Being frugal doesn’t have to mean beans and rice every night!
Here are some of our favorite ways to eat out, enjoy a drink, and stay on budget.
1. Have dinner at home, then get dessert and drinks out.
Instead of eating your whole meal out, eat a quick dinner at home, then go out afterward for drinks and dessert.
Save even more if you combine this tip with #7 and #8.
2. Eat out at lunchtime instead of dinner.
Why does your date have to be at night? Weekend lunch dates are cheaper!
At Olive Garden, you can get a lunch entree combo with Fettuccine Alfredo for only $7.99, instead of the dinner entree of the same thing for $12.99.
This means you save $4.99 just by eating lunch instead of dinner. Plus, you’ll have less competition for reservations and less wait time at the same places everyone else is dying to get into at 6pm.
3. Use Raise.com and save 12-15% on your meal.
Raise is another great option for saving money on your favorite restaurants. The best part is that unlike other options, you can purchase a gift card for an amount you think you’ll use.
Raise has a ton of different places you can buy gift cards for, though mostly national chains.
4. Get 50%-off gift cards on Restaurant.com.
Want to automatically save 50% on your night out?
Buy a Restaurant.com gift card for your favorite local place! There are less options, but the discounts are deep if you find one for your city.
5. Share one entree between the two of you.
Most restaurants have portions that are way too large for one person anyway.
So, a clever way to save money is to split the entree! Most places will even give you two plates!
TIP: Fill up on the free bread, chips or whatever complimentary appetizer they offer.
6. Get discounted gift cards at Costco.
Costco isn’t known for discounted gift cards, but you can save a ton if you buy them there.
For example, Costco recently ran a promotion where you could get a $100 Red Lobster gift card for only $63! This is great because you can literally just go pick up your gift card, no voucher or printed paper required.
7. Go out to eat during happy hour.
During non-peak hours (before and after the dinner rush), most restaurants have specials such as half-priced drinks and appetizers, which cuts costs. For example, Applebee’s offers $3.50-$4 drinks and half-priced appetizers from 9pm-12am. This really helps when you’re going to be drinking along with your meal.
TIP: Use your discounted Costco gift cards during happy hour!
8. Drink water (have a glass of wine at home later!)
If you’re not going out during happy hour, one sure way to save money is to skip the drinks.
Water is free, but we all know a couple glasses of wine or bottles of beer really add up. (The average cost of a glass of wine when you’re eating out is $4-8!)
You can usually buy a good bottle of wine at the store for the cost of a couple glasses eating out, so buy your bottle beforehand and snuggle on the couch while you enjoy it at home after dinner.
9. Go on “kids eat free” nights for cheap family eats.
Eating out is pricey enough, but add in those kid’s meals (and smoothies, and extra fries…) and the cost adds up quick!
Knowing which restaurants offer free kids meals on which days can save you a ton of money. For example:
- IHOP: Frequently runs promotions for free kids meals.
- Red Robin: Kids 3 and under eat free on Tuesdays.
- Pizza Hut: Kids eat free on Tuesdays.
- Qdoba Mexican Grill: Kids eat free on Sundays and Wednesdays.
- IKEA: On Tuesday, kids 12 and under eat free.
- Denny’s: Kids eat free on Tuesdays from 4-10 p.m.
- Marie Callender’s: Tuesdays and Saturdays kids eat free with a paying adult.
10. Choose an appetizer for your main dish.
Choosing an appetizer instead of an entree is cheaper, plus you’ll probably eat less.
At $2-8 less than an entree, appetizers are a great way to eat out without breaking the bank.
TIP: If you combine this tip with #7, you can save some serious cash eating out!
11. Follow your favorite restaurants on Facebook and Twitter for exclusive deals.
Lots of restaurants offer special Facebook-only deals as a way to encourage you to follow them.
For example, Olive Garden recently notified followers of their “buy one take one” promotion (you buy one entree and get one of the same to take home for free!) on their Facebook page.
Be sure to “like” your favorite places to eat out so you’ll be the first to see when these deals pop up!
12. Shop through Groupon for local deals.
You’ll save on average 30-65% when you buy through Groupon. Plus, they have a lot of offers for local spots if you like to eat local.
For example, if you’re going to visit Portland, right now there’s a deal for 32% off beer, food and growler fills at Fat Head’s Brewery in the Pearl District.
13. Eat out on your birthday.
A lot of places offer special perks and even freebies for your birthday.
And bonus: Lots of places will offer a free birthday dessert if you tell your waiter. You might have to sit through a happy birthday song, but hey, free dessert is free dessert!
You can check our comprehensive guide to birthday freebies to find out exactly what places offer this perk.
14. Instead of paying for an appetizer, fill up on free pre-dinner snacks.
Most restaurants have free chips, bread or fries that they bring out before your meal.
This helps you feel welcome (and makes you less crabby if you’re super hungry). Most places barely even take a hit on these easy pre-dinner munchies, so they’re generous with refills.
Make the most of this by eating your bread as your appetizer. Consider splitting your meal with your partner to save even more!