Everyone loves eating out and these days, with food prices as high as they are, it’s getting cheaper to eat out more often. You can spend several hundred dollars on lunch each week! Here are some tips that may help, whether you are on a tight budget or just need to find a less expensive way to deal with those office lunches.
I stick to a tight budget, so I recommend that you eat Chinese whenever possible. Ethnic restaurants serve healthier food and you get humongous portions that you can refrigerate for tomorrow’s lunch or you can share it with someone else at the office.
Buy that foot long submarine sandwich and eat half for lunch and the other half for dinner or split one with a friend for lunch. You get up to 1/3 off of the price when you buy a foot instead of 2, 6” sandwiches.
Whenever you can, eat at the lower-priced restaurants. I don’t mean that you should eat only at the fast food chains, but instead that you stick with the restaurants where you can get healthier meals with discounts and coupons. Some restaurants will offer coupons on their websites. Print them out and use them. You can also find coupons at various coupon sites like: www.coupons.com. Use these whenever and wherever you can, along with your senior club, auto club, AARP and other discounts.
Many organizations like “AAA Auto Club” and “AARP”, give you a percentage off if you show their card and AARP has a list of restaurants for which you can purchase dinner cards at a substantial discount. These are higher quality restaurants and you can feed two people about $30.00 worth of food for as little as the $15.00-20.00 cost of the card on their website.
Many college students often get a discount on meals simply by showing their student ID.
Deliberately eat at the restaurants where larger portions are served for the same amount of money as other restaurants that serve smaller portions. You don’t have to eat it all; larger portions can be taken home and used for the next day’s lunch.
Don’t eat anywhere that takes tips. Granted, restaurant servers work hard for little money and often deserve a little something extra, but if you are trying to save money it’s best to save the tipping for a time when you have plenty of money, with which to tip.
Make sure that if you have kids that you order them the children’s meal on the menu; let’s face it, many kids don’t eat their meal anyway and it’s cheaper. Senior citizens often eat less and may enjoy something on the children’s menu, too. My late father used to enjoy the smaller portions on the children’s menu.
Eat out on “kids” night. Many restaurants have these and your kids can eat for little money or even free.
If you are not alone, try to order an appetizer that everyone will like and split the cost. Sometimes you can get 2 or 3 of these for less than what each of you would pay for one of each appetizer.
Split an entrée, especially if more than one of you wants to order it. You can also order your entrée without extra sides. If 3 or more sides are included, see if anyone else at the table wants them and let them just order and entrée. Or let the kids eat the extra entrees.
Some restaurants offer a family dinner or entrée and you’ll save money selecting this option.
Often you can make a meal out of appetizers and sides, combined. It’s less-expensive than that huge entrée and if you want a light meal a salad and appetizer or side dish will do just fine.
You can also order several side dishes with an entrée and go ahead and order the extra side, even though you think it’s too much for you to eat. If the menu offers 3 sides with an entrée and you can only eat two, order it anyway. It’s a way for 4 people to eat for the cost of 3 meals if everyone orders that extra side dish and one of them makes a whole meal out of them. It’s especially handy when you’re out with a vegetarian. 3 or 4 side vegetables combined is really a nice meal, believe it or not!
Split or share dessert instead of having everyone to order one of his or her own; some of these portions are really more than one person can hold after a meal and if you ask, you’ll get two plates without any hassle. However, if you have dessert at home already or you can get by with the “Snicker’s” bar in your freezer or that last piece of pie in the fridge, then have your dessert later, after you’ve had time to do a little digesting and have room for it.
Don’t order the most expensive items on the menu, when you can get a good entrée for $12.00, don’t order the one with the extra bread and salad for $25.00. Avoid the expensive porterhouse steak and baked potato when you can get a plate of wings or ribs for less. Don’t get the expensive swordfish when salmon or tilapia will do the trick.
Don’t add extra condiments to your restaurant meal. These sometimes cost an extra 30 cents to a few extra dollars. You’ll get a healthier meal without them and save money, too.
Order a lunch portion for dinner. Sometimes a soup and sandwich for the evening meal just hit the spot.
Consider drinking water rather than ordering a drink. If you prefer a beverage, order tea, coffee or soda; something where you get free refills. If you must have beer or wine, don’t order the most expensive one. There are many less expensive brands offered by restaurants that are just as tasty and you’ll save some cash.
Clip coupons, you can get some great deals, not only at fast food places, but good restaurants as well. There are a lot of coupon websites that offer some great deals on food and many restaurant websites will also offer specials and coupons. You can sign up for these or download them directly from some sites.
Use discount and gift cards. If you are a member of an auto club, AARP or some other organization that gives meal discounts, pull out that card and let it work for you. You can save up to 20% on meals at many restaurants.
When on vacation, food costs can really skyrocket and take a bite out of the vacation budget. Preplan with a dining and stick with restaurants that you know offer good food for less expense rather than trying one because it seems nice. It’ll help you to avoid the tips and other expenses. Many auto clubs offer travel packets that list restaurants and hotels that can save you money.
Pack your own snacks and take them on your trip; you’ll eat less at those expensive restaurants because you’re fairly full, to begin with. You can purchase healthy snacks like raisins and dried fruits in large quantities in many super stores. These are excellent for snacking and healthy, too. Purchase your own nuts and oats to make your own granola and trail mix for snacking.
Take more camping vacations where you can do your own cooking on a fire or grill. You control the cost of the food better and still get a great meal.
The doggie bag is not just for the dogs. Take the leftovers home and reheat them for lunch or supper, another day!
Copyright, M.L. Kiser, 2014