I’m a big fan of eating out at restaurants. I don’t enjoy cooking all that much, so anytime I can go out and eat delicious food that I didn’t have to prepare makes me one happy camper! But eating out at restaurants can get expensive. Here are 15 ways you can save money eating out at restaurants:
1) Go to Breakfast or Lunch Instead of Dinner
The price of breakfast or lunch is less expensive than going out to eat for dinner. If you want to save money eating out at restaurants, you will save more money during these meals. Restaurants often have breakfast and lunch specials that can save you even more money. Friendly’s has a deal currently that gives customers 50% off all of their breakfasts Mondays through Fridays.
2) Drink Water
This is a sure-fire way to save money at a restaurant. Not only is water free, which saves you money, but it is healthier for you than soda, iced tea, and lemonade. If you aren’t a fan of the plain taste of water, ask for a lemon or lime wedge. Those are also free and will add taste to your water. I know people who take this idea one step further and make their own lemonade at restaurants by adding the juice of a lemon wedge plus one packet of sugar or sweetener.
3) Share a Drink
Another way of saving money at restaurants is to order one large drink and have two people share it. This works especially well with couples. If you are embarrassed to just order one drink at a more expensive restaurant, one of you, or both, can order water and then it won’t be as obvious that you are sharing.
My husband and I just went to Panera Bread yesterday and ordered one large drink to share. There was plenty of liquid for both of us, and if you want as much liquid as possible, order your beverage without ice. This leaves more room for liquid in the cup and beverages coming out of a machine are already cold.
When doing this at a fast food restaurant, not only will you be saving money, but helping the environment because you will only be using one paper or plastic cup instead of two!
4) Use Coupons
What? Coupons for restaurants you might be asking? Yes, there are a variety of places that coupons for restaurants can be found, the top three being:
Coupon fliers that come in your Sunday newspaper
Chain restaurants often have an insert with two coupons in it: One for a certain amount off of a lunch entree and one for a dinner entree. Check these out and keep them in your wallet for the next time you go out to lunch or dinner.
Coupons mailed to you in a special discount circular in your mailbox
Lots of people ignore these coupons, but if you pay attention to what is in those fliers, you can save money. For instance, I recently had a coupon flyer from Dunkin Donuts (my favorite coffee place) that offered me an extra large cup of coffee for $1.49 instead of $2.59. That’s a $1.10 savings, and there were two of these coupons on each flyer.
If you have neighbors like I do who don’t use those fliers and throw them in the trash, you can ask them for theirs.
Coupons on the backs of cash register receipts in many local stores
Not sure what I am talking about? Next time you go to a grocery store, turn your cash register receipt over and look for coupons. While some of what is printed there are just ads, there are usually coupons as well. Mine recently offered a free appetizer at a local Mexican restaurant, and a “buy one get one-half off an ice cream cone” at a local ice cream shop.
5) Join Groupon
Groupon is a free recommendation program that allows consumers to save up to 50% on the deals they purchase off of the Groupon website. The key to Groupon is that it posts offers for a limited time only: usually only one to three days. And when that time is up, the offer disappears and us no longer available. So consumers need to grab an offer when they see it.
The way Groupon works is that first a consumer must go to the Groupon website and fill in the blank with their email address so that they will be able to receive daily email offers from Groupon. If there is an offer that someone is interested in, they can click on it and pay with their credit card or Paypal. Then they print out the offer and bring the printed coupon to the business or restaurant to redeem it. There is always an expiration date printed on the coupon, and it must be used before the expiration date.
If you don’t mind getting the daily emails from the Groupon website, you can save a lot of money eating out at restaurants with Groupon. You can also take advantage of deals in other areas as well such as special events, entertainment, outdoor activities, and stores.
To sign up for Groupon, click on the link below:
6) Dollar Menu
Don’t laugh but you can actually save money at a fast food restaurant by only ordering off the $1.00 menu. If you want to take your two children out for a special meal but don’t have a lot of money, by allowing yourself and each child a choice of 3 items each on the dollar menu, you can have a nice treat for everyone for under $10.00. That would be $3.00 each plus tax. And for even more fun, go to a McDinalds with a play place and let the kids have fun climbing around after dinner. Bring a good book for yourself, and everyone can have an enjoyable and inexpensive experience.
Okay, I do understand that some of the McDonald’s food on the dollar menu may not be all that healthy, but once in awhile as a treat, ordering off the dollar menu can be fun.
7) Eat Half/Save Half
Yes, that’s right…there are some restaurants that give you so much food that eating half of your meal, combined with the free bread offered by the restaurant, and maybe a salad that comes with your meal will fill you up! There’s no need to gorge yourself because your mom may have taught you to eat everything on your plate. She only said that so you wouldn’t waste good food. So eat half at the restaurant and bring half home to eat as another meal. While that may not save you money at the restaurant, it will save you money on that week’s grocery bill. And any savings is a good savings.
If you add a salad to that meal at home, it will be a full meal again, and you will have gotten two meals for the price of one!
8) Early Bird Specials
Yes, there are some restaurants that still offer “Early Bird Specials.” Traditionally these meals were offered from 4:00 pm until 6:00 pm when the restaurants traditionally are not too busy. Seniors over the age of 65 were the ones who most often took advantage of Early Bird Specials, but now younger people and those with large families are taking advantage of this deal as well.
In doing research for this article, I Googled “Early Bird Specials, ” and the first thing to pop up was Olive Garden. Their current Early Bird Special runs from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday and consists of your choice of soup or salad with your favorite entree for $8.99. This is not only a great deal, but since not many people eat at the Olive Garden during those times, you won’t have to wait in the long lines usually associated with the Olive Garden at peak dinner times.
9) Skip the Appetizer or Dessert, or Both!
Think about it…if your meal comes with bread and a salad already, do you really need to order an appetizer or dessert? Some restaurants are a la Carte and do make you order each item separately, but for those that are already providing their patrons extras that come with the meal, the appetizers and dessert are just an extra cost, plus extra calories.
If you really want an appetizer or dessert, consider sharing with your dining companion(s) and you will save money and calories!
10) Share a Meal
My parents typically go to chain restaurants and share the main meal. If the meal comes with a salad, they will order an extra side salad, and share the entree. Sometimes they go hog wild and share a large dessert and both of them have plenty of food and have saved money. Their favorite places to do this are Longhorn and Outback Steakhouse.
Some fancy restaurants charge an extra plate charge, but typically chain restaurants do not.
11) At Christmas Take Advantage of Gift Certificate Specials
Restaurants often offer a deal at Christmas where they will give a free $5 or $10 extra gift card when you buy a larger gift card (usually around $50). If you decide you want to give gift cards as a gift for Christmas, consider taking advantage of that deal. You could buy two gift cards, at $50 each for family members, and earn a free meal for yourself worth $10. If they only let you take advantage of it one time per transaction, make a few different purchases a few days apart, and you can earn $5.00 a few times. This helps you find a nice gift for someone for Christmas, and also saves you money the next time you take your family out to eat at a restaurant.
If you don’t have anyone you want to give a restaurant gift card to, just buy it for yourself and you will still get the extra gift cards as a bonus. If you are going to go out to eat at that restaurant anyway, you might as well take advantage of saving money by purchasing gift cards.
12) Supermarkets Offer Double Gas Points & They Often Include Gift Card Purchases
There is a Kroger store near my home and every summer for a limited period of time, they offer double gas points on store purchases and this includes gift card purchases. Treat yourself or your husband to a lunch or dinner by buying a restaurant gift card, and get double gas points during this summer special. Check out local stores that offer gas points and see if they have something similar. You won’t exactly save money on your restaurant purchase, but this will help you save money on the gas to get there!
13) AARP Specials
Once you hit the ripe old age of 50, you are eligible to join AARP. The current rate to join is only $16.00 per year and let me tell you, if you use your AARP card, it is definitely worth the money. And if you decide to join for three years or five years, the membership amount per year decreases so you can save money that way also.
Along with savings on travel, insurance, and entertainment, there are twenty-two restaurants that give discounts or a freebie when you show your AARP card. The discounts range from a percentage off your bill to a free donut with a large or extra-large coffee. If you take your family out for a nice dinner at a restaurant that offers a 15% discount with the AARP card, and the bill comes to $100, you will save $15.00 at some restaurants which almost pays for your membership with one dinner! And AARP also offers savings in many other categories besides restaurants.
Here’s the current list of participating restaurants as of June 2017:
- Bonefish Grill
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
- Carrabba’s Italian Grill
- Charlie’s Crab Palm Beach
- Chart House
- Claim Jumper Restaurant & Saloon
- Dunkin Donuts
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Gandy Dancer
- Grand Concourse
- Landry’s, Inc. Restaurants
- Landry’s Seafood
- McCormick & Schmick’s
- Outback Steakhouse
- Rainforest Cafe
- Red Sushi Hibachi & Grill
- Saltgrass Steakhouse
- sweetFrog Premium Frozen Yogurt
- The Oceanaire Seafood Room
- Willie G’s Seafood & Steaks
To find out more about AARP membership, or to join AARP, click on the link below:
14) Download Restaurant Apps
I’m not as technically savvy as my kids, but I do know that downloading apps on your phone can save you money. Lots of restaurants now have apps you can download for free onto your phone, and then when you check the app before going to a restaurant, you can see the deals they are offering customers that day. Even some gas stations that offer food have apps now. Below is a list of restaurants and gas stations that offer savings through coupons or by keeping track of your purchases to give you free food after a certain number of items have been purchased:
Even some gas stations that offer food have apps now. Below is a list of restaurants and gas stations that offer savings through coupons or by keeping track of your purchases to give you free food after a certain number of items have been purchased:
- Burger King
- Dunkin Donuts
- Firehouse Subs
- Papa Johns
- Taco Bell
15) Free Birthday Treats
Many restaurants will give customers free items on their birthday. They do this in exchange for the birthday person’s email address to send them emails in the future to entice you to come to their restaurant. They encourage people to come to their restaurant on their birthday and hopefully purchase more food and to bring friends and family members. If a single person arrives at these restaurants and offers the birthday coupon they received for signing up to receive email, in most cases, they will get free food on their birthday. A few restaurants have a “Buy one get one free” birthday offer, which means you would have to bring someone else along in order to get the free meal on your birthday
Free birthday treats range from specific free breakfast items at Denny’s and Ihop to free coffee at Dunkin Donuts, Caribou Coffee, and Starbucks. You can get free snacks like a free pretzel at Auntie Annies, or free ice cream at Baskin Robbins.
For lunch you could have a free meal at Captain D’s, a free sandwich at Honey Baked Ham, a free hamburger or salad bar entree at Ruby Tuesday’s, or a free pizza at Buono’s Pizza.
For dinner, if you didn’t go to Ruby Tuesday’s for your free lunch, you could head there for dinner, or to Benihana’s Restaurant, the Black Bear Diner, or the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, all of which will give you a free dinner up to a certain dollar amount. To save money on dessert, save room for ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s or Coldstone Creamery both of which will give you a free scoop of ice cream to top off your birthday celebration!
In researching this article I found a great list prepared by Anthony Nguyen on the Hustler Money Blog. I have included a link below to his list find some free food on your birthday including restaurants nationwide. To see if there is a local restaurant near you, click on the locator link to your left and put in your address and it will tell you the closest ones to you. If you want to know more about how to sign up for each restaurant’s birthday offer, click the review link on the right.
If you know of any other restaurants that offer free food for birthdays, please include it in the comments below.
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So, are you ready to start saving money eating out at restaurants?