Dining Out With a Budget

We’ve heard it all before, you can’t eat out it blows the budget. The first thing to cut to save money is eating out.  Hey! Just because we have a budget and need to watch where the money goes doesn’t mean we need to be martyrs, we still deserve a treat now and then. That’s what dining out is, a treat, a reward, and sometimes even, a coping mechanism. We need to celebrate. We also recognize that sometimes we’re tired and overwhelmed. Here are ways to make dining out more affordable.

Fast Food isn’t Cheap

Have you ever compared the costs? Go to any fast food restaurant and order a burger, fries, and drink and it will cost you $10-$15 depending on the style. You will get enough food for one meal, maybe you’ll have some fries left over. Let’s compare that to Romo’s in Logan, Utah, they’ve been there for years. For $14 you can order the Romonator, their signature burger with all the toppings, and a side (fries, salad, etc). Water is our choice for this comparison because it’s free, but water’s good for you. Okay, we spent a little bit more, but it will feed you twice! I love Romo’s and like to eat there because the food is great and the portions are generous. I quite often can pull almost three meals out of one, I may need to add some rice or salad to that third meal.

You can make the same comparison to any sit-down restaurant versus fast food. Unless you’re paring down the fast food meal to just a junior burger with no fries you can’t beat the price of a regular restaurant. Yes, you should add a tip. Waitpersons work dang hard and most don’t get even minimum wage, tips are supposed to be included. You can avoid the tip without looking bad if you do takeout, just like fast food. You’re awesome if you still tip, even on takeout, but you can do 10-15%. If you are having it delivered, then you’re supposed to tip, but again, it doesn’t need to be as much of a tip.

If you have problems with eating too much the first round because you’re sitting there talking and keep picking at the food in front of you, here’s a great hack. Ask for your to-go box with your order. When the order arrives, start by putting half of your food in the box so you don’t keep eating.

Maximize Coupons and Deals

Many restaurants have discount hours or early bird specials. These are often designed to get people to come during the least busy times. Others will let you order from the kid’s or Senior Citizen’s menu (smaller portion sizes, smaller price tag) even though you are not one. Mondays and Tuesdays are the slowest days for a restaurant, they will often offer the best deals on those days to get you to come.

Coupons can be in the newspaper, online, in the mail, and more. If you live in Cache Valley, the Campus Cash App is a free download and you don’t have to be a student to use it. Just pull it up on your phone and show the deal when you pay for your order. There’s more than just restaurant deals on it, too.

Ask for the best deals. Many restaurants advertise them, but some don’t. It’s hard not to notice the ads for Little Caesars’ $5 hot and ready large pizzas. Arby’s has a section of their menu board that changes with their deals, but they also often offer 4 classic sandwiches for $10 and you may have to ask for it. Other restaurants will give you a deal with your phone number so they can send you text ads (that you can stop receiving after you get your discount).

Don’t be afraid to ask:

  • It’s my birthday/anniversary do you have any specials?
  • I’m a Senior Citizen, do you offer a discount or special menu?
  • Do kids eat free?
  • What’s the best deal you have?

Beware the upsell. An upsell is when a salesperson (waitperson) works to get you to buy something additional to increase the price (and their tip). When you order a steak and they kindly ask if you would like mushrooms and onions, that’s not free. If you are getting a baked potato and they offer cheese and sour cream, there’s another few dollars. Chips, drinks (Would you like lemon with that? It adds to my tip.), dessert, appetizers, etc. all add to the end price.

Avoid Buffets, but…

Buffets charge a premium because you can eat as much as you want and you don’t get to take any home. The best way to save is simply to avoid the buffet, but if you have bottomless pit teenagers to feed they can benefit you.

Tips for maximizing your buffet price point experience include:

  • Make sure you have dessert! Desserts are pricey at restaurants.
  • Avoid the salads, or if you want one make sure you get lots of toppings.
  • Go for the priciest foods. Hint: they normally put them at the end of the section. Often there’s a person there cutting the meat for you, which means it’s $$$.
  • Drink water, it doesn’t fill you up as much as other drinks.
  • Make sure you get small portions so you go back and refill your plate often. The walk encourages you to eat more!

Form a Group

If you just enjoy the experience of eating a meal you didn’t prepare or eating something different, form a group. Get together some friends and trade off meal preparation. You can make it an adult night thing and one of you babysits.

For example, once a month six families are involved. Two families host the kids, they have a game night or movie night and they might make pizza or pick up the $5 pizza deal from Little Caesar’s. Two families cook the meal and host the adults. The other two get the night off to just enjoy a meal cooked by someone else and adult conversation. You can make it a BBQ, something fancy, something new, etc. The next month it rotates, different couples have the kids, different ones cook, and different ones enjoy. You get the picture.

Now you can go out and enjoy a meal without guilt giving you indigestion!