For those looking to cut back on their spending, eating out is a prime target. While there are some people for whom eating out has become a lifestyle, we all know that it is totally optional! This post will help you find ways to cut back on how much money you spend on eating out as well as get more for the money you do spend. Planning in this area will pay off big time in forestalling buying convenience food or take-out or over-ordering at a restaurant.
As in the grocery spending reduction post, the tips herein will fall into three broad categories:
- don’t eat out
- cut back
- spend less
People who prefer abrupt, drastic change should start at the beginning of the list and work toward the end and people who prefer slow, gradual change should work from the end to the beginning.
Don’t Eat Out
You don’t need to eat out. Ever. Stick to groceries and use the spending-reducing strategies I outlined to keep those costs down, too. I don’t mean to say that you can’t go out – I often go to restaurants and bars with friends and abstain from ordering anything. (This doesn’t take as much willpower as you might think.)
I believe that eating out as an occasional treat is a part of a balanced budget, and I have no qualm with people who are meeting all of their financial goals and choose to outsource cooking and clearing up. But if you aren’t meeting your goals or are in debt, I think Dave Ramsey’s “you don’t see the inside of a restaurant unless you’re working there” is on the more realistic side of the spectrum.
Try an eating-out fast for a month – resolve to spend zero money on food cooked outside your home. Invite friends over for food or find ways to see them that don’t involve food. Brown-bag your lunch, even when eating with coworkers. Recapture the special-ness of eating out!
When you do choose to eat out, there are a myriad of options for ordering less expensive food.
- order an appetizer or salad instead of an entrée
- order a la carte instead of a combo dish, eliminating the components you don’t want
- skip the alcohol
- actually, just stick to water
- split food with your dinner companions
- don’t order appetizers or desserts
- choose less expensive dishes such as vegetarian, pasta- or rice-based, pork or chicken
- ask for half your dish to be packed up before it’s served to you to take home (at least you defray the cost of a second meal)
- meet friends for coffee or dessert instead of an entire meal
An option less dependent on deprivation is to simply pay less for the food you would have ordered anyway.
- use daily deals sites (Living Social, Groupon) to find coupons for restaurants you planned to patronize anyway
- buy gift certificates from Restaurant.com to restaurants you frequent to get $25 of food for $10 (or for about $2 if you find coupon codes)
- buy a coupon book for your city
- participate in mobile check-ins (Foursquare)
- eat at off-times and order from a prix fixe menu (e.g. Sunday night)
- go out during your city’s Restaurant Week
- “Like,” follow, or subscribe to your favorite restaurants for birthday deals and promotional coupons
- go out for lunch instead of dinner to restaurants with lunch portions/menus
- pay for yourself only – don’t split checks evenly with your companions or pick up someone else’s meal
- patronize restaurants with free or reduced-price meals for kids on certain evenings
- order take-out instead of dining in and save on extras, drinks, and tip
- student discounts!
What’s your favorite tip for cutting your eating out budget? Have you gone through a period when you at out quite rarely? How do you use restaurant deals and gift certificates without inducing additional spending?