Who doesn’t like to go to restaurants? But the downside is the cost.
When you’re trying to save money it’s easy to feel discouraged or deprived. So, here’s how to go out to eat without blowing your budget, because sometimes you need time at a restaurant not only to feed your body but to feed your soul.
When Bob and I were going through financial woes we didn’t go to restaurants at all. No drive thrus, no pizza, no meeting friends for coffee. Nada. I sure missed it, especially after all the years we spent on cruise ships eating that glorious food every day, which leads me to the first tip.
1. Satisfy your restaurant cravings by learning to make your favorite restaurant foods at home. We often make a date night of cooking something outrageous together at home (Baked Alaska, anyone?) which became part of the journey that lead me to writing Divas On A Dime.
2. Save going out for special occasions (neglecting to plan dinner isn’t a special occasion).
3. Save up the money for your splurge in advance and stay within your allotted budget because when you over spend on one single meal it’s no fun to regret it till next paycheck.
4. Choose a restaurant that realistically fits your budget. Most restaurants have their menu available online so you can see the pricing and even decide what to order before you go.
5. Find out if the restaurant you like offers early bird specials, coupons, or discounts. Or purchase an Entertainment Guide for your area for affordable discounts on not only restaurants but lots of other entertainment options.
6. Restaurant portions can be large so consider splitting an entrée and sharing dessert. Or order a couple of appetizers to share. Ask if you can order off the senior’s or kid’s menu for smaller portions and lower prices.
7. When your server offers extras with your meal, like sour cream, avocado or a drink refills, don’t be embarrassed to ask if there’s an additional cost or if it’s included.
8. Drink water with your meal. The mark up on beverages is enormous so make a practice of drinking only water and at some restaurants you’ll have to specify “tap” or “still” water or they’ll bring you bottled water.
9. Lunch is usually less expensive than dinner so make your plans for the afternoon rather than evening.
10. Happy hour is a great time to meet with friends for an inexpensive cocktail without obligating yourself to the cost of dinner.
11. Go out for dessert. Many of my most memorable evenings out with Bob consist of two cups of coffee and a shared dessert. Quiet conversation and people watching. Good times.
12. Have a snack at home to take the edge off your hunger so you’re not ravenous when you get there. Never go to a restaurant so hungry you want every item on the menu or you’re so famished that waiting for your food feels like an eternity. That totally takes the fun out of the dining experience.
13. While you’re enjoying your special outing be sure to focus on pleasures of dining out beyond the food, like getting out of the house, dressing nicely, and not having to do the dishes. Most importantly; time with family and friends.
14. Make sure you get your money’s worth. Have you ever thought about where restaurants make their profits? Average mark up is 3 times wholesale costs or a 300% mark-up. If that surprises you then the 900% mark up on coffee by the big chains should make you forgo your cappuccino. Consider the cost per plate when you order. It costs next to nothing for a restaurant to make a quesadilla, pasta or pancakes (these are also cheap and easy to make at home). Be mindful of food costs to make sure you’re ordering items that are worth the money you pay for them.
15. Make them work for your money by ordering items that are difficult or time consuming to make at home. Things like smoked meats, or fancy desserts. Or foods made with unusual ingredients like certain ethnic foods. Remember you have a professional cook making your meal. Make it worth it.
Don’t be too angry at the restaurant though, according to the National Restaurant Association the national average restaurant profit is only around 4%. Before you restaurants get angry with me, let’s hope you see some new customers who didn’t think they could afford to try your restaurant.
So, can you afford to eat out? That’s between you, your wallet and your waistline, but that’s another post, *wink*.
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