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A good meal can turn into nausea pretty quickly once you get the bill — especially if you’re feeding the whole family.
Of course, that’s only true if you’re paying regular price to eat out. But that’s not how we do things here.
If you have an appetite for leaner restaurant costs, we’re serving up a hefty dose of savings tips, including where to find coupons, what days are the cheapest, and how to plan your feasting around food holidays.
1. Get restaurant coupons from apps, loyalty programs, and email lists.
The best, most consistent way to get coupons from your favorite restaurants is to sign up for their loyalty programs, apps, and email lists. The vast majority of restaurant chains have at least one of these, and many will give you a freebie right away, just for signing up.
For example, I’ve never had to pay for McDonald’s fries since downloading the McDonald’s rewards app since they always give out free fries with every purchase.
Check out our list of the absolute best restaurant rewards programs.
2. Eat for free all day long on your birthday.
Most restaurants will give you a freebie on your birthday after joining their reward program or by simply telling your server that it’s your birthday.
In many cases, you’ll get the freebie in your restaurant’s app and/or your email. In rare cases, you might have to bring an ID to prove it’s your birthday. Here are just a few of my favorite birthday rewards:
- Buffalo Wild Wings: Free Snack Wings (reg. $10.29)
- IHOP: Free Stack of Pancakes (reg. $7.49)
- Krispy Kreme: Free Doughnut (reg. $1.29) or Coffee (reg. $2.39)
And that’s just the start of all the birthday freebies and discounts you can get.
3. Always plan family dinners around kids eat free promos.
Kids eat free promos are few and far between, but when a restaurant has them, always make sure to take advantage of those deals.
Word to the wise: Even if a chain is known for their kids eat free promos, not every location participates, so make sure to call your local chain restaurant in advance to make sure they are offering it.
For instance, Denny’s has a kids-eat-free meal with the purchase of a regular entree, but you’ll have to call your local Denny’s to find out which day they are offering it.
We know all the kids eat free restaurants so you don’t have to guess.
4. Spend less on smaller portions by splitting large entrees or by ordering from the kids’ menu (if you can).
Sometimes, regular-sized entrees are too much. If you can, try and get a smaller kids’ meal to save money and still feel full. For example, I’ll often go to Red Robin and take advantage of their bottomless kids’ mac and cheese. Yummm.
Kids’ meals are great when they offer significant savings, but you can often get a better deal by ordering a regular entree and splitting it in half. That way, you can get an entree to take home as well — a free meal for tomorrow’s lunch.
When I go to Olive Garden, I’ll ask them to split my entree and put it in a take-home box. That way, I can still take advantage of the never-ending breadsticks and salad as well.
5. If you’re buying for a group, family meal deals will save you at least 40%.
Rather than let everybody pick out their own full-priced entrees, get one of the many family meal deals available to save XX-YY%.
At Olive Garden, Family Style Lasagna (six servings) is $45.99, or $7.67 per serving. Compare to a single portion entree $15.79 per serving — a 51% savings.
Want something a little faster? At Burger King, the BK Family Bundle (3 servings) is $12.99, or $4.33 per serving. Compare to a single portion of $8.18 — a 47% savings.
If you don’t believe us, then take a look at the family meal deal math we’ve done.
6. The best lunch specials at sit-down restaurants happen on weekdays.
Lunch specials are usually only available from Monday to Friday at most sit-down restaurants, and they offer some of the best discounts when compared to their dinner menu.
One lunch menu that I love is the Red Lobster lunch menu since I know I can get 30% off on the soup and salad by ordering lunch instead of dinner.
7. Eat out on Mondays or Tuesdays — because that’s when restaurants offer the best deals.
Mondays and Tuesdays are typically the slowest days of the week at restaurants, so to get you dining in, many restaurants offer the best deals on Mondays and Tuesdays.
8. Get 50% discounts on appetizers and drinks during happy hours.
Whether or not your drink alcohol, you can get deals like half-priced appetizers and discounted beverages during restaurant happy hours. Here are some of the best deals that I’ve seen:
- Applebee’s: half-priced appetizers and $5 specialty mixed drinks. Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close.
- Chili’s: half-priced appetizers and drinks. Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- Uno’s: half-priced appetizers. Monday to Friday from 9 p.m. to close.
9. Get around restaurant coupon limits by splitting the bill with your friends and family.
Most restaurants won’t let you use two coupons on the same meal, but an easy way to hack the system is splitting the check with your friends and family. That way you can use two coupons on the same check.
Last year, I went to Red Robin to claim my birthday burger, but I also had a free burger coupon through the Red Robin Royalty program. I split the check in two and used both coupons. Boom. Two free burgers.
10. Never pay for delivery fees on third-party delivery apps.
I love getting food delivered to my house but hate delivery fees that third-party apps place on their delivery. Luckily, third-party delivery services often waive their fees.
Each of the major services has a deals page that lets you know which restaurants near you are offering free delivery.
11. Save your receipt; many times it’ll get you freebies and discounts.
Whenever I eat out, I always keep my receipt and check to see if it offers surveys or coupons. Surveys usually take around 5 minutes to complete, and they can get you freebies or discounts.
At Tropical Smoothie Cafe, I always ask for a receipt since I can get a smoothie for $1.99 (a 65% discount) on my next visit. And when I get that smoothie, I get another receipt — for another $1.99 smoothie. I’ll never pay full price again.
12. Check your calendar for food-related holidays to get free meals and discounts.
There are so many different food-related holidays scattered throughout the year that will get you freebies and discounts on all kinds of food. Here are some of our favorite food-related holidays:
- National Pizza Day: Feb. 9
- International Pi Day: March 14
- National Burger Day: May 28
- National Donut Day: First Friday of June
- National Coffee Day: Sept. 29
Download the KCL app to be notified of the best deals on every food holiday under the sun.
13. Always pay with a discounted gift card to save at least 5% on top of other savings.
Before I head to a restaurant, I always check to see if I can buy their gift cards from Target to use my 5% discount using my Target RedCard. That way, I’ll always get a 5% discount on top of any other discounts that I use at the restaurant. Yes, please.
It’s just one of the many benefits of having a Target RedCard.
If I can’t find a gift card from Target, I’ll check Raise.com to see if they have discounts as well. Sometimes, they have deals better than 5%, so make sure to check before purchasing your gift cards.
14. Get discounts of at least 60% when you buy restaurant vouchers through Restaurant.com.
When you go to a local restaurant, check out the dining coupons at Restaurant.com to see if they are offering vouchers through the site. In the past, I’ve only had to pay $10 for a $25 certificate — a 60% discount.
It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, but we’ll walk you through how to save money on dining with Restaurant.com.
15. Make alterations to your fast food order to get the freshest food.
I love french fries, but I don’t like old fries that have been sitting out for a while. That’s why whenever I go to a fast food restaurant, I always make alterations to my food. That way, they’ll always make it fresh instead of just taking it off of the resting area.