Guest Post: Five Easy Ways To Save When Dining Out

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The following is a guest post from David Bakke.  He is a former manager at a popular restaurant chain. He now writes about saving money on everyday expenses such as food and transportation on the personal finance blog, Money Crashers.

With the current state of our economy, it’s simply a necessity to save as much as you can. As we await the financial fallout from the November election, we need to continue to cut back on the things we enjoy in daily life, such as fine restaurants. Though this can be a difficult expense to trim, there are ways to dine out smartly. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Use a Coupon
Since dining establishments know times are tough and also want to sustain their business, many of them offer restaurant coupons and discounts, either online or in the newspaper. To take this a step further, sign up for deal-of-the-day websites, such as Groupon and Living Social, where you can get vouchers for as much as 80% off normal restaurant prices. These deals typically involve some of the lesser-known places in town, but it’s a great way to discover new eateries. The annual Entertainment Book, which is available in most metropolitan areas, offers buy-one, get-one free coupons for both fine and casual restaurants. It’s sold for around $20 and runs from November to November of the following year.

2. Forgo the Appetizer
Sure, you’re tempted to order some food before your main dishes when dining at your favorite spots. But appetizers, though tasty, are generally a way for restaurants to get the check tally up and increase their profit margins. Plus, you can usually get something at no charge by simply asking for some bread and oil or chips and salsa to get you going. This should more than tide you over until your entrée arrives, and you’ll save a bundle. You can even find other ways to eat for free.

3. Order That Appetizer as Your Entrée
Speaking of appetizers, if you’re particularly enthralled by a certain description, consider having that suffice as your main meal. It’s cheaper, to be sure. And if you’ve seen the massive entrée portions often served at restaurants, it’s also a more manageable size. Even if you tack on a side salad, you’ll frequently still save. Another option is to split a main course with someone in your party – it’s both cost and calorie efficient.

4. Drink Water
Ordering tap water with your meal provides multiple benefits: H20 is always good for you, you avoid having to pay for a beverage (which can increase your bill by upwards of $10 if you’re with the family), and you can more fully savor the taste of your meal with water on the side. Plus, as we all know, sugary sodas, sweet tea, and fruit juices are unfriendly to your waistline and your teeth. Once you decide water is the way to go, make sure the server knows you mean tap, not bottled. And when it comes, fill up on it – then you can take home leftovers.

5. Just Say No to Dessert
Dessert options at most restaurants are delectable – but costly. Again, for the whole party, it could add another $50 to your check, even at some of the kid-friendly family restaurants. If you are craving something sweet, instead of giving in to temptation at the restaurant, stop by the grocery store on the way home for some ice cream, cake, or cookies. You’ll save money and still feel satiated.

Final Thoughts
Don’t discount the power of return business. If you find a restaurant you like, frequent it often. Request your favorite server, chat up the owners, and you just might find an unexpected discount on your tab – anything from comped drinks and appetizers to a yummy dessert and a coupon for your next meal. If restaurants come to count on your business, it’s only good customer service for them to give some “love” back from time to time.

What other ways are there to save on dining out?