Whether traveling at home or abroad, the one thing all travelers cannot escape is restaurant food. At some point or another, you will need to eat. There are only so many meals your family will put up within the hotel room. The other alternative is to eat out. Here are 5 tips to help keep those eating out moments below budget. Who doesn’t like having more money for other things on vacation!
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Tip 1: Save the soda (and bottled water) for home. The average non-alcoholic drink at a restaurant is $3.50. Alcoholic drinks start at $5. This is as much as dessert or an appetizer and is often a “hidden” cost. Meaning people don’t notice it. Stick to plain old tap water and you’ll save 10% or more off your meal!
*Combine tips to save even more.
Tip 2: Split everything! If you look online ahead of time at chain food calorie maps, you will find most of their meals in the 1000 calorie range. 500 for the average appetizer. 350 for the average desert. By splitting you are getting a well-rounded meal of about 900 calories give or take, depending on what you order. If you order one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert and split it between two or three people in your party the cost is the same as two entrees, but you get a whole meal, the right number of calories, and no leftovers.
* Be sure to look out for a split charge at some restaurants. While most places will be happy to split the order in half before serving it to you, other places charge for this. Pay attention before you order. That way you aren’t looking at the bill wondering why it’s higher than you thought.
Tip 3: Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Often the same portions are a third of the price at lunch verses at dinner. It is the same meal. The same tips to save work. You’re getting the food at a discount because of the time of day.
*For example, all you can eat Brazilian steakhouses cost $50 a person at dinner, but only $35 a person at lunch. It’s the same buffet, same meat selection, same food all at $15 less per person and you don’t even need a coupon.
Tip: 4 Coupon clipping isn’t just for groceries. Popular fast food places put out ads in the paper and mail each week. You can feed a family of four premium burgers for less than $20 at McDonalds if you coupon right. High-end restaurants sometimes do discount cards at member-only sites like Costco. Groupon also runs pay X get X+ dollars at restaurants. Getting a $100 gift card for $80 is a twenty percent savings.
*Be wary of the coupons that come in the mail or newspaper for non-fast food restaurant type places. These often require that you buy two drinks for the discount in return for a half priced or free entrée. Don’t be fooled! The cost of two drinks often adds up to more than the money you are saving. Unless you can’t wait to drink that soda at home, you would be better off skipping these coupons.
Tip 5: Watch for specials! Different places want to drive business when they have “slow” times. This can be a happy-hour menu with reduced price appetizers. Others have early bird menus for showing up before high traffic times. This is usually before 6pm. Some places extend lunch menus to 3 or 4pm. Call ahead, look online, read reviews, and look for those specials.
*You don’t have to buy the alcohol to get the Happy Hour deal. Restaurants that serve alcohol are required by law to serve a certain amount of food based on their alcohol sales. That’s why they offer such good deals on food when drink consumption is high. Stick with water and you will save half on your appetizer.
Putting it into practice:
Let’s say you want to take your family of four out for an all you can eat Brazilian Steakhouse dinner. But instead of going for “dinner” time, IE after 5pm, you went at lunch, 1pm on a Saturday. It was crowded enough that there was a good selection but early enough to get the better rate of $35 a person. *Weekday afternoons are even cheaper if you can get away.
Your kids’ meals depend on age. So the two of them were $18.50 because they are both less than 12 years olds. You all ordered water, skipping the $5.50 per person drink cost. Plus you snagged a restaurant Groupon deal, $100 gift card for $65. That left you with $2.65 for tip on the gift card after tax. Of course, you added $10 in cash because of the great service.
In total, the four of you went to a Brazilian Steak House and ate until you couldn’t eat anymore for $75. That’s $18.75 a person, including tax and a 20% tip. If you went to this same place and did not follow any of these tips, it would cost you $185 for the same meal. That’s $46 a person. The difference is a savings of 60%.
You too can get an amazing restaurant – quality dinner at an affordable price by putting these tips into action. Figure out what works best for you. Put it into action today.
Interested in saving more money? Check out our article on keeping your budget on track HERE.