How to Save Money Eating Out
In this article I am going to share 19 tips for how to save money eating out. If you know that your restaurant spending is high, then there are many things that you can do to save money eating out.
I know that going out to eat is a cherished American pastime. But it’s also a really expensive pastime! And what’s more, you’re spending your money on a super fleeting experience—within an hour that tasty meal you spent $50 on is all gone and you’ll never get to enjoy it again.
I know eating out can be a fun experience and that families can even strengthen their relationships while eating out together, but I also feel that the experience is even better when you can save money eating out!
According to the most recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $300 a month eating out. I couldn’t verify this for sure (for once Google let me down!), but I would bet that’s more than the average American invests for retirement. And that is really sad, given that you’ll be in retirement for 30 or 40 years and you eat a meal for maybe 60 minutes (if you really take your time to enjoy it).
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How to Save Money Eating Out: 19 Best Tips
Instead of spending all of that money on eating out, why not spend some of it on something that will last longer and maybe even something that will help build your wealth rather than something that might be contributing to your living paycheck to paycheck? Here are 19 suggestions you can follow to really cut the amount you spend on eating out every month.
1. Turn going out to eat at restaurants back into a rare treat to save a lot of money eating out.
The most important way to save money on eating out is simply to go out to restaurants less as a family. I have to believe that 75 years ago, eating out was the rarest of treats for a family. And I also have to believe that they were better off for it. Their waistlines weren’t so wide as ours are now :), and as an overall percentage, they undoubtedly saved more.
So instead of spending the $300 a month that the average American family reportedly spends on eating out, try cutting back to just one fun and inexpensive meal a month with your family for $50 or less. You will all then appreciate the experience more, and you’ll be able to spend the extra money on goals that will lead your family to financial success—goals like getting out of debt, saving up for emergencies, investing for retirement, and saving for your kids’ college. If you’re really gung-ho or are on a tight budget, save eating out for really rare occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.
You could even make it a game to see how long your family can go before going to a sit-down or even fast-food restaurant again. One of my favorite FIRE bloggers has on his blog a ticker that counts the number of days it’s been since their family has gone out to eat. You might think that’s kind of a funny thing to do, but hey, it undoubtedly helped him retire by his late 30s. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make (to retire early, though we won’t make it by our 30s—though I do hope we make it by our 50s!), as well. 🙂
Spending less money on going out to eat also means brown-bagging your lunch, but that’s better for you, too. If you love going to lunch with a group of coworkers every day or once a week, see if they’re willing to brown-bag and eat together instead.
Or be gutsy and take your made-at-home lunch to the restaurant or food court while they eat, or see if they can pick up their food and then you all eat somewhere outside or back at the office. Or just tell them you’re making some changes to your financial habits, and ask them over to watch a football game or play a round of Frisbee or something instead.
Ready to commit to eating most of your meals at home (or in the office) and cutting your restaurant budget? Great!
Read this article to find more than 50 ideas for how to save money on groceries, as well.
2. Choose less expensive restaurants when you do go out to eat.
Of course there is a huge difference in what you will pay at a fancy French restaurant compared to the local chain burger joint down the road. But there’s even a huge discrepancy between generally nice sit-down restaurants. One of my favorite restaurants, Applebee’s, costs only about $20 for dinner for two, but another restaurant that we went to a while back was over $70 for just the two of us. (That’s a lot for us to pay, as you might guess. :)) And I wouldn’t say that the food at the more expensive place was necessarily any better.
3. Find great deals for restaurants on Groupon and Living Social and on local deal websites to save money eating out.
On the rare occasions you do eat out, try to save money by buying vouchers and similar items from deal websites such as Groupon and Living Social. But only buy them if you will actually use them and if you would have gone out to eat anyway for a special occasion! (Read again the section just above. J) Otherwise, you’re not actually saving any money—you’re just spending more money!
4. Use the restaurant gift cards and gift certificates you are given to save money eating out!
If someone gives you a gift card to a restaurant, hang on to that and use it to go out to eat for your birthday or anniversary. There’s a good chance you get at least one gift card a year to restaurants, so put it toward a special occasion, and bank the savings!
I’ve heard from one finance guru that the bulk of gift cards never get used, so make sure you don’t fall into this trap. If you’re given a gift card or certificate for your favorite restaurant or if you buy one, put it in your purse or wallet so you will make sure that you use it and don’t lose it or let it expire! (So make sure you put it in a safe, and memorable, place!)
5. Look at menus online before you go out to eat.
If you’re considering going to a restaurant where you haven’t been before, look at the menus online beforehand. That way you’ll know about how much to expect to pay for your meal. You wouldn’t want to end up at a restaurant that was outside of your price range and either feel bad for overspending your budget or feel bad for having to leave and go find another place to eat.
6. Eat an appetizer for your meal to save money eating out.
At one of my favorite restaurants, I routinely order one of the appetizers for my meal. Portion sizes at most restaurants are so large that you can often eat enough to be satisfied by eating an appetizer and skipping an entrée altogether.
7. Order the free kids’ meal if one is offered to save money eating out.
One of my favorite restaurants is Café Rio, and I love the fact that you can order their kiddie quesadillas for free for your kiddos. Sweet!
8. Save half of your meal for lunch the next day to save money when eating out.
By asking for a carryout box you can avoid overeating today and enjoy a scrumptious lunch tomorrow! Two meals for the price of one! While you are eating, slow down and enjoy your food! Give your stomach time to tell your head that you are satisfied, and you will avoid eating too much. To avoid temptation altogether, you could ask for the carryout box at the beginning of your meal and put half of your food into it right then. That way, you won’t be as tempted to overeat.
9. Order one entrée and share it to save money eating out.
Similar to the tip above, another good way to save money on eating out is to order an entrée with your spouse or good friend, and then share it. Entrée sizes at most restaurants are huge! You’ll save money and won’t end up eating so many extra (even if delicious!) calories!
10. Order just the entrees—skip the appetizer, drinks, and dessert to save a lot of money eating out.
If you’re already hungry before you go, consider eating a light snack at home before you leave. Then you can skip the appetizer without getting too ravenous. To save additional money, also order water instead of a beverage, and skip the dessert, as well. You can buy a whole gallon of ice cream from the grocery store for the price of one piece of pie or cake. And then your whole family can enjoy it for the week or more instead of for just one evening.
11. Ask if they have any specials or discounts in order to save money eating out.
Before you go to a particular restaurant or before you place your order, ask if they have any current specials or discounts, such as military or senior discounts. If it’s a special occasion like a birthday, ask if they do anything special for that. Many restaurants will offer a free dessert for birthdays and some (like my favorite restaurant, Tucano’s) even off a free meal on your birthday with purchase of another meal. Pretty awesome!
12. Eat a late lunch for dinner to save money when eating out.
When we go to Tucano’s for my birthday, we usually go a little before 3 o’clock so that we can go for the lunch price. I do this mostly to save money, but also because it’s less crowded at that time between the traditional lunch and dinner hours.
13. Join the loyalty club or birthday club.
As I mentioned above, my favorite restaurant has a birthday club, and if you sign up (for free), you get a meal for free on your birthday when you buy another one. This is an awesome deal! For the restaurants that you frequent, see if they have a birthday club you can join.
The same restaurant also has a loyalty club that we are signed up for, and each time you spend money there, you earn reward points. Once you earn enough reward points, then you qualify to get a discount on a future meal. Many other restaurants do the same thing. So if you eat frequently (or even just occasionally) at certain restaurants, be sure to sign up for their loyalty program.
14. Buy restaurant gift cards at discount sites.
Check out websites like Cardpool.com, Cardcash.com, Raise.com, and GiftCardMall.com to find gift cards to your favorite restaurants at discounted prices. This can be an easy way to save money eating out.
15. Order carryout.
Another great tip for how to save money eating out is to order takeout. That way you skip the delivery fee and the tip, and you can save money on drinks and appetizers and desserts as well by just ordering the main dish. Then you can drink water or another beverage that you have at home, and you can eat a treat or dessert you have at home, as well (or not, and save the calories :)).
16. Eat at more casual restaurants where you are not expected to tip.
With the standard recommended tip being now 15% to 20%, you can save a lot of money by going to more casual eateries where you are not expected to pay a tip. Of course all of the fast food restaurants are included on that list, as well as more casual diners like Five Guys, Cafe Rio, and Chipotle.
17. Order off the kids’ menu.
At many restaurants, you do not have to be a child to order from the children’s menu. You will save money (and your waistline!) by ordering and eating the smaller portions served.
18. Avoid eating out on major holidays.
Many restaurants increase their prices on major holidays, so try to celebrate the holiday the day before or after (or a few days before or after), if you can. For example, many restaurants offer special Valentine’s Day dishes, but you are going to pay more for them. You can avoid the crowds and save money by celebrating on another day.
19. Find other free and cheap pastimes and activities to spend time on with your family.
If eating out is currently your go-to activity for entertainment for your family, branch out and find new things to do! There are so many fun and cheap things that you can do with your family, and they might even bring you closer together than eating out (yet again!) will. (I bet they will!) For example, you can go biking, hiking, walking, or swimming at a lake or beach. You could go to a park, splash pad, or inexpensive attraction such as a museum. Check out this list of 90+ free and cheap activities for family fun.
Eating out can really blow your budget! But there are also many ways to save money eating out. If you will commit to following the tips above, you can really make big changes to your finances and save a significant amount of money over the decades.
I know that restaurant food tastes good—believe me, I do! I have my own favorite restaurants that I just love. But the food there doesn’t taste as good as having no credit card debt! It doesn’t taste as good as maxing out our Roth IRA and receiving the full match on our company 401(k).
Eating out doesn’t taste as good as having saved all that we (probably) need to now for our kids’ college educations. (We’re allowing them the growth opportunity to pay for half of it—something you might want to consider as well.) Eating out at restaurants doesn’t taste as good as being mortgage debt free! 😀 What are those things worth to you? Will you commit to cut your restaurant spending today?
Did you find this article on how to save money eating out helpful? What are your favorite tips for how to save money eating out? I would love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment below and let me know!
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