Dining out has become a major part of American life and with that comes the expenses of dining out. Being able to eat out on a regular basis is much easier when you are taking advantage of restaurant discounts.
Being the parents of three, Amy and I are ALWAYS on the look-out for a way to keep our dining out expenses low and maximize the dollars we spend on restaurants so we can dine out more. Hopefully these ideas will help you do the same.
1. Kids Eat Free
Being a dad I am going to start out with the obvious one. While my children are always perfect angels in how they act at a restaurant, knowing if they will eat their dinner is a whole other question. So whenever we can we opt for somewhere that kids eat free or very cheap. In order to not get stuck with McDonald’s all the time we look for places that have a special day or night where kids get a big discount. I have, of course, created a big list of these places so make sure to check out my kids eat free big list.
2. Discounts on Local Restaurants
I love trying out and supporting local restaurants. Even better is getting them at a much lower cost. Restaurant.com has allowed us to get discounts on great restaurants all over the country.
The way Restaurant.com works is you purchase a $25 gift certificate for $10 (that’s right $10). The local restaurant gets pretty inexpensive advertising and you get a great deal. BUT WAIT! There’s more. Once you sign up for an account (no money necessary) you can start receiving e-mails and they will frequently send you discount codes. I have gotten $25 gift certificates for as low as $1.
3. Restaurant Reward Clubs
If you are eating at any major restaurant they probably have some sort of customer loyalty program. More localized restaurants will have punch cards or a loyalty discount. Most national chains will have you sign up on their website and will give you something small for signing up and then something free on your birthday. They will also send you emails throughout the year with special offers. I use the birthday offers all year long. You can see a huge list of restaurants that do have loyalty programs and how to maximize the free birthday stuff, check out my birthday freebies page that details both for you.
4. Coupon Books
Coupon books can be a huge deal when it comes to eating out for less. They are packed full of restaurant discounts and buy one get one offers.
As far as nationwide availability the Entertainment Book is the biggest and one of the most well-known coupon books you can purchase. I never buy my book ahead of time and instead wait till they discount the books. You can frequently get them for less than $10 which means you only need to use one meal coupon to make up the cost of the book, and there are SO many coupons you should have no problem using more than one.
5. Get the Restaurant Discount Apps
Just like everyone else, restaurants are getting in on making their own apps. Fast food restaurants have been particularly aggressive in delivering coupons to their customers through mobile apps.
Restaurant.com, Groupon, Entertainment Book, and others are also getting into the mobile app discount game. You can typically scan you app right inside the restaurant or they will give you a discount code. These apps have become a big part of how I dine out. Here are the 15 restaurant apps that I currently use to save money.
6. Eat on the Right Nights
Restaurants have naturally busy and slow nights during the week. This is why there are no restaurants offering kids eat free on Friday night.
Traditionally the two slowest days of the week are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Ask around at your favorite restaurants to see if they are running any discounts or specials mid-week. You can save as much as 50% off your entree on those nights.
7. Eat at the Right Time
Lunch menus average 25% less than dinner menus. There are also lunch specials that can be even more. You will typically get a slightly smaller potion, but lets face it, the dinner portions these days are HUGE.
Your other option is to hit the early-bird specials. If you eat dinner before 6PM many restaurants will have a deal waiting for you. I would stay away from the buffet places though. Septuagenarians get hangry.
8. Discount Cards
If you want to find a discount card then find any high school in your area and ask. There will usually be someone doing a fund raiser where they partner with local restaurant and retailers to provide you discounts. These cards usually run in the $20 range and have anywhere from 10-20 different locations where you can use them and the discounts are good for one year.
Overall these are not usually the best discounts but it really depends on what is on the card. We ended up with a buy one get one free deal at a local Moe’s with the last one we purchased and used it a lot. Let’s just say the franchise owner did not participate in the next year’s card.
9. Go the Social Route
Savvy restaurateurs are connecting with their clients on social media. In order to entice you to like their social media pages they are running social media exclusive discounts.
Getting on their pages before you head out can help you score major savings on your restaurant purchase.
10. Discounted Restaurant Gift Cards
This one is not as obvious as some of the others, because when most people think gift cards they think of a dollar for dollar transaction.
There are two bits of good news when it comes to using discounted gift cards. The first is that you can stack them with any of the above methods. So if you have a great coupon for Olive Garden you can use one of these gift cards too. The second is that there are two ways to get your restaurant gift cards at a discount.
The Easy Last Minute Need a Card Way
There is a catch to this one. You have to have a grocery store nearby that gives you gasoline rewards for shopping at their store. This would Include Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the country.
So when you buy a gift card for a specific restaurant at Kroger they give you double fuel rewards. So if you spend $50 on gift cards then you get 10₵ off per gallon on your next fill up.
That is the equivalent of 2% cash back if you fill up your tank with 20 gallons. If you go the extra mile and use a rewards credit card you can get as much as an additional 5% cash back for a total of 7% off.
The Gotta Plan for It Way
There are websites that sell giftcards at a discount. Why do they sell them at a discount? Well, have you ever gotten a gift card that you are NEVER going to use? Instead of regifting it you can sell that gift card at places like Cardpool.com at some percentage discount. Right now you would get $18.25 for a $25 Olive Garden Gift Card.
CardPool then turns around and sells those gift cards to other people who want them, also at a discount. Right now you can purchase a $25 gift card to Olive Garden for $20.87 from CardPool. As you can see they make a few bucks on every transaction and everyone walks away happy.
In case you are not good at math that is almost 17% off your gift card purchase and a nice chunk off your meal and apparently I am craving Olive Garden.
11. Change Your Habits
So all of the above stuff gets you a lower price on the food you were normally buying anyway. The final, and maybe biggest, step is to change your habits when you eat at a restaurant. I promise not all of these are painful.
Really! They aren’t all painful, but this one might be. Your drinks, especially alcoholic ones, are a big expense when you eat out.
I have seen restaurants charge $2 or more for a coke. That’s right, $2 for flavored bubbly water. So just take the flavor and the bubble out and drink the water.
In my family switching everybody to water saves an average of $6 per meal. That means we can eat out at least one more time a month if we just drink water.
Eat the Right Portion
The portions we get in the United States are HUGE. With any typical sit down dinner location I can usually cut the portion in half and enjoy that same meal for lunch the next day. When you count in appetizer/bread, and salad before you even get to the main course it really is easy to not eat that much.
Chew More Slowly
I will be the first to admit that I eat WAY too fast. It takes your stomach time to tell your brain that you are full. By chewing more slowly you provide that extra time for your stomach to get that message going. This is also better for your digestion and can help if you have been having problems.
The recommended number of times to chew your food before swallowing is 30. I am focusing my efforts on 20 right now and once I master that going up to 30. Even with not doing the full recommended amount I notice a difference in how quickly I feel full. Plus it is a bad idea to eat a whole steak in five bites.
That is everything my family does to keep our dining out budget low. What are you reducing to reduce the strain of restaurant dining on your budget?