Yes, you can still dine out!
Get Your Dining Out Priorities Straight to Save Money
by April Serock
One of the first and easiest things to cut from a tight budget is eating out, but you don't necessarily have to give up the pleasure of dining out altogether to save money. Prioritize the most important part of the dining experience to you, and you can cut costs without cutting out all of the fun.
If socializing is your favorite part of dining out, then by all means, get your family or a group of friends together at your favorite restaurant. Then order the largest appetizer to share. Nachos are great for this. Salsa Verde Beef Nachos at a national chain like Applebee's cost only $10.29. This is a cheap way to feed your whole clan while still enjoying the restaurant ambience. If you go with friends, split the check, and it becomes a fun, frugal experience for everyone.
If your favorite part of dining out is the elaborate drinks, then order one and savor it. Fun, fancy cocktails like frozen strawberry daiquiris with whipped cream, frozen hot chocolate, or Bloody Marys served with a skewer of olives, cheese, and meat are like a meal (or a dessert) in a glass.
Delicious desserts that often look like a piece of art can be the best part of a restaurant meal, so skip straight to them. You're a grown up now. You can have dessert first if you want. Plus, it will likely taste better if you aren't stuffed from consuming an oversized entree.
If the rib eye steak or the chicken cordon bleu is really what your foodie heart is craving, share an entree. Most restaurants in the United States serve portions that comprise two, three, or even more servings. According to the American Heart Association, a serving of meat is three ounces. At a steakhouse like Texas Roadhouse, the smallest steak you can buy is a six ounce portion, which is double the recommended serving size. The largest steak is a whopping 23 ounces. You could dine on that for a week! Some restaurants charge a minimal plate fee for splitting an expensive dish with another diner, or you could share with yourself. Ask the server to box up half your meal before bringing it to the table. You'll get at least two meals and won't be tempted to eat the whole thing just because it's on your plate.
Make It a Combo
Tried-and-true tips for saving money while dining out still apply as well. For instance, swap water for soda, choose a restaurant where kids eat free if you have little ones, or take advantage of senior citizen or early bird discounts if they apply. Look for coupons or coupon codes before you go. Print the coupon from your computer or the server can scan the coupon or input the code right from your smart phone.
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Take Advantage of "Happy Hour"
Many eateries offer drinks or appetizers (sometimes both) for as much as half off to attract customers during off-hours. It's not limited to traditional restaurants or bars either. Sonic restaurants sometimes have a happy hour and offer half-price ice cream and shakes. Just check their website. Just be sure to stick to the specials because everything else remains regular price. In fact, stores draw you in with the specials hoping you'll purchase a full-price item while you're there.
Look for Free Appetizers
Some Mexican restaurants, for instance, offer homemade salsa and chips to all patrons. Pair those with a small plate, and you have a filling, frugal meal.
You can even combine two or more strategies, like sharing an appetizer during happy hour for even more savings. Just remember that if you're cutting back, you don't need to cut eating out entirely. Simply prioritize your dining out experience to have frugal fun eating food!
Take the Next Step:
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