Dining Out Without Breaking the Bank

Dining out without breaking the bank _ AnythingYouWantBlog.com

After learning just how bad my lifestyle inflation has gotten in the last few years, I’m trying to do what I can to cut back in certain areas. One area in which I noticed particularly egregious spending is in eating out. BF and I don’t indulge in too many luxuries, but we do really enjoy going out to eat regularly. This has come to cost me a pretty penny over the years (don’t even get me started on the madness that was our restaurant spending in France this summer). While I have no plans to cut out eating out entirely (it’s something we really enjoy and value), I have been thinking a lot lately about how we can get the same dining out experience without spending quite as much money.

Today I thought I would share my thoughts on how to dine out without spending a ton. You can still enjoy great food, atmosphere and company without going over your budget.

  1. Go once and go for the “experience.” BF and I are super lucky to live in Cambridge, where you could probably eat at a new restaurant each week and not run out of options in at least two years. And that’s before we cross the river into Boston. We have a few favorites that we go to from time to time, but the vast majority of the time we go out to a place we’ve never been to before. We like this because we get to experience new foods and atmospheres; it makes dining out seem like a special experience instead of just another meal. It also means that it is OK if we splurge a bit on a particular meal because we’re not going to make a habit of it.
About half way through a delicious lunch at La Grande Épicerie de Paris, some free

About half way through a delicious lunch at La Grande Épicerie de Paris, some free “entertainment” started in the form of live carving of a pig’s leg. I guess that is part of the experience?

  1. Share. BF and I are both fairly adventurous eaters and we like to try new foods and dishes. A great way to try more things and save money is to share plates. Often, when we go out, we will share one appetizer and one entrée. Appetizers are often less expensive than entrees, so this helps us save money. With the exception of meals to celebrate special occasions, we never order individual appetizers and entrees. Not only is it way too much food, but the price really adds up!
  1. Go for brunch. Another great way to try a new place, especially one that is a bit more expensive, is to go for brunch. Of course lunch is an option, too, but weekend brunch is just so much more special than boring old weekday lunch. At brunch you can often find unique dishes but at much lower prices than dinner. Drinking is also much less central to brunch than dinner, offering yet more cost savings.
A great alternative to brunch is to go out for dessert! We tracked down this ahhh-mazing mille feuille in Paris. Did not disappoint!

A great alternative to brunch is to go out for dessert! We tracked down this ahhh-mazing mille feuille in Paris. Did not disappoint!

  1. Limit alcoholic drinks. Drinks are often as much a part of the dining experience as the food, so we often imbibe when we dine out. We try to limit the number of drinks we order to keep the tab down. I like to try different cocktails, and at $8 to $12 per cocktail I usually limit myself to one per meal. BF prefers beers, which are usually less expensive so he’ll often have two. We could easily drink away two or three times as much money, but by limiting the number of drinks we have we still feel like we get the experience without adding too much cost.
  1. Pre-game. I’m not talking pre-game like the good old, under 21 days when you had to drink before you left the house (not that I would have ever done that!). I’m talking food. It might sound silly, but if you’re going to a fancy restaurant, go hungry but not starving. I’d say that it’s a good rule of thumb that the fancier the place the smaller the portions, and the last thing you want is to leave a nice meal still hungry. By eating a snack before leaving the house, you’ll be able to enjoy your delicious yet small portion and won’t be tempted to order more food.
  1. Limit frequency. This goes along with my first point – if you eat out every night of the week it becomes just another night and ceases to be special. We try to go out to eat no more than once per week, usually on a Friday or Saturday night. While it is tempting to run out for dinner on a busy weeknight, it would just lead to an exhausted, mindless meal that we won’t enjoy to its full potential. By eating out on the weekends when we have time to savor our meals, we have a better experience, and obviously we save big by limiting the number of times we go out to eat.
Birthday steak dinner for the BF _ AnythingYouWantBlog.com

Me and BF enjoying a very special birthday dinner of, what else, steak!

Some savings tactics just don’t work

There are also a few ways I’ve tried to save on dining out in the past that have been less successful. For example, I’ve gotten a few Groupons and other coupon deals for restaurants, but somehow as soon as I have a coupon for a restaurant it either closes or ceases to be of interest. Since these coupons usually involve an upfront cost, if you don’t use it you’re out the money having received nothing in return. I find that it is better to avoid sunk costs altogether and just go to the restaurant you really want to try.

Even without coupons, this dinner (complete with snails!) was well worth the money.

Even without coupons, this dinner (complete with snails!) was well worth the money.

Similarly, I’ve tried eating at more budget friendly restaurants with mixed success. I’m by no means a gourmet, and I truly enjoy a hamburger, pizza, and other simple foods. Even with my modest palate, I still find that picking restaurants based solely on cost is often disappointing. I’d rather spend a few dollars more for a great, special dinner than a little less for a mediocre meal.

Do you like to go out to eat? How do you save money when dining out?


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34 thoughts on “Dining Out Without Breaking the Bank

  1. We just limit how often we go out and save the nice restaurants for special occasions. When you start going out all the time, it stops being as special because it’s too common. And it not only impacts your wallet but your waist as well. 🙂

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  2. Yeah, our times eating out are basically down to our birthdays, when traveling and if friends ask us out. And even on birthdays, it’s the birthday person’s choice to dine out or not. For Marge’s birthday this past weekend, she asked me to make her cake as usual and to invent a mac & cheese recipe for supper! (The cake was coffee & almond flavors with a layer of marzipan, and the mac & cheese was reuben-themed: corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss & jarlsberg cheese, mustard, etc)

    So we do very little eating out. There are very few restaurants in the Albany area that I love, so that is kind of a blessing and a curse.

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    • You’re right that not having great options is a blessing and a curse. We have SO MANY great options and it feels like such a shame not to try them. All of them!

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    • That is frustrating. I find that trying to compromise by going out to eat but to a less expensive place is always a disappointment. I feel like I could make better food at home!

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  3. In Minneapolis, we lived on “eat street” which is as delicious as it sounds. We ate out 1-2 times per week (though usually only dropping $20 per meal).

    Here in Raleigh, we have to go 3-4 miles to get to a decent restaurant, and honestly, there’s very little Vietnamese or Thai food which is what we’re always looking out for. This makes it a lot easier to do the whole “avoid restaurants” thing.

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    • Oh wow – eat street sounds amazing and dangerous! I can see how being further away from restaurants would help limit temptation. I think I might need to move!

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  4. We love eating out as well but try to limit it to a few times per week. Like you, we’ve found some strategies for reducing the price:

    1. Sharing meals (just as you mentioned)
    2. Ordering water instead of drinks
    3. Going to happy hours to cut down on the costs
    4. Asking for Local discounts (we live in a tourist town)
    5. Using coupons or groupons

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    • Happy hours are a great way to cut down costs! Sadly, in MA, they’re not allowed. What a rip off! I’ve never heard of a local discount at a restaurant but I’ll have to give that one a try!

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  5. We enjoy dining out as well. For us, that is on average twice a week.

    Here are a couple approaches we use to keep our dining expenses affordable:
    – We look for early bird specials
    – find coupons in the mail or newspaper
    – we ask for local discount at many of the Sedona locations
    – and finally we use Restaurant.com for discounts

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  6. Last year I was spending way too much when I went out to eat. I was getting drinks, app, entree, and dessert usually at pretty fancy places. It ended up costing me about $100 each time. I cut back completely to “make up” the difference, but I’m going to start going out again. I like your tips. Just by not getting alcoholic drinks, you can save quite a bit of money.

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  7. Yum! Those pictures make me hungry. We go out all the time.. but recently are trying Blue Apron, to have ingredients delivered so we can cook at home for fun.

    So many great options in SF to eat, that it feels kinda dumb for us to cook, cuz we are terrible cooks!

    S

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    • I’ve heard good things about Blue Apron, and enjoyed giving Plated a try a while ago myself. Learning to cook more elaborate meals at home has definitely helped us cut back on dining out, but we still love to go out pretty regularly. Like SF, Boston has so many great restaurants that it seems a shame to miss them!

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  8. My boyfriend and I enjoy going out to eat as well. We try to go to places that are having Happy Hour (we live in Florida, so many places have Happy Hour) or go for lunch. We know we spend way too much money but like you said, we enjoy it!

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  9. Food and drinks are consistently the most challenging items in my budget! There are constantly new restaurants I want to try. I try to skip drinks and desserts. And sometimes I’ll order smaller items rather than entrees. But sometimes I just want to enjoy myself and forget about the cost. Luckily, there are some good happy hour deals in our neighborhood. I try to hit those with friends whenever possible!

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  10. We struggle to try new places to eat because I don’t mind paying alot when I know I will love my food! We are kinda stuck in a rut but now that we might be moving from the area, we are a bit more motivated to try new places. Thanks for the tips.

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  11. When my hubs and I reviewed our spending and got really intentional in terms of budgeting, we carved out money for date nights. Otherwise, we were just eating out a lot and spending so much money on it. The budgeting makes us feel like we can still enjoy eating out; but, we can remain confident that we are acting within our intentions and limits.
    Also – yes. Brunches and lunches are a great way to eat out without spending what you might spend on dinner! And happy hours are awesome.
    And, there is always Restaurant Week to try out the really expensive places. You have to wait a while but still! 😛
    Great post!

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    • Ahh I completely forgot about restaurant week! Great point – we also love restaurant week for “splurge” meals. I also like that you think of restaurant spending as “date night” spending. Makes it feel special, and investing in your relationship somehow seems more justifiable than dinner out all the time 🙂

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