Eating Out At Restaurants: The Ultimate Guide To Spending Less

eatingoutatrestauranttheultimateguidetospendingless.jpgEating out is great isn’t it?

No cooking, no cleaning, no groceries, and no hassle -- what’s not to love?

There’s just one problem: eating out is expensive. Ok, two problems. Restaurant meals often aren’t as healthy as a home cooked meal either, but they sure taste good!

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to make the bill that comes at the end of your meal a lot more palatable so you can eat out more often without feeling nearly as guilty, or just pocket the extra dough for something else you enjoy.

Here’s how you do it:

Related: Do You Splurge?

Combine As Many Discounts As You Can

There are literally tons of ways to get discounts on restaurant meals if you are a little bit flexible about where you eat and you put some effort into finding the discounts. The biggest savings come when you are able to stack several discounts together to really cut your costs.

Premium Coupons

The best coupons and discounts for restaurants usually come from premium paid coupon books or services. Sure, you spend a nominal amount up front, but you can often make up the cost of the coupon book after just one visit. Trust me; the cost is worth the saved hassle of trying to find good discounts elsewhere!

  • The Entertainment Book - most major cities in North America have an Entertainment Book that is full of discounts on restaurants and other fun stuff. Coupons are often buy 1 get 1 free, free appetizer or dessert, or a large percentage discount when you make a minimum purchase. They also have an app if you don’t like carrying the coupons around with you. Get one for your city here.
  • Region specific coupon books - here in Atlantic Canada we are lucky to have the Johnny’s 2-for-1 Coupon Book, which is expensive to buy at $45, but is exclusively filled with buy one get one free offers. There is typically at least one coupon for an entree, sometimes two, and often additional coupons for an appetizer and a dessert. Keep your eyes out for people using coupon books in your area so you can find out where to get one yourself.
  • Discount cards - similar to coupon books, some places have discount cards, like Peelers in Atlantic Canada, that give you a wallet-sized card to carry around with little discount stickers for big discounts. These cards typically cost around $10 and can often be purchased from kids or groups doing a fundraiser and sometimes online as well.

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Group Buy & Daily Deal Sites

Although daily deal sites have decreased in popularity in recent years they are still a viable way to find big discounts at restaurants you may not have tried yet. Deals are often up to 50% off or more. You simply pay for your meal in advance through the site, and then bring your coupon to the restaurant and enjoy your meal. If you don’t order any extra, all you need to do is leave a tip.

More on this: My List Of All The Best Daily Deal Sites For Canadians

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Yelp Deals

Yelp is the most popular dining and restaurant review site on the internet. I personally like to use TripAdvisor for some reason, but Yelp has definitely taken over as the top dog. I also recently discovered they have “Yelp Deals” which are big discounts offered by restaurants to try and attract Yelp users to their business.

Deals are often for up to 50% off or more like spend $15 for $30 worth of food.

Here’s how you find all the deals in your area:

  1. Go to Yelp.ca.
  2. In the Near search box put the city you want to search in and click search.
  3. When the search results appear click the Offering Deal checkbox in the list of filters.
  4. The list will automatically update to show only restaurants that are offering deals.
  5. Click the restaurant name you are interested in and there will be a green Buy Now button to purchase the deal.
  6. You can also do the same thing using the filters in the Yelp app.

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FourSquare Specials

FourSquare is a service that helps you discover great restaurants, places, and businesses that other people love. People “check in” to their favourite spots and in doing so give their vote of confidence to that place as a great place to go. You can also leave reviews and see what others are saying about the joint.

Similar to Yelp, businesses can offer coupons, specials, and discounts to FourSquare users that typically require you to check in at their business on FourSquare to claim the special. You can easily browse for specials both in your web browser and using the app and checking in with the app is a breeze using GPS technology.

Here’s how you spot specials on the web:

  1. Go to FourSquare.com.
  2. Click the first search box which will produce a drop down list. Select Specials from the list.
  3. Select the correct city in the second search box and click the search button.
  4. A map with a list of all the specials being offered in the region will appear which you can further filter as needed.

Here’s how you do it in the app:

  1. Download and run the FourSquare app on your smartphone.
  2. It will automatically detect your location the first time you run it.
  3. Click the little … menu at the top right.
  4. Click the Specials button that appears.
  5. All specials nearby will automatically be listed for you.

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Free Coupons

Free restaurant coupons can be found in a plethora of places. Get out your scissors and special envelope for saving them in and start scouring the following places:

  • Newspapers & magazines - some newspapers and magazines have coupons in them as inserts, in a special section, or included within an advertisement. It might be worth the subscription fee just to get the coupons if you intend to use them.
  • Junk mail & newspaper inserts - before tossing your junk mail directly in the garbage, take 30 seconds and scan it for high value restaurant coupons. You might be surprised at what you find. If you find a particularly valuable coupon and live in an apartment building, pick up a few extra copies from those other tenants who drop them on the floor by the mailboxes. Otherwise, try asking your friends or family for theirs - they probably won’t even know it was there and certainly won’t miss it.
  • Restaurant website - while checking out the menu online for the next restaurant you want to visit, take a minute to see if they have any coupons available.
  • Restaurant social media - businesses love to use social media to attract customers. Follow your favourite restaurants on Facebook, Twitter, etc and see if they post any coupons or discounts. You can also just take a peek at their social media pages before you head out the door if you don’t want your social media feeds cluttered up.
  • Restaurant emails - newsletter subscribers are highly valuable to businesses and they often reserve their best offers for the people signed up to receive their emails. Consider giving your email address to those restaurants you love most and see what lands in your inbox. Be sure to set up an email filter to put those emails into a “deals” folder so you can check them once every few days. That way they won’t turn into a major distraction. One of the better newsletters is the Dairy Queen Blizzard Fan club that gives you a BOGO blizzard for signing up, another one on your birthday, and 6 more interspersed throughout the year (they may have discontinued the extra 6 free BOGO blizzards, I’m currently testing this).
  • Internet search - simply typing the name of the restaurant into a search engine along with the word “coupon” or “discount” can yield a positive result. Try adding the current year or word “forum” to get a different set of search results if your first search is fruitless.
  • Phonebook - yes, some people still use a phone book. Before tossing yours in the trash or lighting it on fire in your fireplace, take a quick flip through it to look for coupons. People still using phone books are often high value customers, so you might find an awesome coupon or two.
  • ValPak - ValPak delivers junk mail coupons directly to your house but they also have a website where you can print coupons any time you want.
  • RedFlagDeals Local - if you set your location in RedFlagDeals you can find all sorts of coupons and local offers in your area. Click this link to set your location and automatically be redirected to restaurant coupons in your area.
  • More sites that list restaurant coupons:

Related: How To Make A Coupon Binder

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Discounted Gift Cards

Restaurants are a luxury, so often people want to unload restaurant gift cards they might receive as gifts, as a bonus through work, or from some other way for actual cash. That means they will turn to places like Ebay, gift card trading sites, forums, Kijiji, and Craigslist for selling those gift cards to other. Of course, they can’t sell them for face value or nobody would buy them so they have to discount them, sometimes by as much as 40-50%, to find a buyer.

Buying gift cards from other people isn’t the only way to score heavily discounted gift cards either. I’ve written a lengthy article on another blog (Boomer & Echo) that goes into great detail on how you can hack gift cards for big discounts when you can read in its entirety by clicking the link below. The best part is that gift card discounts easily stack with any other promotion or discount you can find for added savings.

More on this: 12 Ways To Find Cheap Gift Cards

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Earn And Redeem Rewards

Canadians love their rewards, and restaurant chains are no exception. There is often some sort of rewards program you can take advantage of while dining out.

  • Open Table - is a great website and app that lets you reserve a table at participating restaurants quickly and easily. The best part is that you earn 100 reward points every time you make a reservation. You can then redeem 2,000 points for a $26 dining cheque that can be used at any Open Table restaurant. Even better, there are occasional promotions where you can earn 1,000 points for a single reservation at specific restaurants.
  • Restaurant specific rewards - rewards programs are becoming a little more scarce at individual restaurants. Subway used to have stamps and Boston Pizza used to have Air Miles but both of those are gone now. When you visit a new restaurant, just keep your eyes open for promotional evidence of a rewards program or ask your server if they have one. Here are a few spots I know still have them:
  • Redeem points for restaurant gift cards - many rewards programs offer gift cards and gift certificates as a redemption options. Your credit card rewards program, Aeroplan, and Air Miles are all good places to check among many others. If you have no better use for the points, redeeming them for a night out at a restaurant is a decent option, just make sure you aren’t destroying the value of your points by doing this.

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Credit Card Reward Bonuses

There are only few Canadian credit cards that give you more points or rewards when you dine out at restaurants, but it can certainly help your rewards grow much faster if you eat out regularly. These are the ones I know of:

  • SimplyCash™ Card from American Express®
    • 5% cash back for 6 months on restaurants, gas, and groceries.
  • Capital One Platinum Costco MasterCard (no annual fee)
    • 3% cash back at restaurants.
  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa ($120 annual fee)
  • Double points at restaurants.

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Credit Card Specials

A lot of credit cards will offer some sort of exclusive entertainment program that gives you special access to events and often discounts on restaurants, travel, and entertainment. Sometimes these are associated with credit card type (American Express, MasterCard, Visa), the class (platinum, world, world elite, infinite, infinite privilege, etc), issuer (CIBC, RBC, TD, BMO, Scotia, etc) or the individual card itself.

Here are some that I know of:

  • American Express Global Dining Program
    • Discounts and freebies at specific restaurants around the world.
  • MasterCard Priceless
    • Exclusive offers and discounts in specific cities including specific restaurants.
    • Any MasterCard holder can sign up for the program.
  • Visa Perks
    • This used to be its own website but they’ve changed it to just be the Visa Facebook page. However, all the recent posts are special discounts you can get for using your Visa card like a free movie ticket at Cineplex.com. Watch the feed for restaurant deals.
  • CIBC Bonus Rewards
    • Bonus points for dining and shopping at specific locations.
  • TD Bonus Rewards
    • Up to 3x bonus Aeroplan miles on dining and retail purchases.

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Get Appy, Be Happy

There are several great apps that allow you to find both great sales as well as discounts and coupons on restaurants. I already talked about Yelp and FourSquare apps above, but there are definitely more to choose from.

  • RedFlagDeals App - similar to the website, you can see coupons for restaurants in your area by click the menu, then Coupons, then Restaurants.
  • Yellow Pages App - Yellow Pages is a great place to get restaurant and business listing and they also have a Deals section at the bottom of the main screen of their app that shows deals available in your current area.
  • ValPak App - ValPak also has an app so you don’t have to print the coupons from their website. You can just show the vendor the coupon on your phone to get the same savings.
  • OpenTable App - you can make reservations and earn rewards points using the app the same way you can, using the website.

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Birthday Freebies

Having a birthday is a great way to get freebies at restaurants. Many of them will send you a free appetizer, special discount coupon, or even a free meal on your birthday. The problem becomes being able to take advantage of all these great offers in such a short period of time.

One possible solution is to fib a little bit about your actual birthday to spread the offers out a bit, but if they want to check your driver’s license then you might a little red faced when paying the bill. I usually just try and take advantage of a few offers during the week of my birthday and call it a good day.

Here’s a couple of great resources for finding birthday freebies:

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Receipt Surveys

Many restaurants want to know what their customers think about their services and their food so often you will find a code or link at the bottom of your receipt where you can fill out a quick survey. Doing so will often get you a discount on your next visit, or a small free gift like a free cookie at Subway.

Take a quick glance next time before you toss your receipt in the trash. If it’s a restaurant you visit often, you might try doing the survey once, even if a discount isn’t mentioned, just in case they want to surprise those customers that take the time to help them out.

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Student Discounts

Restaurants love to give students a break both because they know they are broke and because they want to develop your tastes towards their food and their brand while you are young and impressionable. Ultimately they’re hoping they will get a customer for life out of the deal. Simply ask at your favourite restaurants if they offer a student discount.

A better option might be to get a student price card that has a lot of student offers all bundled into one and you’re only eligible for them if you have the card. You can see the list of all their dining offers on this page.

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Seniors Discounts

Similar to student discounts, senior discounts are very prevalent as everyone knows seniors are often on a restricted budget during their retirement years. A good thing to be aware of is that the age when you start to qualify for these discounts often ranges from 55 to 65 years of age so you’ll want to check that first to make sure you qualify. Ask your server at your favourite restaurants if they cater to seniors in this way.

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Dinner & A Movie

Restaurants that are close to movie theaters will often have dinner and movie combos that can provide some really good value. For instance, where I used to live there was a restaurant that would allow you to purchase as many $7 movie vouchers as you wanted whenever you ate supper there. They also had combos that included multiple free movie vouchers at prices that felt reasonable for just the food alone. If you like going to the movies, pop into the restaurants near your local cinema and see what deals they might have.

More on this: Get A Great Deal On Movies Tickets

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Choose The Right Restaurant

A big part of how much your meal will cost depends upon the restaurant you choose to dine at. I know it sounds obvious, but people probably don’t put as much thought into this as they should. Here are some common sense tips for making the right choice.

Filter By Price

Make use of the popular restaurant review sites and apps to filter restaurants according to price. They normally will categorize each restaurant broadly based on how expensive it is, so a good strategy is to search only for the cheapest and medium priced restaurants and then seek out the best rated places to try in that bunch. These are the most popular sites and apps to use:

  • Yelp
  • UrbanSpoon
  • Restaurant Finder
  • Trip Advisor
  • FourSquare

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Consider Lower End Restaurants

Similar to filtering based on price, you can focus on lower end restaurants in different categories than traditional sit down restaurants. This could be street food or a food truck that is known for its quality. Or, it could be a diner or mom & pop shop that doesn’t have a lot of pomp and flare but serves excellent home cooked meals.

There are also some excellent premium fast food restaurants out there that are typically much cheaper but still super yummy. The Costco food counter is another great place to get a lot of greasy but delicious food at a very low cost. Have you tried their poutine? Delicious!

Get creative and see how much you can save without sacrificing much!

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Tips Aren’t Always Required

There are a lot of restaurants these days where they have a pick up counter, buffet, or serve yourself arrangement where you either don’t have to leave a tip or can leave a reduced tip. At 15-20% of the bill, the tip is a significant expense that can be easily avoided while still getting a satisfying meal out that you don’t have to cook.

Another way to avoid the tip is to arrange for takeout instead of dining in and you don’t necessarily have to eat at home either. Instead try taking the food to a nearby park for a picnic or throw down the tailgate and gaze up at the stars while chowing down.

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Focus On Value

There are all kinds of restaurants out there from the uber fancy to the common family restaurant. Sort through them and consider which ones offer true value. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are the portions large enough that you don’t need to order an appetizer and dessert?
  • Is there one that has cheaper soft drinks, coffee or alcohol to bring the bill down?
  • Do they throw in any freebies along with the meal to give you a better experience without costing any more?
  • Do they have a good selection of items on the menu that aren’t over-priced but are still delicious and filling?
  • What’s important to me when dining out to me and what don’t I care about?

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Free Starters Are Nice

Nothing creates a great first impression more than when you sit down and are immediately served some fresh bread or some other type of mini appetizer for free. If they go the extra mile to make sure the bread is hot and spiced, then it is sure to stick out in my mind for a very long time.

Having a free starter like this allows you to avoid appetizer and dessert temptation, focus on the main course, and still leave full and satisfied.

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Pick Your Time To Dine

Supper is the most popular time to eat out, other than grabbing a quick lunch while at work, but reconsidering what time you choose to dine can significantly reduce your bill. This doesn’t necessarily just mean the time of day either, but can also mean the day of the week or the month of the year.

Cheap Days

Believe it or not, there are cheaper days of the week to eat at restaurants because, like most businesses, there are days when business is slower. Tuesday and Wednesday tend to be those days for restaurants because people are busy with work and life on those days and aren’t thinking about winding down or taking a break at a restaurant.

True, the menu prices are typically still the same on slower days, there are often specials, coupons, or menu inserts that are only applicable on these days.

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Choose Breakfast Or Lunch Over Supper

Breakfast and lunch are usually much cheaper than supper at most restaurants and sometimes for the same exact food. There is usually a difference in the menu and smaller portions for lunch that are catered to busy people who have a limited time to dine.

However, the experience is still generally the same and the portions large enough to leave happy. Opting to eat a large lunch, especially while travelling or enjoying a day off, can be an excellent way to save money. That way you can just have a light snack or supper that you prepare yourself later because you are still quite full from lunch.

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Early Bird Specials

3 to 4:30pm isn’t a particularly popular time to go to a restaurant so some places, especially higher class ones, might offer an early bird special that combines multiple courses for a bundled price or that gives some other kind of discount. This is a great way for them to get in an extra seating and serve more customers and it is a great way for you to enjoy a meal you might otherwise make your stomach turn when the bill comes.

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Happy Hour

Similar to early bird specials, restaurants and bars often have a happy hour when prices of menu items are reduced. The funny thing about happy hour is that it has evolved in such a way that it often doesn’t just apply to drinks and routinely is several hours long instead of just 60 minutes. You’d think they’d come up with a new name for it, but they haven’t yet!

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Meals Go On Sale Too

Restaurants need to drum up business regularly and, like any store, they will offer sales to entice customers to buy. Pay attention to advertising and see what kind of special pricing there is at any given time. Always be flexible and willing to try something new when you see a good deal come along because, hey, why not?

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Seasonal Discounts

Prices vary by time of year just as much as they do by day of the week.

I’ve noticed, for example, that restaurants are always offering fantastic deals just after Christmas in January and early February because people are maxed out from overspending on gifts and need to be enticed to spend even more money at a restaurant. It’s supply and demand and you should always be ready to take advantage of better prices when others are shy about spending money.

The other thing to watch out for are holiday promotions. There is usually some sort of special being offered around all the major holidays that either has a few extras thrown in or a lower cost. This is great because holidays are also a wonderful time to enjoy a nice meal out with family and friends.

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Food Festivals

Many cities have food festivals or restaurant week where local area restaurants either compete, offer great specials at their own locations, or come together at a central location to serve free or heavily discounted food to festival goers. What could be better than free or cheap food and being able to sample many different flavours and dishes all at once? Check your city event listings to see if you can figure out when and where the food festivals are taking place in your city.

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Order With Care

Letting your senses run wild when you are ordering off the menu is a surefire way to run up the bill enormously. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get what you want, after all you are probably eating out to enjoy yourself in the first place, but putting a little thought into it can make a big difference.

Share Your Food

Most restaurants will allow you to share food, so you should take full advantage of this when you can. If you pick a restaurant that is known for larger portions, you can ask for a second plate and simply split the meal in two. If that isn’t quite enough for two, then you can add on a shared appetizer or dessert to make sure you leave satisfied without overeating. Your waistline and your wallet will thank you.

Sharing will not only lower the initial cost, but it will also lower your taxes and your tip by quite a bit. If you do share though, you might consider leaving a slightly bigger tip than normal to make up for the extra person who is being served but not contributing to the bill and thus the size of the tip.

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Look For Value Items

Most restaurants have budget oriented items that are still scrumptious and filling but that cost half as much as some of the other items on the menu. If you always order from the cheaper side of the menu, you will definitely be missing out, but being selective in both price (lower) and portion size (larger) often isn’t that big of a sacrifice.

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Order Hard To Cook Meals

I love ordering steak at a restaurant, but steak might not be the best thing to order because it is so easy to cook at home. Spend a few minutes online learning how to cook the perfect steak and you can enjoy one at home of a third of the cost. However, peking duck, beef wellington, or ravioli made from scratch are probably dishes you won’t be attempting at home. You are getting much more perceived value from ordering those special items, so why not do it more often?

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Skip The Apps & Dessert

80% or more of the experience of dining at a restaurant comes from enjoying the main course. If you go somewhere with decent portion sizes, you won’t leave hungry either. So, why not skip the appetizers and dessert and just slow down and enjoy the main course.

Your final bill will probably be half as much, but you still enjoyed most of the experience. Then, you’ll have enough money leftover to dine out nearly twice as often so you can enjoy the experience even more.

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Appetizers & Dessert Only

Contrary to my previous point, if you always skip ordering appetizers and dessert they will probably eventually start calling your name really loudly because it will feel like you are missing out.

Why not skip the main course sometimes too and just order an appetizer and dessert? That way you get try a completely different dining experience and not stuff yourself to overflowing in the process. It makes for a nice light meal with a twist.

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Eat Dessert On The Road Or At Home

Dessert is usually pretty easy to get somewhere cheaper than at the restaurant and they usually don’t involve a lot of extra work. Store bought desserts are often just as good as restaurant desserts at a fraction of the cost so pick one up on the way home or make a pit stop at a cheap ice cream stand to top off the meal with a sweet sensation.

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Don’t Order Too Much

You should always attempt to order just enough food so that you don’t waste any but aren’t leaving hungry either. It’s obviously common sense, but still it’s still a very common ordering mistake. If you are new to the restaurant, try to get a sense of the size of the dishes you will be ordering by asking your server.

Paying for food you can’t possibly eat or feeling queasy from over filling yourself just aren’t very attractive options.

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Doggie Bag Your Leftovers

Sometimes ordering too much food is unavoidable despite your best efforts. It can even be a decent money saving strategy to order something large enough that you’ll have enough for lunch or supper the next day.

Whatever you do, don’t leave the leftovers on the plate! Get them to go and save yourself the cost of preparing a meal at home or eating out again when you don’t need to.

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Don’t Forget The Specials

Remember to glance at the specials blackboard and ask your server about any daily specials to see if there are any savings to be had there. Often specials will be a regular menu item that are discounted slightly, which is great. However, other times they are just a unique dish that is being featured and rarely it is the same exact dish at the same exact price listed in the menu. If something strikes your fancy, do a quick check of the menu to look for the regular price to see if you are actually getting a deal.

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Bar Pricing

Eating at the bar can be more economical than dining in the restaurant section and many places have nice tables in the bar area too. The reason for this is there is sometimes a special bar menu that either has different, less expensive, menu items or even the same menu items for a lower cost. There might also be food and drink specials that don’t exist in the regular menu.

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Snack Before You Go

Having a quick snack before you head out for a meal a la carte can encourage you to stick to ordering lighter fare that comes with an equally lighter price. This may seem a bit like defeating the purpose, but if your goal is to have a cheap night out, it can certainly help.

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Cost Control The Kids

Taking an entire family out to eat a restaurant on a regular basis might just break the bank! You need to go into super cost cutting mode if you want to do this on a regular basis without raiding your kids’ RESPs to do it.

Kids Eat Free

Looking for places that will give your kids a free meal when accompanied by a full paying adult is a great way to lower costs. Here is a great list of family restaurants where kids meals are free.

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Skip The Kids Meals

Kids meals are often less healthy than standard restaurant meals and can be quite pricey at some establishments too. If your kids are young enough, a better option is to ask for an empty plate for your little ones and just serve them a little bit from the adult plates.

This will avoid a lot of wasted food as you can keep adding to their plate as necessary instead of throwing out 75% of an oversized barely touched kids meal and avoid a lot of wasted money too. Just try to order something that the kids will have a chance at liking and that is on the larger side so you’re not left with a grumbling tummy.

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Leave The Kids At Home

The best way to avoid paying for the kids is not to bring them at all. Sure, you’ll want to treat them to a meal out sometimes, but you also need that adult time away too so why not lessen the bill at the same time?

Try setting up a kid swap with some friends who also have kids so you can drop your kids off at their place on the way to the restaurant and return the favour for them sometime when they are in need. Another great thing to do is engage the grandparents or aunts and uncles for some free baby sitting services while mom and dad head out for a night on the town.

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Don’t Drink And Dine

Drinks, especially of the alcoholic variety, are deathly expensive at restaurants. The markup is huge for what you are getting compared to the food. Think about the amount of effort involved in preparing and service a drink when compared to preparing and serving a wonderful meal. Scary thought isn’t it?

Drink Water

Committing to drink water while eating out is one of the biggest things you can do to save money. My advanced statistical analysis tells me that 98.6% of the enjoyment of eating out at a restaurant comes from the atmosphere, the food, and the lack of work involved so why pay for overpriced drinks that really don’t add a whole lot to the experience anyway?

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Use The Trunk Bar

You read that right, trunk bar.

By keeping a few bottles of water or your favourite drink in the trunk to grab when you are going through the drive through or getting a quick bite to eat outside, you can avoid purchasing overpriced soft drinks or bottled water from restaurants. It’s an easy way to save a couple of bucks again and again.

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Drink Before You Go

A ubiquitous strategy of poor college students everywhere is to have a few drinks before you leave the house to either go to the club or to the bar. Try doing the same thing when going to a restaurant so you can nurse a single drink there or maybe skip the drinks all together. If you’re paying $12 per cocktail, this adds up quickly.

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Bring Your Own Wine

Many finer restaurants will allow you to bring your own wine. This is both for people who are wine connoisseurs so they can always have their favourite brand, or those people who can’t fathom paying tens to hundreds of dollars for a nice bottle of wine at a restaurant.

Just be sure to call and ask if this is permitted beforehand and what the corkage fee is, if any, for doing so. If they give you the go ahead, feel free to grab your best $6 bottle on the way out the door!

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Plan To Succeed

As with most things in life, fail to plan and plan to fail. If you don’t put a little advance thought into your restaurant going experience you are going to pay through the nose when you really don’t have to.

Have A Strategy

No one person could possibly use all of the money saving ideas in this article at the same time and you might even find some of them distasteful. However, you should put together a list of a few ways you can save money eating out on a regular basis and discuss these things with your significant other or family.

If you come up with a solid strategy, you can then reuse this same strategy over and over again so that it will continually pay dividends every time you darken the doors of a dining establishment. Everyone being on the same page is priceless.

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Know Your Limits

Deciding ahead of time your boundaries for eating out will help you stick with the plan and prevent splurging. For instance, you could make a real commitment to only drinking water when eating out or never ordering dessert. Whatever it is, make it crystal clear so that it’s easy to stick with the program when you see the dessert cart passing by.

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Browse The Menu At Home

Almost every restaurant has their menu online these days, so take a minute and pull it up on your computer or phone so you have a little time to think about the choices and what the best budget friendly things to order are. It’s easy to miss something that will give you really good value when you’re in the moment and the server is ready to take your order.

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Tip Appropriately

One thing to remember in all of this is that you should tip well for the service you receive. I, personally, am not a fan of tipping because I think people should be paid well and adequately for the jobs they do in any industry, including the service industry. In my opinion, doing your job well IS what you are being paid for.

However, this is often not the case because tipping is ingrained in our culture and servers are often underpaid by their employers. Fortunately, here in Canada we at least pay our servers minimum wage, or close to it so if they get stiffed on the tip they won’t be flat broke like they would be in the United States.

What am I trying to say? In short, if you stack coupons, discounts, sales, and share a single meal with four people, please still tip as if you had paid the full menu price (or close to it) for all the people at the table. It still takes the same amount of work to serve you, if not more, when you do this so the tip should reflect that. Don’t be afraid to whip out your smartphone calculator if you need help. Your server will definitely appreciate it!

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Comments

Daniel (SaveWithDan.ca)'s picture

For some reason I feel that Foursquare is not that popular here in Montreal. We used to use it a lot in Brazil to find nice places and score deals, but here it's more "tourist" things and the deals are usually lame.
This post should be at Wikipedia! You put a lot of work writing this, Stephen! Nice job!

April 21, 2015 @ 8:54 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Thanks Dan, I put a lot of effort into this one for sure. I hope it will help people save money on their restaurant visits for years to come!

April 21, 2015 @ 10:59 am
My Own Advisor's picture

Wow, killer post.

Some good tips here Stephen for folks that dine out frequently.

Will share :)
Mark

April 21, 2015 @ 9:14 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Awesome Mark, thanks for stopping by. Do you guys dine out much at all?

April 22, 2015 @ 12:48 pm
Becky
Becky's picture

When growing up, it was a rule in our house that when we would go out to eat, unless it was included in the meal, we were to skip the appetizer, dessert, or drink. We got a yummy main course, with water. We accepted this (for the most part!), because our parents explained that eating out was costly. We cut down on the costs and yet still ate out fairly often. Plus, we usually ate out for breakfast since at that time, it was dirt cheap. Very economical and yet super enjoyable.

April 27, 2015 @ 1:52 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

That sounds like a good strategy that would cut down on the costs a lot. Doing something simple like that is sometimes all it takes to save a bunch of money but still enjoy the experience.

April 27, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

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