Eating Out: Frugal Dining

by Miranda Marquit · 10 comments

One of the things I love to do is eat out. There are few things I enjoy more than eating at a restaurant, trying a new dish — and having someone else handle the cooking and the cleanup. However, as is frequently pointed out to me, eating out doesn’t exactly fit with a frugal lifestyle. It’s one of my indulgences, and we can afford it, so I don’t feel too bad about it. But, to keep my conscience from smiting me over the whole thing, there are some things that I do to reduce the amount of money spent on eating out:

Limit Going Out

First of all, it’s not as if we’re going out to eat every day. We try to keep it to once a week. We plan out our menu, and eat most of our meals at home, cooking them ourselves. We have our budget specifically set up to accommodate 5-6 meals out each month. This provides us with a little leeway on going somewhere more expensive, or making an extra effort for someone’s birthday.

Lunch Instead of Dinner

One way to save money on dining out is to go for lunch instead of dinner. Dinner usually costs more than lunch, and you are more tempted to order drinks. Plus, the tip on your bigger check will also be more. Things tend to add up faster when you go out for dinner. Going to lunch can significantly lower your final bill. Plus, for us, it means that we can go on a date while my son is at school, negating the need for a babysitter — which adds to the cost.

Discounted Gift Certificates

Another way to save money on eating out is to get discounted gift certificates. There are a number of sites that offer discounted certificates for chain restaurants, and even for local restaurants. It is possible to pay $15 or $20 for a $25 gift certificate. You can then use it when you go out to eat. Just remember that your tip should be based on the regular price of the meal, and not the discounted price.

Skip Drinks and Dessert

Restaurants often make the most on drinks (especially soft drinks) and dessert. Pass on these expensive items; it’ll save you money and contribute to your health. We usually get water, and sometimes request lemon to add a little flavor. This isn’t much of a sacrifice, since we don’t usually drink much beyond water and milk anyway. If we decide we want dessert, we go to a little local ice cream shop, or the pastry shop. Going to these places gets us superior desserts — without paying as much as getting it at the restaurant.

Take Out

Sometimes, instead of dining in, we call ahead and get take out. That way, we don’t have to include some of the costs that coming with dining in. Sometimes it’s fun just to get take out, and then have a picnic. It doesn’t save a whole lot, but it does reduce the cost of eating out. And it adds a little extra fun to the excursion.

What is your favorite tip for frugal dining?

Bonus Tip:

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

David @ October 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

Limit going out is best. At a restaurant, you have no control over salt and oil and sugar and other ingredients. Salt, especially, is massively overdone at restaurants, as they try to steer people toward buying ore drinks.

Freddie @ Real Estate Investing for beginners October 15, 2010 at 8:56 am

Good list. We don’t eat out very much, but when we do most of your ideas here are observed. Lunch is always cheaper than dinner. However, we do get soft drinks or flavored tea or something because we drink water at home most of the time. So when we go out, this is like a little treat for us.

Joan October 19, 2010 at 6:16 am

My tip for frugal dining is to eat at Magnolia Cafe in Troy Hill. Their food is delicious and very reasonably priced. They do panini sandwiches and soup; coffee and homemade baked goods. They also have frozen soups and other items to take out.

DieterC January 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I don’t like to just have water, especially if the weather is cold – I ask for hot water and bring my own teabags, so I can have a warming drink and my choice of teas. Of course buying in bulk makes tea cheaper, if you store it in a tightly sealed bag or container in a cool dry place. And surprise, teabags are cheaper if you look for the kind that are bagged but don’t have the little string and tag. I can find these in most grocery stores. And I think the loose tea is cheap, as well, especially if you have the little “infuser” holders to make a cupful at a time.

Brian Sorvino January 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm

This website has some really great tips. However, if being frugal is really the goal why not plan a picnic, intimate dinner with candlelight at home, or just dine in fastfood restaurant? Showing up at a restaurant, splitting entrees, and bringing teabags is a little inconsiderate to your server and to other diners who are waiting for tables. These are guests there to experience everything from cuisine to top notch service. I’m not suggesting to stay home, but our desire to be frugal should not be at the expense of another person or establishment designed for “real” dining. Skip the restaurant and find a nice cafe.

Maggie February 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I don’t eat out anymore because of the sodium/sugar/fat content in food. I use my crock pot a lot. I’m a vegetarian so meals can be quite inexpensive. Today I made an eggplant lasagna that was yummy. Bottom layer, thinly sliced eggplant, middle layer left over home made veg chili and top layer thinly sliced eggplant topped with home made marinara sauce. I didn’t add cheese and eggplant was unbreaded, with the skin on. It was very good.No added salt, I love to be able to taste the food, not the sodium. I have enough leftover for a few more meals.

Charles Clarke March 25, 2011 at 6:44 am

Good tips.

If you like, or have to because of work, going to dinner, you can find restaurants that have the same menu/prices during dinner as lunch.

Some of the discounted gift certificate sites have specials where you can pay even less. I’ve paid $2 for a $25 certificate.

ANDROIDFANBOY April 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Many restaurants offer kids eat free w/ the purchase of an adult meal on specific nights. Saves us at least $10 per trip with 2 free kids meals… we have 3 kids and sometimes you can talk the server into a free meal for all of them.

Tanya April 13, 2011 at 6:00 am

That last tip has me confused. What besides maybe drinks (which you already commented on before) do you save on by not eating in the actual resturant? Are you saying you don’t tip on take out?

Brent July 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Tipping on take-out? Seriously? That’s like the tip jars at coffee shops. That never ceases to amaze me. I *stand* for 10 minutes in line to order coffee and then stand for another 5 minutes waiting for it – I deserve the tip. Tips should be reserved for waiters and waitresses who come to your table, take your order, bring your food and drink to you, and clear the table. Now that’s worth the 20%!

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