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7 Savings Tips Restaurants Don’t Want You to Know

Instead of just cooking at home or dining out on a budget, save money eating out at restaurants with these tricks restaurants don't want you to know.
By
Bruce and Jeanne Lubin,
December 20, 2016

Eat at the Bar

As if you needed another excuse to sit at the bar, here’s one more: many restaurants offer the same food at the bar as in the main restaurant, but for cheaper prices. You may have to order a few dishes to share since the portions may be smaller, but your savings will still be substantial. And since most restaurants also have table service in the bar area, you can take the kids.

Save Money on Alcohol

The easiest way to make a dinner out an expensive one is to order a bottle of wine—but who can resist a little pinot with their pasta? Get rid of this extra expense by going to a BYO (Bring Your Own) restaurant, which doesn’t serve alcohol but will happy uncork (or de-cap) yours for you and pour it into a glass. Restaurants that serve alcohol also often allow guests to bring their own anyway, in case guests have special food concerns—call ahead and ask if they allow you to bring your own and how much their “corkage fee” is. This fee offsets their costs, but is usually a smidgen of what you would pay ordering off the menu. If you’d only like one glass on wine, try asking if there’s a “house wine” available. Many restaurants will pour you whatever is left in a bottle from behind the bar for as little as $3.

See also: 12+ Things You Should Never Spend Money On

Where the Kids Eat Free

No matter how hard we try, we always end up eating out way more than we’d like. It’s easier to not feel bad about it when we go to a restaurant where the kids eat free. To find a bunch in your area, visit KidsMealDeals.com or download their app. Enter your zip code, and you’ll find deals from chain restaurants and local joints alike that are near you. Remember, a restaurant that offers deals for kids also usually offers frugal prices for adult entrees, too!

Check out Restaurant Week

Almost all big cities offer a “restaurant week” once or twice per year. During this week, you can dine at some of the nicest restaurants in town for the cost of eating at Applebee’s! Most restaurants will offer a three-course fixed price, or “prix fixe,” menu that allows you to choose from several different options for your lunch or dinner. This is an excellent opportunity to try that fancy restaurant you’ve read about or seen on TV, but could never afford. Just make sure you don’t order off-menu! That cup of coffee could cost you half of what you just paid for your entire meal! Check out this list of restaurant weeks around the US, or type the “restaurant week” and the name of your closest city into a search engine.

Lunchtime Tip

If you often order take-out food, consider visiting your favorite restaurants at lunchtime. Most take-out joints offer lunch specials that are the same food as dinner for less. They’ll usually come in smaller sizes, but we’ve found that we usually don’t need what the restaurant considers dinner-sized portions. Buy in the afternoon, stash in the fridge, and then reheat at dinner for savings!

Low-Cost Take-Out

If you’re considering take-out for dinner, think first of your grocery store. Supermarkets often offer pre-made foods at a low cost to attract shoppers, and you’ll often find low prices on rotisserie chickens, French fries, coleslaw, pasta salad, and more. Just make sure you don’t make any impulse purchases once you’re in the store!

Cheaper Coffee Runs

If you’re a coffee fiend, you know how costly those delicious coffee-shop lattes can be. If there’s a college or university near your home, check out the campus coffee shop for your caffeine fix—it's less expensive and just as good as the local Starbucks.

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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