Stop somewhere else for dessert. If you must eat dessert, stop by a local ice cream shop on the way home. It will be cheaper and you’ll probably avoid having to tip.
  8. Take the kids! Often the price of a kid’s meal is actually cheaper than a babysitter. Make it a family event.
  9. Sign up for restaurant customer lists. Restaurants lists give free meals on your birthday, coupons and frequent dining card. Take advantage of them.
  10. Ask about a half portion. Some restaurants will gladly make a half size meal for half the price. It will help cut out the extra calories too.

What are your favorite ways to eat out for less?

More Ways to Save on Food

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Comments to 10 Ways to Eat Out for Less

  1. Great ideas! My wife and I frequently ask Grandma to keep the kids in the early afternoon. We do a late lunch date to avoid dinner prices, and then take in a movie. That move alone saves us several dollars on the dining out budget.

    Frugal Dad

  2. Another way to go at it is to cut the number of times you eat out and make the times you do better.

    I believe the level of satisfaction you get from eating out and not counting every cent is greater than you’d get from eating out more and feeling guilty.

    The Personal Financier

  3. The “drink water” advice is something my wife and I vowed to do after taking our family out to eat last Friday night. 2 Adults, 2 kids, 0 alcohol cost approx. $8. I don’t think that is unusually high, but, just a few $8 saved, add up to real money. Great ideas !


  4. Good points! I tried to stop eating out for many times but it’s like addiction rather than bad cooking skills. Pleasant addiction I’d say! 🙂 I totally agree that the only way to save money is to eat out less. I’m spending less thanks to drinking water or tea/coffee instead of coke or alcohol. *Eat for free at a “trial night.”* sound awesome!

    July Bucks

  5. @ Frugal Dad: Can’t beat free babysitting from Grandma… we like to use that one too!

    @ TPF: I really like the idea of eating out and making it count. We are going to try your idea and only eat out for dinner once on the weekend, but make it a great meal. Thanks for the tip.

    @ Todd: When you think how many drinks you could buy for $8 at the grocery store, it is amazing isn’t it?

    @ July Bucks: Yes, keep your eye out for a trial night, they are a blast!


  6. I just recently (accidentally) learned about eating free while the kitchen and staff were practicing. It rocked! I was so impressed and taken aback that I blogged about it!



  7. @ Kaye: Glad to hear others have found the practice meals fun, cheap and worth seeking out!


  8. Great ideas! I love eating out and am always looking for ways to save! How about buying an Entertainment Book? Right now the cost of the book is offset by just one dinner out. Another great way to save: order take-out! It saves you 15% as you don’t need to leave a tip!

    Frugal Parent

  9. @ Frugal Parent: Take out is a great tip! We sometimes do that for Friday night fish fry. I’ll have to look into an entertainment book!


  10. Had a question and thought perhaps you or one of your readers might know the answer. My family and I frequent a local Mongolian Barbeque in our neighborhood. The set-up is such that you gather your own food buffet style and bring it to the cooks who cook it up on a large wok in the center of the restaurant. The waitress simply brings your drinks, rice, and some flat bread. My question is since we do much of our own serving is the standard 15% tip still suggested? I suppose this same question would apply to anyone dining buffet style…I’ve always been unsure how to tip in this situation…can anyone help?

    Frugal Parent

  11. At a buffet resturant we tip $1 per person per hour that we occupy the table and more if major clean-up is going to be involved to prepare the table for the next guest.


  12. @ Frugal Parent: Check out what readers thought on the tipping situation in Sticky Situations: How Much Do You Tip?


  13. Late to the post…but posts live on forever on the internet!
    Wife and I now do water unless drink is included.
    Kids are now told IF you are not getting kids meals, it’s water.
    Our reason is not so much “saving money” but the fact that if we do this, then it only takes about 3 times eating out before we earn enough for a “fast food night out”.

    Quit The Day Job

  14. Great post! We love the kids eat free days. Also, I order from the “big kids” menu I like 6 nuggets but 8 or 10 is going to go to waste. Just doing my part to help our family save money.

    Justin’s last post: How to Change Number of Posts in WordPress


  15. That’s interesting about the free trial nights at restaurants. I assumed that those were usually reserved for friends and family.

    John Saves Money

    • I went to a “trial night” earlier this year in my small town, and it was by invitation only. Family, city officials and business owners were the main focus on who rec’d the invitations. It was nice seeing what was available and having a taste before others but the best thing, it was FREE.


  16. My husband and I often share an entree, which saves us a lot of money. Being older, we don’t eat as much as we used to, and it didn’t make sense to always have to ask for a “doggie bag”.


  17. Sometimes my son and I will do Arby’s 5 for $5 and split a drink. It’s a nice cheap lunch for the two of us :]


  18. I can’t believe nothing has been said about discount gift cards. We buy them from online discount gift card sellers and coupled with kids eat free nights are a hugh savings!

    Diane Donner

  19. Great post. Never really know about the trial nights or that you could ask for half portions. Will definitely try these tips out in the future!!

    Zee Hamdani

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