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Saving Money at Restaurants

Dining out is a pleasant social experience; but it can be pricey. This is a guide about saving money at restaurants.
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16 found this helpful
November 11, 2014 Flag

No other change that we have made in our life has saved us so much money as this! Eating out used to be a regular thing for us; McDonald drive through for lunch, pizza for a quick dinner, take-out for those crazy busy weeknights, the list goes on. It was never special, just quick and desperate solutions to poor planning and, need I add, expensive!

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We were sitting at an all-you-can-eat buffet with our 4 children one busy weekend discussing how we sorely needed another dresser. My husband quickly responded; "We can't afford it!" Then we payed the $65 bill and went home. It struck me at that moment how ridiculous it was to continue to eat out for convenience sake all the time.

What changes have we made? I plan ahead! We make sure to finish our extra activities early so we are home when it's mealtime. Crockpots are a fabulous way to have supper ready when you return. If things are just too busy and you didn't prepare ahead, it is a great idea to have quick and easy things in the freezer already; frozen pizza, frozen burritos, etc. Then you aren't forced to go to the drive through or order out.

We have saved hundreds every month by doing this. We still eat out at least once a month, but we plan it, and we all enjoy it so much more! And, as I thought we would, we now have a bit of money left for those other necessities like new winter coats, etc. Try it for a month, you won't be disappointed! :)

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December 1, 20140 found this helpful

That is like the first thing you should start doing to save money. So good advice!

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13 found this helpful
June 15, 2010 Flag

It is common knowledge that styrofoam equals sustainability's nemesis. When I am forced to take home an entirely too large take-home box after a meal out, I cringe. To solve this, I take a tough, non leaking, Tupperware with me when I eat out now. It's medium sized to fit about any leftovers and I don't feel guilty when I see it in the fridge. I can clean and reuse of course.

On a personal note, yes, you do get a few funny looks, but more of intrigue than despise. :) Maybe you'll inspire other people through your actions.

Source: When I was traveling in Europe this was a must because they don't even have to go containers to offer. Always a step ahead, them Europeans.

By wishsparkle from Greensboro, NC

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June 17, 20100 found this helpful

Definitely ingenious! My personal twist might be to take mid-to-large ZipLoc baggies, with those tough, easy-slide zippers. Might work well for less-messy leftovers, especially for someone with a smaller purse. (That isn't me, btw...)

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10 found this helpful
November 10, 2009

Time yourself. Use a timer or regular clock and write down exactly how much time it took to go to and return from the fast food restaurant, deli or pizza place.

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0 found this helpful
February 28, 2017

Some happy hour appetizers at a restaurant.

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You can still have a nice time dining out but without breaking the bank. Go during Happy Hour where you can get half off appetizers, drinks and some select entrees!

5 found this helpful
April 5, 2010

I have learned to get water when you go out to eat, it can save big time on the bill. My coke cost me $1.85 when water usually is free, or no more than 30 cents. It makes a difference and I always use coupons if I can, even if it's Arby's!

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November 16, 20070 found this helpful

A family eating out.

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Saving money while eating out at restaurants. Here are tips suggested by the ThriftyFun community. Cooking at home saves money, but when you do eat out, order water instead of a beverage to help keep your check low.

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April 27, 20070 found this helpful

a plate of spaghetti

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Tips for saving money while eating out at restaurants. If you have a great idea that was missed, post it here!

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August 5, 2011

Be sure to check your receipts - particularly from regular restaurants and fast-food places. A lot of times there is a free food item on your next visit. For example, Arby's will have a free regular roast beef sandwich in exchange for a simple survey you can do.

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August 9, 20160 found this helpful

Woman paying for fast food

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This is a guide about saving money on fast food. The cost of fast food can add up, but there are a few simple ways to save money when eating at fast food restaurants.

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2 found this helpful
December 3, 2012

Quite by accident several years ago at a fall fair, I found a cheap way of getting a side serving of pickles, generally 3 or 4 slices.

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0 found this helpful
June 30, 2006

I am learning that restaurant-bill discrepancies are not uncommon, but they are rarely caught. Many patrons now pay with debit or credit cards. The check arrives at the table, and they give it a cursory glance at best. Provided the final amount falls somewhere in the acceptable range, they sign and go. And that could be a big mistake...

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1 found this helpful
February 7, 2012

When the kids were below age 12, I looked for restaurants that had kids eat free signs. I tried different restaurants in the area. It was a fun way to get out of the kitchen and not have to fix a meal after a long day of work and still provide for my family.

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July 26, 20011 found this helpful

Instead of paying twice as much for a restaurant chain sandwich, go to your nearest supermarket. Most of the time you are guaranteed to a cheaper, doubly stuffed, sandwich, not to mention the all in all better quality.

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0 found this helpful
February 12, 2008

If you or your kids love nuts on your sundaes from Dairy Queen or other drive-up ice cream places, bring a baggie of nuts from home. The ice cream shops usually charge 50 cents or more for nuts and a family of 4 could save $2.00 on one visit.

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0 found this helpful
March 6, 2012

A frugal lifestyle involves eating more meals at home since dining out is usually an expensive adventure. Whenever you do decide to splurge on a restaurant meal, you can do so more frugally by choosing to drink water...

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0 found this helpful
December 12, 2005

Since we live in a rural area about 15 miles from the town we go to shop, we combine our trips for medical needs, appointments, etc. with our shopping. Often it means we are there at mealtime...

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

1 found this helpful
May 10, 2004 Flag

The one area where I really would like to be able to save money is eating out. So many times I am just too tired to cook in the evening and the two of us ends up by eating at a fast food or similar place. Even though we seem to get the cheaper menu items and never order fries, it does add up. Are there any other ways we can save in this area?

Betty

Editor's Note: This request was originally published in 2001.

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November 16, 20070 found this helpful

When we eat at fast food Restaurants...

When we eat at fast food Restaurants we never spend more than $2 + tax. We each buy an item from the $.99 menu and drink water. Sometimes we split each item for more variety. You really don't need all that much food and while unwinding at home you can have your beverage of choice and dessert if you like. CJ (12/01/2000)

By admin2

The best way is to cook extra...

The best way is to cook extra on the weekends and freeze it into individual or meal size portions. when you don't feel like cooking, whip out your own "prepackaged" meal from the freezer and into the microwave! You know what's in it and it doesn't take long to prepare. You can also clip coupons - buy one meal get one free, for instance. There are eating establishments that are reasonably priced: Ci-Ci's charges $2.99 per person for all-you-can-eat pizza. Panchos has an all-you-can-eat buffet that is reasonable, as does Ryan's. We usually go to one of these places and/or use a buy-one-get-one-free coupon when we go out. Good Luck!! Tracy (12/01/2000)

By admin2

Often restaurants put coupons in local newspapers

Often restaurants put coupons in local newspapers (The Penny Saver here has lots) for buy-one-get-one-free dinners (or similar discounts). Or check for dining/take-out coupons in the local phone books. Our two local phone books have many coupons for dining-in and take-out places. Also, get a menu from each of your local take-out places to keep at home. Most have at least one night a week when there is some discount offered (for example, in Lakeview, Monday night is $2 off a pizza at the local take-out place). Ness - Lakeview, NY(12/01/2000)

By admin2

Since my husband and I do go out about 2 - 3 times a week

Since my husband and I do go out about 2 - 3 times a week (we both work full time - no children at home) we have found in going to different places, you find which ones give you a lot of food and the next time we go back we share a meal (especially Chinese food). If we're still a little hungry and would like dessert - we share that too. I realize you might not both like the same thing all the time, but in trying to save money you can find many items you both like. Sharyn (12/01/2000)

By admin2

Buy an Entertainment book!

Buy an Entertainment book! We bought the smaller version for $20 through a school fundraiser and have saved $143.16 in just 4 months. (That does not even include all the golf coupons I gave away...) The coupons are usually buy one meal get one free, so it is great when there are just two. Another idea is to go out for lunch instead of dinner. Restaurants usually have great priced lunch specials. Get to know the sale days at your favorite restaurants. My kids love McDonalds but we only go on those nights when they have $.99 burgers for the big people. There is a lounge in town that serves a steak dinner for $4.99 on Thursdays. Ask around. Check the paper for coupons. I often find them in the weekend edition. And my last tip, try to have an emergency dinner in the freezer for those horrible nights when you are too tired to cook. (Seems like every night for me.) Hope this helps. Christine - Spokane, WA (12/01/2000)

By admin2

The best way to save money ...

The best way to save money on eating out is not to do it. When there were only two of us I would keep ZipLock sandwich bags filled with spaghetti sauce, chili, shredded beef/BBQ sauce, grated cheese, soup, diced cooked ham or turkey, crumbled cooked bacon, sweet/sour sauce, refried beans, taco meat, etc. I would also keep a bag of meatballs that had been frozen individually. It was easy to thaw something out in the microwave and have soft tacos, chili burritos, soup and salad, meatball subs, and so much more. Bags of salad are inexpensive and handy. Now that there are 7 in our family I keep large ZipLock bags of those same types of things in the freezer for busy days, they are a life and budget saver. Many families will find that the money saved on food, clothes, eating out and auto/travel expenses if a spouse does not work or works only part time will be greater than the income earned. Wiser shopping, home cooking, selling the second car? can save a lot. It also makes for a calmer home environment and allows the primary income earner to concentrate more on their work and not worry about dry cleaning, running to DMV, etc. JulieBeth (12/01/2000)

By admin2

If it's fast food...

If it's fast food, like hamburgers, I aways buy when they have the double cheeseburgers on sale (99¢ - I usually buy more than one), remove one burger, wrap it in foil, and freeze. When I need it, I defrost it and throw it in a defrosted hamburger bun. Then, if you get the store brand of fries (I like the thick ones) it only takes a matter of minutes to throw a handful in the oven on a cookie sheet. Another idea, if you eat somewhere there is a nice salad bar, order your meal, fill up on the salad, and bread if they have it. Then take home 1/2, or even most, of the main meal for another day when you're tired, then serve with a quick throw together salad. I get two meals when I go to Red Lobster. I fill up on biscuits, the salad, 1/2 the potato, and some of the entree. I take home, a couple biscuits (always ask for more when you're near the end of the meal), 1/2 baked potato, and 2/3rd's of my meal. KayD (12/01/2000)

By admin2

When going through the drive-thru

When going through the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant, I sometimes order a "kids meal" for myself as well as my children. There's enough food to eat and the price is a lot less. I give the toy in the meal to Goodwill. HtrsIsland Pittsburgh, PA (12/01/2000)

By admin2

Our Sunday paper always has coupons

Our Sunday paper always has coupons for some fast food or quickie type restaurant. I save the coupons and put them on the refrigerator when we feel like eating out, we just flip through and decide where to go. Many of the coupons are buy one get one free meals. Helpful Reader (12/01/2000)

By admin2

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

When we go out to eat, I order the Seniors portion. It is usually one scoop of potatoes instead of two, and a smaller piece of meat. This runs any here from 3-4 dollars less on a meal like Veal Cutlets. I also order water instead of other beverages. Also lunch meals are usually less expensive than Supper menus, but are often the same food. - Pat (01/26/2001)

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

When I am too tired to cook I buy a bag of salad and some lean meat or poultry to cut up and eat on top of the salad. Luncheon style meats can be frozen. Many salad ingredients can be purchased canned or frozen. Buy some good bread while you are at it, and then make sandwiches for lunch the following day. My mother buys the hot roasted chickens sold at the supermarkets when she is too tired to cook. She keeps a good supply of quality frozen veggies on hand as well. These foods could save your waistline and blood pressure as well as your wallet. (02/03/2001)

By katkitkat

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

Well, if we go to a sit down restaurant, we order only one meal (for two) or even just appetizers. The meals these days are HUGE! If you find yourself always bringing home a doggy bag, then you have too much food!

If we go to a mexican style restaurant, I make sure my kids fill up on chips and salsa. Or I order a side of melted cheese and the kids can have nachos (with those free chips of course). One more thing you can do is order a side of flour tortillas and use the beans and rice from the adult meals (because the meals are usually too much to eat in one sitting) and make the kids burritos!

If we go fast food, we either get kids meals (which really IS enough food, and I save the toys to my children as treats/rewards) or we get stuff from the 99cent menu. A lot of times I'm just hungry for a burger but end up getting the fries with the combo meals. But I don't really want the fries, yet end up eating them because they are THERE. Ala carte is a great way to control costs. And I too order water. It's cheaper and healthier and doesn't take away from the meal. (02/29/2004)

By kidseatfree

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

Rather than eating AT the fast food place, get it to go. Take it home and wash it down with your own drinks (the sodas often cost as much as the burgers at the fast food places!). Or take it to the park and have as a picnic, using drinks you brought along in a thermos or cooler. We sometimes get just the sandwiches to go, and accompany with chips (from the big bag at home) rather than fries.

If you want to eat there -- an all-you-can-eat buffet offers obvious advantages!

If ordering pizza, take it home or have it delivered. Provide your own drinks.

On a related note -- research some crock pot/slow cooker recipes. You set it up in the morning (or even the night before) and it cooks all day. When you get home, dinner is ready! I often plan slow cooker meals for days that I know will be hectic.

(05/18/2004)

By Becki in Indiana

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

We never order soft drinks at a restaurant. We drink water which is better for us healthwise. Usually saves as much as one of the meals cost. (06/02/2004)

By Sandy

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

Love the Dollar menu & Coupons.

Also,Mom qualifies for the Senior citizen coffee at Mc Donald's for 25 cents.I drink water & so does she.In hot weather especially I load both our cups with Ice & water before we leave & put it in a Thermal Mug in the van.I also bring water & sometimes a soda from home.

We've brought cookies too.

I only order a soda when there's a promo item that I want to get.

However Checkers has a Milkshake for $1,we get that & split it sometimes.

I refuse to order the $1 french fries since they changed it to the small size.It's totally nuts to pay $1 for a handful of fries when we get a whole bag of potatos for around $2 & less at Grocery outlet.

We eat out once a week on shopping day.Sometimes we picnic out in back of the drive thru at our bank,others do too ,it's lovely.

The bank ladies know us & we exchange Bargain notifications.One time Hungry Hoies had Medium Pepperoni Pizzas for $2.99! We got 2,ate half of one out back of the bank,told the ladies & most of them said they'd get them for dinner.

Love to exchange Bargain notifications & also warn of scams. (06/02/2004)

By Linne

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

Lots of the grocery stores here have soda vending machines out front where a can of store brand soda is about 30 cents. If I want a soda rather than water with my fast food I stop and buy one there real quick and then go in to the fast food place of my choice that is near it. It just seems like I'm already drinking the soda, and I'm often asked if want a cup of ice, too. (06/03/2004)

By Linda

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

We also have entertainment book we use. High schools around here sell athletic cards which have restaurants buy one get one free. We share a small soda (free refills) at fast food places. i have a small plasic bottle and i brew tea extra, extra strong and get ice water and pour a little of the tea and make my own tea. Hardees has happy hour from 4-6, buy one burger, get one free and a 44 oz soda for $1. I get kids meals or senior coffee, soda at mcd. and read the newspaper there - local paper is 50 cents so I don't have to buy a newspaper. Get to know when and what the specials are. Dominoes has Wacky Wednesday where ANY pizza is 6.99. Sonic has cheap burgers in the evening. We went there the other night, stopped at the gas station, got a refill and a bag of chips got 2 sonic burgers and spent less than $4 for the two of us. (09/06/2004)

By owenmohrbucks

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

I have put my own personal listing of Kids Eat Free online. It's really beneficial if you live in Kansas City, but you should still be able to get some good info there even if you don't. http://kidseatfree.proboards20.com

Also, use http://www.google and http://local.google.com to find cheap restaurants in your area, or with keywords such as "kids eat free" "cheap restaurants" "cheap eats" etc. (05/11/2005)

By kidseatfree

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

Ask for iced water at a restaurant. They make so much on soft drinks and water is better for ya anyway. I like to order soup and a big salad....usually I take half the sald home for another meal. Also the value meals at fast foods are great! I like the one at Wendy's. I get a small chili, a side salad or baked potato and water to drink and only spend 2 bucks. Ya can't beat it....oh and the chili is super! (02/09/2006)

By Debbie52

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

My husband and I often split an entree and/or dessert. Most restaurants serve so much food and are happy to give customers an extra plate. We are always careful to tip as if we had spent for two.

FYI- I read somewhere that it is better to leave your tip on the table rather than include it in check or credit card, because sometimes it doesn't ever reach the server. (02/10/2006)

By Vicka

RE: How to Save Eating at Restaurants

the buy one get one free deals are great. We have a little hot dog place here in town that also serves the best broasted chicken. We used to order a family dinner that came with 8 pieces and always had leftovers....not that already cooked chicken isn't a good thing....I have lots of ways to use in recipes....but now we found that using a coupon to get a 3 pc broasted chicken meal free with one purchased works the best for our family. It is definitely cheaper and then we either have no leftovers or perhaps one piece. It also comes with broasted potatoes or fries and bread...maybe even coleslaw.

That's another idea is to pick up fried chicken through a drive thru or in a grocery store and make up some quick side dishes to go with. The rotisserie chickens are nice too and you can make up mashed potatoes, make a salad or heat up some green beans. I think those chickens usually run 5 bucks and easily feed our family of 4.

The other day I bought chicken legs on sale (our kids love them) and breasts for my husband and I. I used Oven Fry and baked 4 legs and 3 breasts, put baking potatoes in the oven to cook while chicken cooked and made a cucumber salad....very delicious and I would say fairly cheap to make and the kids got all excited when they saw they got chicken legs! (05/10/2006)

By Debbie52

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January 19, 20080 found this helpful

Bakers Square Restaurants is offering a Free Slice of their famous Pies, on National Pie Day - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 -- in Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, California, Wisconsin and elsewhere (locations: http://www.cele  com/location.php).

No purchase is necessary - just go to http://www.celebratepie.com for the coupon. There are also coupons for $2 off whole cream pies, and for a free slice of pie with purchase of any entrée good in January and February.

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0 found this helpful
March 14, 2010

What are your best tips around saving on dining out? What are the best discount programs, happy hour deals? I spend over $5000 last year to dine out and want to cut back.

By JohnC from Portland, OR

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March 14, 20100 found this helpful

I agree about coupon books. For the price there is a lot in them that a person won't use. The last two years the management company that has the apartment complex I live in has done a discount card for about 18 asstd. businesses. Two years ago there wasn't anything listed that I used. Last year there was one business listed that I would use. It will be interesting to see what is on the card this year, if management does it again.

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March 14, 20100 found this helpful

Eat at home. I'd rather fix a peanut butter sandwich than pay the high price to eat out, or fix a Slim Fast milk shake. We drink those to help with weight problems. Good luck.

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November 16, 20070 found this helpful
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