It seems like every time you blink, a new restaurant opens up for business, hoping to be the next stop on your foodie adventures with promises of an award-winning gourmet meal, exotic fusion cuisine or a super-duper burger. Sure, all these options for dining out on the town can be tempting, but how do they fit into your budget? Here are a few tips to keep your taste buds and your wallet happy.
Be a Foodie on the Cheap
Dine early at Happy Hour
Happy hour isn’t just about 2-for-1 margaritas or $2 beers—it’s also about loading up on half-price appetizers, or even meals, that are finger-licking’ good! If you’re not bothered by an early dinner, you can enjoy a full meal for up to half the price of the dinner menu. Of course, there are apps out there, like Happy Hour Finder, to help you track down the best happy hours in your area. If your stomach’s rumbling, be sure to get to the Happy Hour as soon as it starts so you can take advantage of the discounted menu items before they’re all gone.
Follow your favorites
Sign up to the e-mail newsletter of your favorite restaurants or “Like” their Facebook page, and you’ll be the first to know about special offers, promotions and discounts. If you enter your birth date when you sign up with a restaurant, you’ll often get a coupon for a free meal or dessert on your birthday. You also usually receive a welcome discount or free offer when you initially sign up. But also beware of those sneaky deals that require you to spend a lot on one or more entrees just to receive one free drink or dessert. Definitely not a money saver.
Help yourself with Yelp
Maybe you won’t agree with all the feedback on this popular review site, but Yelp is still a good place to search for dining options suited to your price range. Simply filter your restaurant search by clicking on “Offering a Deal” in the Features list. Once you find a deal you like, for example, $10 for $30 at an Italian restaurant, you purchase this deal online from Yelp and print out the email confirmation you receive to present at the restaurant. Each deal has different terms and validity depending on the restaurants, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.
Just because you can find great deals online, doesn’t mean you can’t still find them offline as well. Do you know those multi-colored glossy inserts that fall out of your Sunday paper? Although many of those coupons will help you save on groceries and other household items, you will always find offers from several restaurants hiding in that pile. Some coupons may not seem to offer a very big discount, but if you’re in a large group of diners, or if you eat out frequently, you will definitely start to see the savings add up. If you’re traveling, don’t forget to pack your fat envelope of coupons. Although some discounts may not be available in every state, you never know until you try.
Get together with Groupon
For those who prefer clicking over clipping, the Groupon site offers daily discounts on restaurants all over the country (and the world). As with any coupon, be sure to read the terms carefully before buying.
Bring your own…
That’s right, restaurants in many cities across the country have a Bring Your Own Bottle policy in place, so you can save a ton on wine when you go out to eat. Instead of paying restaurant prices for a bottle of wine, all you might have to pay is a small corkage fee.
Sharing is saving
Maybe you’re on a diet or maybe the restaurant portions are bigger than your head—whatever the reason, don’t feel bad about wanting to share one dish with your dining companion. Be advised that some restaurants may not allow this act of kindness, or if they do, you may have to pay a small fee.
Have a food truck feast
If you’re looking for a fun and relaxed dining experience, with sidewalk seating or maybe no seating at all, then go track down a food truck (try RoamingHunger.com). Some of the more refined food trucks aren’t necessarily cheaper than eating at a sit-down establishment, but at least you get to watch them make your food, and you can try to get the most bang for your buck by asking for exactly what you want on your burger/taco/sandwich/wrap/etc.
Although the easiest way to save on dining out is to skip the restaurant and cook at home, sometimes you need to play foodie. Take advantage of specials, clip coupons, or track down a food truck for your meal. Instead of hitting up a fast food joint, or biting the bullet and splurging, be a foodie on the cheap.
Looking to do more than save and get rid of your debt? Read our expert guide to find out how.
Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.