How To Eat At Restaurants Without Going Bankrupt
Eating out at restaurants is one of life’s creature comforts. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive things you can do, and can really hurt your budget if you let it get out of control.
But just because you’re trying to save money doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice meal out every once in a while. And if you follow these 10 tricks, you’ll be able to save money while eating out and not feel like you’re being too much of a cheapskate:
Skip the drinks.
Ever wonder why drinks are so expensive at restaurants? It’s because beverages is where most, if not all restaurants earn the highest profit margins. A can of soda, which you can get for P25 at a convenience store, goes for as high as P130 in some restaurants — that’s a markup of over 400%! Suddenly that glass of water doesn’t seem so bad.
And we haven’t even touched on alcohol yet. According to Restaurants.com, a glass of wine can be marked up by as much as 200% to 600%, depending on the type of restaurant you’re in. If alcohol is what you want, you’re better off going to a bar where it will be more reasonably priced. You’ll have a better selection of drinks, too. Or you can have a drink at home instead. Save the cocktails for after dinner and you’ll save a lot off your total restaurant bill.
If you must have wine, never go for the second-cheapest.
We get it, you want to impress your date and don’t want to look cheap by ordering the cheapest wine available, so you go for the second-cheapest wine. There’s even a CollegeHumor video about this tendency:
But if you’re looking for value, you’re actually better off getting the cheapest wine. “On many lists, the [second-cheapest] slot will be taken by the wine that was cheapest for them to buy, with the price then pumped up,” David Williams writes for the Observer. So if your date is giving you the stink-eye for ordering the cheapest wine, just explain that you’re actually being really smart about it.
And skip wine by the glass; buying a whole bottle will be better value for your money.
Check group-buying sites.
Group-buying sites like Groupon can give you massive discounts (up to 50%) on good restaurants. Right now, you can get a P600 plate of sushi at Izakaya Sushi for only P299, for example. Or P1000 worth of food at the Filipino-Hispanic restaurant Corazon for only P550. So keep an eye out for deals at these sites, and if a deal pops up at a restaurant you like, or you want to try, seize your chance and save a bundle.
Kids eat free deals.
You don’t have to leave the kids at home when you eat out just to save money. There are a lot of family-friendly restaurant deals out there, if you know where to look. And “kids eat free” deals are a great, budget-friendly way for the whole family to enjoy dining out without putting too much stress on your wallet. Here are some restaurants that have “kids eat free” deals you can take advantage of at your next family night:
- California Pizza Kitchen (2 to 6 pm, for a minimum purchase of P500)
- Black Olive (weekends, for a minimum purchase of P800. Two kids per table.)
- Outback Steakhouse (Acropolis branch only. Weekends, for a minimum purchase of one entrée)
- Village Tavern (Sundays, for a minimum purchase of P1,500. Two kids per table.)
So if you’re looking for a nice dinner out for the whole family, check out these deals.
Look out for lunch specials.
Curious about a restaurant, but balking at the high prices for dinner there? Try going for lunch instead. A lot of restaurants have lunch menus that are cheaper than the dinner menu, giving you a chance to try the cuisine without splashing too much cash.
For example, Draft Gastropub has lunch specials for P350, which includes a drink, an entrée, and your choice of soup or dessert. And since a regular order of tomato soup goes for P185, the lunch special is a great value. Aubergine offers a “business lunch” menu, where you can get two courses for P950, which is a steal when you consider that a la carte entrees usually go for over P1,000. Many other restaurants do lunch specials, so look them up. They’re an affordable way for you to try restaurants that might be a bit beyond your price range otherwise.
Join restaurant loyalty programs.
Ever eat at a restaurant, and at the end of your meal, the waiter asks you if you have a loyalty card, and if you don’t, asks you to sign up for one? You might find this annoying, but if you eat a lot at a certain restaurant, or even a particular group of restaurants, getting a loyalty card could be a good bargain that pays for itself.
For example, The Bistro Group’s Premiere Card gives you complimentary coffee or hot tea with any purchase, as well as 30% discounts every Monday, 20% off on all other days of the week, 25% off on your birthday month, that you can use at any of their restaurants. Individual restaurants may have their own loyalty programs as well, like Outback Steakhouse, whose program lets you enjoy benefits in other countries’ branches as well.
You may not even need to buy a card to enjoy loyalty discounts. Simply signing up to your favorite restaurant’s email list can entitle you to discounts and vouchers. Keep an eye out for these deals.
Know your credit card promos.
Credit card companies like having promos to entice you to use the cards more. Why not make it work to your advantage? As long as you pay the bill in full at the end of the month, you’ll come out ahead.
Using any Platinum Citi card at the Prince Albert Rotisserie gets you two free hours at Gambrinus bar’s wine buffet. (Don’t have one? Apply for Citibank Platinum credit card.) Or your Security Bank credit card can take 20% off your total Shrimp Shack bill. If you’ve got a credit card, check the website regularly to make sure you’re not missing out on some good dining deals. If you don’t have one yet, find the credit card that’s perfect for you, in just a few clicks.
Order dishes you can’t easily make at home.
What’s the point of eating out if you order a dish you could have made in your own kitchen instead of something special? To get the best value for your money, “choose labor-intensive, time-consuming, complex dishes, that call for hard-to-find ingredients,” New York-based restaurant consultant, Clark Wolf, tells Forbes.
Red meat and seafood dishes will give you the most bang for your buck, because the higher markups tend to be with the chicken breast and pasta dishes. And if you order something you could have made yourself in 20 minutes — well, you’re better off doing that instead of eating out.
Takeout is your friend.
Waste not, want not. If you know you can’t finish your meal, you’ll help yourself a lot by planning ahead and ordering something you know will still be good the next day. If you have a lot of meat left over from dinner out, you can take it home and put it into a lunch sandwich (with a few extra ingredients from your fridge) for the next day. That’s like getting two meals for the price of one.
Get dessert somewhere else.
Dessert might be the best part of the restaurant meal for most people. But it might be best for your wallet if you go somewhere else for dessert. Not every restaurant is going to be good at desserts. So after your meal, head somewhere where you know the desserts will be killer and you’ll feel better about the amount you splash out.
Or, even better, after dinner, pick up a dessert item from your favorite bakery or ice cream joint and invite your friends over to extend the dinner over coffee and snacks at your place. The night doesn’t have to end when you leave the restaurant, and when you hold dessert at your own home, you’ll spend a lot less while still enjoying yourself.
Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to make all your own meals and never eat out. These 10 steps will allow you to a have a great culinary night out while still staying in control of your finances. Bon appetit!