One of the most effective ways to save money and stick to your budget is cooking meals at home. But there will be times when you want to dine out to celebrate a special occasion, meet up with friends for a bite, or just take a break from cooking. Not to worry. You can still enjoy a meal out now and then and stick to your budget by keeping these tips in mind.
Plan Ahead- Arriving at the restaurant ravenous and unprepared is a sure recipe for overspending. Do a little restaurant reconnaissance before you get there so you can have a game plan in mind. Spend a few minutes reviewing the menu online and get an idea of what you’d like to order. As with all spending decisions, decide on a budget for the meal and stick to it.
Stick to Water- No, it’s not the most exciting drink on the menu, but it is the only one you will get for free. Drinking water with your meal won’t only save you money, it will help keep you hydrated and counteract the effects of the added salt often used in restaurant meals. If you need another reason to skip that bottle of wine, a Food Network survey of professional chefs revealed that wine at a restaurant can cost more than double what you will pay retail.
Choose Appetizer Over Entrée- Restaurant portions have gotten so large that appetizers are now the perfect size to have for your main meal. Choose one or two plus a side salad and you’ll have a perfectly satisfying meal that rings in less than the cost of an entrée.
Make it Worth Your While- If you do decide to order an entrée, make sure it is something special that you can’t or won’t make for yourself at home. Things like pasta with red sauce, roasted chicken, steamed vegetables and hamburgers all have a huge markup when ordered in restaurant. Choose something unique that you can easily replicate on your own to make it worth the expense.
Go Halvsies- If the restaurant you are going to is known for its large portions; make a plan to split the entrée with your dining companion. You can also ask your server to box up half the entrée before it is plated. You’ll enjoy a just-right portion for your meal and have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
Ditch Dessert- Unless the restaurant is home to an award-winning pastry chef or know for one special dessert, just say no when the inevitable question arise. Just like beverages, desserts are some of the highest-margin menu items. You’ll be better off waiting until you get home to have a little something sweet for a whole lot less.
Use Coupons and Apps- If you are having a casual meal with friends or family, don’t forget to check for coupons or use an app like Out to Eat with Kids to find the best deals- even freebies.