Recently, I read an article on Reader's Digest's site. It was about the 'secret' shenanigans that happen in restaurants. Some included servers lying about broth being vegetarian or about a card being declined just to embarrass customers they consider bad. And it doesn't stop there. The eggs are oftentimes made from a powdered substance. Fish on Sundays and Mondays tend to be the worst (because a lot of restaurants order new fish for the week after Monday). If a diner asks for a complicated drink, a server might say they're out just so they don't have to spend time getting it made.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg. (There are 52 other things featured in the piece if you want to check it out). Yeah, these restaurant incidents are wack, but even with all of that warranted side-eye info, let's not act like we won't probably walk up into a restaurant within the next couple of weeks.
To tell you the truth, if there's something that irks me even more than the list that I read, it's how high a restaurant tab can sometimes be.
So, in the hopes of helping you to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, here are some simple ways to save money when eating out. Hey, at least there can be a silver lining to all of the other ish that sometimes goes down up in those establishments.
1. Look Online Before You Leave
There are benefits to following your favorite restaurants online. Sometimes they list last-minute deals and discounts---ones you wouldn't see elsewhere. About 30 minutes before you head out, check out their Twitter or Instagram to see if you can save a couple of bucks via one of their offers. While you're at it, visit discount sites like Retail Me Not, Eat Drink Deals and Restaurant to see if there are any coupons or promo codes that you can download. Don't be embarrassed to use coupons while eating out. You could literally be throwing money away, and why would you want to do that?
2. Have a Snack Before You Go Too
I'm pretty sure you've heard that if you don't want to spend more money than you should while grocery shopping, you should eat before you go. To tell you the truth, the same tactic applies before you go to your favorite restaurant, too. No one is saying to heat up leftovers or anything. But doing something as simple as munching on a banana, mango or even a little bit of popcorn can help to curve your cravings and prevent you from, as grandma used to put it, having eyes that are bigger than your stomach. (I wonder what you should do beforehand if you want to avoid overspending at Target or Walmart. If you've got a tip, please leave it in the comments).
3. Dine on Specific Days
Not too long ago, I penned a piece on how to make Monday your favorite day of the week. One thing that I suggested was going to happy hour at the top of the week rather than at the end of it. If you're down for a few 2-for-1 drinks early in the week, why not get dinner while you're there?
Typically, restaurants are a little slower on Mondays and Tuesdays which means you can oftentimes find a pretty good deal on an appetizer or even an entrée. Call ahead, just to be sure.
Speaking of days, you should avoid going out to eat on major holidays. Restaurants expect there to be more traffic, so they sometimes will roll out a fixed-price menu. Depending on how hungry you are, that can really start to stack up as opposed to ordering a regular entrée on other days.
4. Inquire About Status Discounts
Restaurants are a business, just like everything else. This means that, more times than not, your server isn't going to volunteer information when it comes to who automatically qualifies for a discount. But if you're a student (with valid ID), a teacher, a part of the military or a senior, sometimes that can earn you as much as 15 percent off of your total bill. (I wish I had known that back when I was in college. Applebee's would've been good and sick of me!)
5. See if the Restaurant Is BYOB
If you're the type of person who can't even imagine having a meal without a glass of wine or some other alcoholic beverage, avoid spending a mint at the restaurant's bar. You can save quite a bit if you head on over to a BYOB restaurant instead. It's not that hard to find one in your area. Use your favorite search engine and type, "BYOB restaurants", along with your city and state and—voila! Food is on them, drinks are on you, and extra money is in your pocket because of it.
6. Have Lunch at Dinner
Not all restaurants offer this option, but if the restaurant allows you to order their lunch portion at dinner, go ahead and do that. If you split an appetizer with a friend and have a drink or two, you're probably going to be fuller than you think. Rather than take a doggy bag home that you might not ever eat, how about spending less moola instead?
Speaking of menu items, pass on the so-called "chef special". More times than not, there's nothing "special" about it, other than the high price or the abundance of a particular item that is about to go bad if the staff doesn't get rid of it. Eww.
7. Look to the Left (No, Seriously)
A lot of times, the most expensive items on a menu are on the right side of it. Ain't this about a trip? Although we mostly read from left to right, what some marketing people have discovered is our eyes will automatically drift over to the right while looking at a menu. That's why some restaurants put the lower-priced items on the left.
You might've never given that much thought until now, but appetizers are typically on the left, right?
8. Nix The 'Extras'
Bottled water. Soda. Dessert. Not only can these kinds of items run up your food tab but—when it comes to bottled water, reading this article here about BPA should make you want to avoid ordering that at all costs. Soda? With all of the sugar and acid is in it, y'all know that it's the devil's drink. As far as dessert goes, you'd be better off foregoing it at the restaurant and picking something up at your local grocery store on the way home. That one slice of cake at your favorite eatery probably costs about the same amount as a whole cake at Kroger's or Publix's. Just sayin'.
9. Get It to Go
A lot of times, while I'm in the mood for a certain restaurant's cuisine, what I don't feel like dealing with is the wait to be seated or the crowds. The way that I avoid all that is to order something to go. If that's how you sometimes feel, you can oftentimes get more bang for your buck if you ask for a larger container for your order. For instance, if you order a small salad but ask for a large to-go carton, they will sometimes fill it to the brim. Or, if you get a burger and ask for a large container, you'll end up with a lot more fries. This might not happen 100 percent of the time, but many servers don't care to be so meticulous that they weigh your food, etc., so it doesn't hurt to ask. It's worked out in my favor many times over.
10. Don’t Forget to Look over Your Bill
There is one person, in particular, who I hate going out to eat with. She is so nitpicky that I feel bad for the server from the very moment they introduce themselves. But if there's one thing that I do appreciate is how thoroughly sis goes through her bill. While I don't think that servers are out here to jack us, they do tend to handle a lot of people at once, so you should never assume that what is printed is automatically right. Look through it, make sure your tab is correct, and then pay. There's no telling how much money we've all thrown out of the window because we failed to be more observant when it comes to this.
Bonus: For You Chipotle Lovers
Lawd, I can't even count how many people in my life are Chipotle fans. That's why I figured I'd do some of you a solid and add a few hacks before you go back to your favorite spot.
- First, more rice is usually on the house.
- If you skip the protein, guacamole doesn't usually cost extra.
- Most establishments won't trip off of you ordering from the kid's menu.
- If you ask for extra chips or taco shells, you've basically just made two meals out of your burrito bowl.
- You can get more meat by opting to have two proteins while placing your order.
- If you're really up for some tacos, order more than two; the unit price tends to go down when you do that.
- Ordering both styles of rice and beans will result in you getting about 90 percent more of both.
- Lastly, if you order a meatless dish, you can save around a dollar per order.
Oh, remember the discounts that I talked about earlier? If you sign up for the app that's on Chipotle's site, not only will they text you last-minute deals, you can also earn points for a free entrée with each order. No need to thank me, it's all good. Eat up and enjoy—for less.
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