Eating out at a restaurant is fun, giving us the chance to avoid cooking for a night, and often, to spend time with friends or family without the added stress of getting food or place settings ready ourselves. According to a 2013 national survey of 1,000 Americans by Rasmussen Reports, fifty-eight percent of American adults dine out at least once per week. With nearly three fifths of American adults eating out each week, it makes sense that the projected restaurant industry sales for 2014 is $683.4 billion. As fun as eating out is, the cost can really add up if you go regularly, or even weekly; try to save money by considering where you are going ahead of time, and planning on how much money you want to spend. As expensive as eating out at a restaurant can get, there are many ways you can cut your costs down by making smart choices about what you order.
1. Don’t order drinks
This is probably the most obvious advice on this list, but it is still extremely important. Try to skip extras whenever you can at restaurants. This means that you should order a cup of water instead of paying for soft drinks or juices. Especially if you are dining out as a family, several drinks can really add up. Alcohol is especially expensive; restaurants often hope to achieve a seventy-to-eighty percent profit on alcohol. Although many people enjoy having special drinks when they go out to restaurants, drinks significantly increase the cost of going out, and therefor they also affect the cost of your tip. If you really want alcohol, or your kids really want soda, buy some at the store at a separate time.
2. Avoid the extras
Like drinks, appetizers, salads, soups, and other extras will also significantly add to your total bill when you dine out. If you are going to a late dinner and you know you will be really hungry while you wait for the main course, have a snack at home. Don’t order soup or salad unless it comes with your meal. Although meals that include salad or soup are often more expensive than other meals, you may find that when you add the salad or soup plus a meal by itself, you will actually be saving money over ordering a less expensive meal plus a starter.
Appetizers are fun, especially when you are eating out with a big group. If you do enjoy appetizers, only order them when you are sharing the tab with multiple people, so that you can each enjoy a little bit of the appetizer without spending too much money. Or go to a half-off appetizer night; many restaurants have these. Another option is to only order appetizers; sometimes trying several different appetizers as a group or family can be a fun way to sample what a restaurant has to offer.
3. Budget ahead of time
Although some people might feel that planning ahead defeats the fun part of going to a restaurant, it doesn’t have to. Especially if you eat out regularly, it makes sense to plan ahead. Look at the menu online if it is available, and decide how much you are comfortable spending. If you are going out to eat with someone else, discuss how much you want to spend together before you go. You don’t have to miss out on eating out, but you can make informed decisions about your spending ahead of time so you can enjoy your time at the restaurant without feeling the stress of overspending. Also discuss ahead of time if you are going to order drinks or appetizers; if one person wants to save, and the other person wants an expensive beer, this can create an awkward and upsetting moment when the waiter asks for a drink order and you have separate spending goals.
4. Involve your kids
Setting limits is an important part of being parents, and kids will learn not to expect drinks or other extras if you make it a regular part of your routine. Let them know the limits ahead of time. Give them a choice between an appetizer or a dessert if you are celebrating a special occasion, or tell them they can only order their meal.
You can also save money by going to kid-friendly restaurants that take coupons, offer kids-eat-free deals, or discount meals for kids when parents order an adult meal. Most of these restaurants are fun for kids, so your kids won’t mind that you are getting a deal. You can search for deals for kids here.
5. Get filled up
When you go out to eat, it can be tempting to order fun drinks and appetizers, but these often won’t fill you up with the nutrients you need. If you choose to purchase tasty restaurant foods that actually fill you up, you will end up spending less money because you won’t have to order more food to feel full. Obviously, if you choose to order a filet mignon in order to get your protein, you will be paying for the quality of meat, so you will still want to choose affordable choices. If you order bread or pasta, choose whole grain options when possible. Order vegetables without butter so that you get the nutrients without the added fat. Milk products also help you feel full, as do fish and meats.
Don’t assume that you are saving lots of money by eating regularly at fast-food restaurants. While doing so once in a while might save you money, many fast food restaurants use ingredients that are addictive without being nutritious, so fast-food items might fill you up temporarily but they won’t give you what your body really needs, and may leave you wanting to go back again quickly.
Going out to eat is definitely fun, and you don’t have to avoid it completely. Instead, avoid ordering extras, or overspending; if you can do this, you can eat out without feeling too guilty.