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10 Proven Hacks For Cutting Your Restaurant Bill

Keep more money in your pocket the next time you dine out.

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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.

Easy Ways To Lower Your Food Bill At Restaurants

1. Look Online Before You Leave

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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