How to Save Money While Eating Out

I know, it sounds counterintuitive to eat out. Let’s be honest. The most cost-effective way to save money on eating out is to not eat out at all. But this is unrealistic. Most people with some kind of disposable income are bound to eat out at least once per month. If they have more willpower than most, then they may go two or three months without eating out. Since it’s inevitable, let’s go over how to save some money while you do eat out.

Drinks

Unless you’re getting a combo that comes with a drink, you might want to skip the drink altogether. These days, a soda can cost $2 for a refillable glass. Even worse, beer or wine can cost even more. If you’re on a date with a serious relationship (or spouse), you can easily double the cost of drinks. $2 doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when it’s you and a friend, it quickly turns into $4 extra. If you ate out once per month, that’s $48 per year that you’re spending on drinks you may not even have more than one of.

Appetizers

While it may be tempting to get the appetizers, your check at the end will make you sick! An appetizer might run you anywhere between $6 and $8. On the flip side, there is a notion that you can save money by ordering a bunch of appetizers and get full from that. This is not only silly, it’s usually false. There are very few places, like McDonalds, where this may be somewhat true.

Most of the time, appetizers do cost between $6 and $8. Don’t forget how small most appetizers are to begin with. Yes, it seems like $6 is less than the $9.99 burger and fries combo, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth saving $3.99 to get a portion that is usually one-third to half the size of the meal you were going to get.

Dessert

Worse than drinks or appetizers, dessert is another big ripoff. You have to ask yourself, “Do I really want to pay $4 for a dumb piece of cheesecake?” Maybe that $3 piece of pie is looking pretty good about now. Rule of thumb: Don’t order dessert. If you absolutely must have dessert, swing by a grocery store that sells pies for $7 or cheesecakes for $10. This is more than the restaurant charged, sure. But once you realize that you’re paying $3 or $4 for one-eighth of a pie or cake, you start to realize that you’re being charged $32 for that cheesecake or $24 for that pie at the restaurant. Trust me, it’s never that good.

Know Your Restaurant’s Portion Sizes

Much of the time, people try to save money by only ordering what they will eat in the restaurant. Some people do this with take-out, too. You have to do a little research with this tip. There’s a place here in Eugene, Oregon that I absolutely love. It’s called Hawaiian Time. As you can probably guess by the name, it’s a Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant. They have three sizes: Small, Regular, and Alii (“King-sized”).

I always get the Mauna Loa Chicken. All of these meals come with rice and macaroni salad. The small is $6.45, regular is $8.45, and alii is $10.45. Most people would think to not get the alii size because it’s an extra $2. In this case, you want to get the big one for the extra two bucks. Alii is way too big for me. Even when I push myself a little bit I can only eat half of it. Luckily, I have a refrigerator where I can keep my leftovers.

By getting this extremely large amount of food, I’ve doubled the value of it. It lasted me two meals. Therefore, instead of seeing it as paying $10.45 for one meal, in reality, I’ve only paid $5.22 or so for one meal! It’s more than enough for a couple hours without feeling hungry again.

Overview and Challenge

These four tips can save you a lot of money in just one trip. By not ordering drinks, you’ve saved $2. By not ordering an appetizer, you’ve saved $6. By not ordering dessert, you’ve saved another $4. Altogether, you’ve just saved $12. One of the biggest ways restaurants get people to order them is to have the waitress or hostess ask, “Can I get you guys some drinks, maybe an appetizer?” You need to remember to say, “No.” It’s interesting how quickly these little luxuries add up.

I’ve been on dates where we got drinks and then shared an appetizer and dessert. That was still an additional $14 we didn’t need to spend. Especially since our meals were around $10 per person. Instead of spending $34, we could spend only $20 and then have money leftover for something else.

CHALLENGE: Whenever you eat out, find out how much the drink(s), appetizer(s), and dessert(s) you would have gotten would cost. Next, put that money in a jar and write down how much money you saved each time. Do this for at least five times (I recommend six months to one year) and see just how much money you wound up saving. If putting money in a jar is uncomfortable to you, transfer the money to a savings account.

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