The challenges of dining out on a tight budget are nothing new. There are many tried and true tricks to getting some pleasure from dining out, while conserving cash. More and more restaurants are aware that their clientele is strapped for disposable income. Look for those coupons, specials, and gift cards that offer more value for less cash. Consider using rewards points from credit cards or other collaborative marketing for restaurants, local or big chains. It’s all good, if it means you can afford to eat out. The dining-out experience is a nice change of pace that everyone deserves.
Other tricks would include finding the Happy Hour and Early-Bird Specials for the evening trade, and look at the Lunch Specials or Daily Specials on the menus. These are made with special bulk-buys or using promotional deals with suppliers and can be offered at a discount. Check out the recommended Chef’s Specials or the house signature plates.
Speaking of discounts, you may have more than you realize. Many restaurants honor auto-clubs, AARP members, rural electrical co-operative members, active military, regional discount clubs, senior citizens, and others with special discounts. Ask, if you are not sure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Now, it is time to eat. Look over the menu and see if there is something that you can share. If it is a huge portion, sometimes it is worth paying a small fee for an extra plate and just sharing the main entrée. Starters or appetizers can often make an entire meal – at a much lower cost than entrees, which may be more than you want. Ordering the Soup of the Day is a great way to start out feeling less hungry, and it is usually a bargain. Sharing a dessert can be satisfying enough, and a gesture of romance or friendship, as well as a calorie control. And don’t be afraid to ask for a doggie bag, to take what is left home for lunch the next day.
If you are worried about getting carried away, have a light meal before you go out for the evening, to take the edge off of your appetite. Women have done this for centuries to imply what delicate appetites they have. You can also drink a big glass of water before you order, to fill up the empty stomach and fool yourself that you are not as hungry. Add a few of those gratis crackers, and you may not spend as much on the main meal.
Dine out for breakfasts and lunches, rather than prime time. These meals are always less expensive, and often at very nice places where the ambiance is the same any time of day. Or, you may get a discount for just getting carry-out and having an elegant picnic. Many states do not tax carry-out food, but there is considerable tax on the luxury of a sit-down experience.
Just desserts, anyone? Try going out just for the experience of dessert and coffee or tea. It saves a bundle and is just as delightful. There is a scene in the old Midnight Cowboy movie where the two characters, bums really, go into a restaurant and Dustin Hoffman makes lunch – tomato soup from the free catsup and condiments on the table dumped into the hot water for tea, with a side of crackers. This would be taking conservative dining to an extreme, but with a creative approach to the menu and a few preliminary coupon explorations or memberships, you can have that cake and eat it, too, all on a budget.