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8 Ways to Dine Out and Not Break Your Budget

If you like an occasional meal out or enjoy frequenting your local restaurants, there are ways to save money and not pay top-dollar for your evening meal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends about $3,000 a year dining out. Give or take, that’s a lot of money when you look at it in the aggregate—money that could be put towards retirement, saved for a rainy day, a vacation—You Name It!

With a little planning, plus some research, you can enjoy your meal out without breaking the bank or feeling guilty about it afterwards.

  1. Take advantage of online specials and printable coupons. To draw patrons in during non-busy weekdays, restaurants typically create attractive specials and deals—buy one get one free, ½ off the second entrée, etc. So, do a little research—even ask your friends for their recommendations. You’ll be sure to find out about Taco Tuesdays, Prime Rib nights, happy hour specials, ladies night, kids eat free days and pizza deals. Follow your favorite restaurants on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news. Also be sure to check out your Debit Rewards in Home Banking or on Tower’s Mobile App for cash-back offers—your favorite restaurant just might be on the list.
  2. Time of day matters when it comes to finding the best deal for your meal. Be flexible about when you eat—why not consider eating out for lunch instead of dinner? Many times you can get a smaller portion of dinner specialties at a great price. You may even get better service because it will likely be less crowded. One more thing: Stay away from the trendy restaurants on “Hallmark” holidays—any holiday that celebrates with a card, like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. Menu prices are often jacked up that day, plus a crowded restaurant is never fun, and the service may be less than optimal.
  3. Split an entrée with someone else. Or if you’re with a group, buy several appetizers and share them. If you get your own entrée, remember that many times portions are huge (depending on the restaurant); take the leftovers home and eat them for lunch or another dinner. That’s smart savings plus one less meal to cook!
  4. Skip the extras, like drinks, desserts and appetizers. Sure, your meal might be $14.99, but add in $3 sodas, $8 glasses of wine and two appetizers and the price of your meal might even double. Instead, ask for ice water with lemon; and if you really want to cap off your meal with an after-dinner drink, head home with your friends and have it there.
  5. BYOB. There are a growing number of restaurants that let you bring your own bottle of wine and drink it for far less than ordering off their menu. Your waiter may charge a minimal “corkage” fee to open the bottle, serve it, decant it and use their glassware. But do your research before you roll up to any restaurant, wine bag in tow. Call ahead and ask (to avoid being turned away at the door and slightly embarrassed).
  6. Indulge in Happy Hour. You can still enjoy your favorite spot, along with drink specials and awesome appetizers —for a lot less than the going rate at the dinner hour. This might be an excellent opportunity to spend time with coworkers without the hassle of rushing back to the office or springing for a more expensive dinner.
  7. Use cash-back credit cards. Cash-back programs make sense, and they are an easy way to make money while you’re spending it. Sounds too good to be true? Tower’s World Card credit card offers 1.5 reward points for every dollar spent on purchases.
  8. Thanks to websites like Restaurants.com, you can get some awesome deals and coupons—sometimes up to 50% off—at many restaurants in your area. Be sure to check the restrictions (for example, no Hallmark holidays or Saturdays) and see what the minimum amount is to spend. Even with a few restrictions, purchase these coupons, use them, and you’re sure to save money. If you use Opentable.com, you can earn cash towards participating restaurants when you make a reservation with their site.

Hope these tips will help you enjoy your next meal out—whatever the time or occasion!

Resources: MoneyUnder30; The Financial Word; Money Talks News