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7 Cheap Ways To Eat Out On A Limited Budget

We hear the news like a drum beat throughout the day, recession, depression, hard times ahead…  During these tough times, is there still a way to take an occasional break and go out for a meal?  Restaurants are doing everything they can to draw people in.  The most recent stunt was when Denny’s offered a free breakfast on a Tuesday morning recently.  They ended up serving more than 2 million breakfasts on February 3.  I went to my local Denny’s and was almost trampled (see pic below).  I decided to skip the free breakfast in exchange for not being crushed.

Chaos At Denny's by you. 

I posed the question of how to save money while eating out to my followers on Twitter and Facebook.  Today, I will share with you a compilation of their ideas and my own.  The funniest idea I received was from a friend that said a sure-fire way to save money is to accidentally forget your wallet and let a someone else pay the bill.  A strategy that might work until you run out of friends. 


The one lesson I have learned about eating out on the cheap is that the bargains are not always so obvious.  For example, my wife and I learned that the Outback has a special early bird menu.  If you eat there before 6 pm on a weekday, the prices are about half of the regular menu.  I had gone to this same Outback several times before 6pm and no one told me about the discounted menu.  Once we found out about it, we have had to inquire about it on each subsequent visit.  So, there was this great discount but it seemed like it was up to us to ask for it.  The only difference between the exact same menu items at twice the price, were slightly smaller portions.  At some restaurants, you can order from the lunch menu very late in the day (or any time).  This is another variation on the early bird special.  Even if it is dinner, ask for a lunch menu for much better prices.


Good Info in This Video On Restaurant Rebate Programs


1.  Use Coupons 

I am going to give you a couple of sources here.  You should also find out what may be available in your area of the country.  There a hundreds of restaurant coupon programs that are available in local markets.

Entertainment Coupon Book This coupon book can be purchased directly from their website and is available in most major markets.  We have used this coupon book for years.  It is filled with lots of restaurant discounts, including our favorite – the 2 for 1 dinner coupon. is a bit of a spin on the whole coupon idea.  On this website, you buy coupons at a discount from their face value.  The most popular offer is a $25 coupon for $10.  So, you are saving $15 off your meal when you buy one of these and use it.  I have not personally done this yet, but we have a good friend that uses this site on a weekly basis.  I also heard very good things about this from my Twitter and Facebook friends.

2.  Call And Ask About Discounts

Just as I outlined in my intro, there are quite a few discounts that you won’t be told about if you don’t ask.  Why is this?  The idea of a coupon or discount promotion is to get you into the restaurant.  Once you are there, the management has no incentive to come over to your table and share with you what discounts are available.  In the spirit of drawing in traffic, they will tell you all about these discounts if you simply place a phone call.  Get out the phone book and call around and ask what specials they are running, or even go so far as to ask what coupons they accept and where to obtain them.  One last warning on coupons.  These days I always read the fine print and I even ask if my coupon is good before I sit down.  I have been burned too many times in the past by not doing this.

3.  Its Not The Main Dish But The Extras That Will Cost You  

One comment I received from a friend on Facebook was the wisdom of ordering water instead of a soft drink.  The point was made that a family of five would save about $10 by ordering water instead of sodas.  Of course, ordering a glass of wine will really drive up the bill.  Another big profit center for restaurants are desserts.  Skip the dessert (and skip the glass of wine as well).

4.  Meal Splitting

I know this may be a bit awkward, but my wife and I have done this on several occasions.  The truth is that the portion sizes are so enormous these days, that ordering one entree and two plates is not just a money-saver but also better for your health.  In addition to meal splitting, consider ordering just an appetizer.  My wife and I have actually split appetizers and made a meal of it.  Some of these appetizers plates are enough to feed two or even three people.  When traveling, a bowl of soup or a side salad is more than enough for me and is usually under $7 even at the nicest restaurants.

5.  Kids Eat Free

For those with children 12 and under, this is a huge discount opportunity.  It seems like everywhere I go lately, I am seeing promotions for kids eat free.  This is another discount you can learn of by getting on the phone and simply asking about it.  Another source is a website Kids Eat Free.  Take Denny’s, for example.  Kids eat free at most Denny’s on Tuesday nights and at some locations on Saturday nights as well.  There are a number of other national chains doing this as well, including Lone Star Steakhouse, Shoney’s, Ponderosa, and Beef O’ Brady’s.  I have learned that some single parents have become experts on these deals.  Network with some of the families in your town, makes some calls, and then create your list of Kids Eat Free opportunities.

6.  Fast Food On A Budget

It is certainly not a healthy option, but fast food is a reality for most of us.  I am a big consumer of dollar menu items.  Most of these places have a dollar menu, they may not promote it so you might have to ask about it.  If you need to feed three kids, you can buy three $1 burgers.  Skip the sodas and you are only out $3 for a quick meal.   

7.  Making The Most Of All-You-Can-Eat Buffets

When I was in college, I was on the meal plan.  Our meals were provided every day of the week except for Sunday.  My survival plan for food on Sunday’s was a local buffet called Duff’s.  I would skip breakfast and wait as long as I could for lunch.  I could usually push lunch out to about 2 pm.  I would then hit the all you can eat buffet and that would represent my food for the entire day.  The truth is that I probably ate enough for two days, but the idea was that this one meal would be enough until Monday morning breakfast.  A practical application of this might be a late breakfast, say around 11 (call it brunch) and then don’t eat again until dinner.  I have done this many times while traveling when a buffet was nearby.

The Best Way To Save Money Eating Out

Don’t eat out.  The truth is that you can always eat at home for less; this is especially true for families.  If you are like me, you probably reach a breaking point and just need to get out of the house every so often.  If you have cabin fever and no money, consider having a coffee at a local cafe or bookstore.  Another thing that I have done many times is to pack some food and take my wife to a park for a fun date with a picnic basket.

Let’s start a conversation.  Please use the space below to share your own strategies on saving money at restaurants.  Thanks to all of those that contributed to my blog this week with your great ideas!

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
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