When my husband and I go out together, we like to take the opportunity to go to a restaurant.
Partly because it’s nice to be able to sit and talk while someone else makes your food, but mostly because I like to try new things – I don’t think I’ve ever ordered the same thing twice at a restaurant, and I try to go to new restaurants as often as possible.
Are you surprised? I admit this hasn’t always been the case. Back when we were dirt broke and simply didn’t have any money, we obviously didn’t go restauranting (is that a word?), and when we were living on less than $2,000 a month, we only went out rarely preferring (obviously) cheap or free date night ideas.
But as our finances have gotten better, as life has gotten busier, and it’s harder to hear ourselves over the shouts of our kids, we’ve gotten a lot more dedicated to the occasional outing as just us, a couple.
So it only makes sense to find frugal ways to fit going to restaurants into our budget – and it’s not as hard as you think!
Here are a few tricks I use to make eating out affordable and downright cheap!
By far, my #1 pick. I stock up as many Swagbucks as I can and trade them in for restaurant gift cards when I get enough. At first. I was skeptical that it would work, so I cautiously traded in 2,200 Swagbucks for a printable $25 Olive Garden gift card, and voila! Never looked back. Since then, I’ve successfully redeemed gift cards to multiple restaurants and steak houses, gotten restaurant.com cards, and if I still can’t find a card for the restaurant I want, prepaid Visa cards to fund our restaurant habit.
So how does Swagbucks work, you wonder? It’s pretty simple. Use their search bar instead of Google when you need to look something up and get randomly rewarded with “Swagbucks” to redeem. You can also take surveys, print coupons, and redeem friends. Honestly, I don’t remember all the ways to redeem them (the ways I listed are the ones I use). Read more here, or go here to sign up for your own account.
Shop through eBates
Admittedly, eBates doesn’t deal in a lot of food, but you can earn up to 10% cash back by going to Restaurant.com through them. Now THAT’s a worthwhile extra click on your way to score restaurant gift cards. In addition, you can do a lot of your other shopping through eBates to earn cash back and use those checks when you cash them (because, oh yes, they send you real checks to cash into real money at your bank) to fund your restaurant trips.
Read more about how to use eBates, or go here to get your own account.
There are a LOT of Groupon deals for chain restaurants to be found, but also a surprising number of local restaurants – at least in our area – with Groupon deals. Although I do my best to cover our restaurant adventures with Swagbucks, Groupon is my second choice (only because I use eBates to cover birthdays and Christmas instead of dates).
Sign up for Groupon’s email list, so you get alerts to great deals.
With all three of these options, you need to plan ahead. It takes about a week from the time you order it to get a Swagbucks gift card.
Other ways to save money at restaurants
We all have our own preferences as to what’s worth spending money on, so take these with a grain of salt – they’re just ideas!
- Don’t order drinks. Drinks, in my opinion, are overpriced and not worth it. You can enjoy a drink when you get home and don’t have to drive anywhere.
- And that includes coke/soda. It’s just a lot of calories for what? I’d rather get my calories in food and have soda another time.
- Order half entrées if you’re a light eater. No reason to spring for a whole entrée you’re not going to eat and be stuck with sub-par leftovers to heat up later.
- Only get dessert if it’s really, really worth it. If you’re at a nice restaurant where you know the dessert it good, that’s one thing, but in my experience, a lot of restaurants just don’t do dessert well, and I’m better off making my own at home. I have yet to experience a restaurant dessert that beats homemade gluten-free pumpkin crunch cake in the Fall or gluten-free lemon bars in the summer… except maybe Pucket’s Pecan Cobbler.
On these last four, I totally believe it’s a “to each their own” thing as long as it fits your budget. If it saves money but sucks the fun out of doing it, it’s not a great solution. But if you use the first three – Swagbucks, eBates, and Groupon – wisely, your restaurant dates will be surprisingly frugal.
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Natalka Antoniuk says
I work in restaurant and can’t believe how much people spend (mostly without even checking the drinks menu)… we’re all trained to upsell, anything from a bread basket while you wait to a small selection of (overpriced) petit fours with coffees! Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to make people part with money, and whilst I’m trying to save to buy a house I will definately be taking these tips on board! Great post xx
We do not eat out a lot these days, we have an almost 3 year old. I’m still trying to save money by avoiding kids meals. Usually we will order something family style like a pizza we can share or have her eat a little from our plates. I will also bring an applesauce pouch and some other discreet snacks for her.
Leslie Arnold says
Water, water! Saves about 3 bucks a person once you factor in tax and tip. Ask for lemon, add a Sweet N Low. It’s really good Even fast food places charge 2bucks for a drink (except McDonald’s–gotta love em). And don’t forget the apps for fast food. I save a lot with them, too.
Leslie Arnold says
Another thing I discovered (can you tell fast food is my weakness? Need to work on that, yeah. Lol) is that I, like many other Americans I suspect, was programmed to think I always should order a combo. Well, those are usually $6 and up.
But I found I really couldn’t and shouldn’t eat that much food. And who needs sodas, really? Just a lot of empty calories. So, now I usually just order one of the smaller items (at McDonald’s that would be a McChicken for a dollar or a McDouble for a dollar forty-nine) with a cup of water. I’m plenty full and saving a lot. Plus, not consuming so many calories.
My kids weren’t happy at first, but they’ve learned it’s that or nothing.
Agree! The great thing about McDonald’s is that you can look up the calorie/macronutrient count on your phone before you order. That stops me from getting a large fries every time ????which of course ends up saving money as well.