6 Ways To Save Money When Dining Out

RacerX at “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Money” has posted the 6 ways he and his wife save money when they go out to eat. Following all of them would make for a noticeably different experience at your favorite restaurant—perhaps more than you’d like. But even adopting a couple of these tips could knock 10% or more off your next fancy meal with the significant other.

Have cocktails at home — He says to have one at home to avoid the restaurant’s crazy cocktail markup. We’re not sure if he means before you go out to eat, and if so, the whole driving-around-with-scotch-on-your-breath approach might not be the wisest choice. There are plenty of ways to enjoy an aperitif or the cocktail hour before leaving your home, however.

Have appetizers at home — “We plan out those dining nights and there is a great little Harry and David store here that has amazing appetizers (Stuffed Bacon Brie! mmm) that just has to be heated up. I will pick it up on the way home the night before, Mrs. X pops it in at the right time and with the drink above and we are half way through dinner before we leave!”

Try the specials — You’ll get to try new things as well as take advantage of dishes the restaurant is trying out.

Drink water, or a single glass of wine, or bring your own bottle — You’ll likely have to pay a cork fee, and wine by the glass is certainly expensive per ounce, but either route is cheaper than buying a full bottle at the restaurant’s high markup.

Pay cash — You’ll be more mindful of the total cost of the evening and stick to your budget.

Have dessert elsewhere — “Have it, but not at the restaurant! Find a great little bakery and pickup some neat little deserts there. Or even go for Ice Cream together! A third the price of having it at dinner!”

“Save 50% When You Dine Out” [Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Money]
(Photo: buncheduptv)


Edit Your Comment

  1. NoNamesLeft says:

    Don’t leave a tip! Instant 15% discount! Now that is a slickdeal!

  2. rdldr1 says:

    Not super sizing your value meal is another option.

  3. rdldr1 says:

    @NoNamesLeft: Thats how Rachel Ray lives off $40 a day for dining.

  4. laserjobs says:

    Entertainment book and Restaurant.com Dining Certificates can sometimes get you a deal

  5. se7a7n7 says:

    So what you’re saying is that I can save money when I eat out, if I buy less things.

  6. BuddyHinton says:

    Split the entree. You’ll lose weight as well. Today’s American portions are ridiculous. Just take a look at the local Claimjumper sometime.

  7. hollywood2590 says:

    Tip #6: Why eat out? Your dinner is the restaurants profit center. Next time just make yourself a sandwich at home and bring it with you. The restaurant will probably try to figure out why your eating out if you can in no way afford it, but who cares, you just saved $20!!

  8. Sherryness says:

    I don’t mind paying for the service of someone else cooking, serving, and cleaning up after me. That’s why I eat out sometimes (but not very oftent). I don’t usually look for “deals” on that. Single Mom needs someone to cook for her every once and awhile! And I always add $$ to the tip since I have a child – he makes a bigger mess than adults do.

  9. Pro-Pain says:

    Why bother even going out to eat? Geez. Dumb.

  10. Gorky says:


    That show kills me. She makes it seem like it’s so hard to eat on only $40 perday. There are some days where I spend less than $10 and most days I rarely spend $20. Even if you eat out 3 times a day you can get by on less than $20. Spend $5 at a diner for breakfast for 2 eggs, potatoes, and 2 slices of toast. Then go to McDonalds for lunch. That will set you back another 5$5 or $6. Then for supper get 2 slices of pizza at a pizzeria for about $4

  11. sketchy says:

    @Pro-Pain: That’s what I wonder.

    “Another handy tip is to only date anorexic girls, you’ll save 50% on ALL your meals!”

  12. StevieD says:

    And this is good advice? How?

  13. luckybob343 says:

    Recommending specials is a fine tip, but Anthony Bourdain’s and other chef’s detailing how the specials are determined (what’s left in the freezer that’s just about ready to turn?) might make one reconsider.

  14. jfischer says:

    How sad.

    Better to take the same effort and make a good meal at home, light candles, put on some nice music, and enjoy oneself while indulging one’s self.

    Specials by zip is worth checking, as they often have significant offers that can end up being worth $25 or $30, but eating out and trying to leverage savings like the ones listed are just mind-numbingly cheap.

    Better to eat out less often than to make it an exercise in enforced, Bataan Death-March frugality.

    How very sad.

  15. coold8 says:

    For god sakes, if you can’t afford to go out to eat every night, then don’t go out to eat every night. You are supposed to go out to eat to enjoy yourself, or enjoy what they are making. We are people that have a $2500 a month restaurant bill, we go out to eat every single night, back when we did not have the money, we did not spend the money, if we could only afford to go out one day a week, well, we would go out one day a week. Cheap bastards! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  16. bravo369 says:

    If you are in a major city then you don’t necessarily have to drive if you pregame with drinks at home. also, the mention of a cork fee surprised me. I’ve never heard of that. do places actually charge you for opening the bottle you brought? i think i would seriously argue that fee with the manager depending on how much it is. it better be something stupid like .10 or .15 or else i’d probably take it out of the tip. have all the industries gone fee crazy? sheesh

  17. jeadie5 says:

    So if I eat the appetizer and desert at home I will save money? Do you have any other gems?

    How about “Stay home the first 3 days of your week vacation, you will save almost 50%”?

    If Im going out for dinner, it for the experience and so I dont have to cook myself. If Im firing up the stove to heat up some brie, I might as well have the entire meal at home.

  18. Steve Trachsel, Ace says:

    @bravo369: Its not a fee for opening exactly, more like a fee for letting you bring in your own bottle. Why would a restaurant let you do that and cost themselves their biggest profits (alcohol) without ensuring themselves a piece?

  19. bravo369 says:

    followup – just did a quick search and seems like normal cork fees are $10-$20. am i the only one who feels that is insance? i have a corkscrew on my pocketknife, i’ll open my own wine then. maybe i’m not cultured enough.

  20. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    Wow, this article is a total waste of binary. My bet is these people are the most high maintenance, bitchy customers in the restaurant…and the tip is rarely left (but not mentioned in the article).

    If you truly want to be cheap, go to your favourite little Scottish restaurant…McDonalds.

  21. HungryGrrl says:

    My favorite ‘cheap date’ is going to Bertuccis and splitting a salad, a pizza, and drinking water. Two can eat for $15 plus tip. Of course, you will look really tacky unless you’re a college student. Oh, and ask for extra rolls. Damn their rolls are good. If you somehow have leftovers, make sure to ask for more rolls. Free rolls!

    My less snarky tip for ‘high value’ restaurant meals is to avoid salad-based meals, the often seem like a cheap option, but you can’t take the leftovers for a doggy-bag for lunch tomorrow.

  22. jpx72x says:

    @Gorky: Wow, I was going to be the d-bag that points out that you’re gonna die with a diet like that, but it only came out to be 2,092 calories per day. A little heavy on the fat and sodium, and a little light on the fiber and protein, but wow.

    Calories Protein Fat Carbs Fiber Sodium
    2,092.2 69.6 101.2 229.8 13.0 3,075.4
    % of Calories: 13% 43% 44%

    Pepperoni 14″ Large Pan Pizza
    1 slice or 1/12 pizza, 3.4 oz=95 g
    2 servings: 540.0 22.0 28.0 50.0 2.0 1,200.0
    Soft Drink, Coke, Cherry [Coca-Cola]
    1 can, 12 fl oz=355 ml
    150.0 0.0 0.0 42.0 M 35.0
    French Fries – medium
    4 oz=114 g
    380.0 4.0 20.0 47.0 5.0 220.0
    Big Mac
    7.5 oz=214 g
    540.0 25.0 29.0 45.0 3.0 1,040.0
    Hash Brown Potatoes, shredded, frozen [Ore Ida]
    1 cup=237 ml or 2.7 oz=76 g without cooking oil
    70.0 2.0 0.0 15.0 1.0 15.0
    Butter & Spreads, Butter – 1 pat
    1 pat, 1″=25.4 cm sq by 1/3″=0.85 cm high or 0.18 oz=5 g
    2 servings: 71.8 R 8.2 R 0.0 57.6
    Bread, White [Franz]
    1 slice, 1.1 oz=32 g
    2 servings: 160.0 4.0 2.0 30.0 2.0 320.0
    Eggs, Chicken, fried
    1 large, 1.6 oz=46 g
    2 servings: 180.4 12.6 14.0 0.8 0.0 187.8

  23. barfoo says:

    Dine and dash! Dirt cheap and adds the thrill of the escape. Note to self: not compatible with valet parking.

  24. irfan says:

    Yes its normal to charge a cork fee. its there because on special occasions customers want a certain wine, and the restaurant needs a cut. Do you think a restaurant should let you bring in a steak from somewhere else and a wine bottle from another place, so you can sit at the table and take up a seat that would generate cash, all so you can order dessert there? no. If you want to bring in outside things and take away from their profit, then you should pay a cut for taking up their space.

    the fee discourages cheap customers from bringing in their own drinks, and still gives an option for people that absolutely want their own wine but can pay for it. perfectly fair.

  25. Sorter42o says:

    Please disregard the above article. As an individual who earns tips, your insight is destroying my earnings. :P

  26. scoosdad says:

    Do you think a restaurant should let you bring in a steak from somewhere else…

    DING DING DING! The 7th Way to Save Money When Dining Out– Bring your own food!

  27. ivanthemute says:

    Gee, so you mean that the best way to dine out on the cheap is to…not dine out? What the fuck! C’mon guys, if you’re going to give us consumer advice, please make it advice which allows us to be consumers. Here are a few legit tips.

    1: Become a member of your local NPR station (or school booster club, or be a paying supporter of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, or something like that). I know here in SC, if you’re a full paying member of NPR (at about $40 a year) you get a member card which can score some fairly decent discounts to local eateries. I’ve saved about 10% on all dining to Olive Garden, 25% on our local Ruby Tuesday’s restaurants, and a whopping 50% at Sticky Fingers.

    2: Dine at restaurants which give discounts to locals. Some places do, you never know until you ask.

    3: Come in at happy hour, or on a day or at a time where there are specials as a matter of course.

    4: Chat up the waiter/waitress. I’ve been given freebies by wait staff by being plesant. Not that it happens often, but you’ll usually get better service to boot.

    5: Be a regular. If you go to a restaurant often enough that the wait staff, manager, or owner know you by name, it’ll be more likely that 4 will happen.

    6: Be sensible. If you’re looking to save dough, don’t go to some five star establishment. If you’re looking to have a nice evening out, spend the extra money and don’t be a fucking cheapskate.

  28. Me. says:

    With friends, we go to a late lunch. The prices are great. We’ve figured that most places are only $3 more than a fast food meal which, considering the ambiance, the service, and the food quality of food, is totally worth it.

  29. @BuddyHinton: When I order, I ask for a to go box with the entree. I put half away immediately for leftovers the next day. Even with only half the portion I still can’t finish it all. Lost 10 pounds to boot.

  30. Mr_Human says:

    You people are pleebs

  31. tme2nsb says:

    How about just cook at home?

  32. MightyCow says:

    You may as well not go out to a restaurant if you’re not going to have anything to drink, not order what you actually want to eat, and not have any dessert or appetizer.

    You can save a lot of money doing anything by not actually doing it.

  33. paco says:

    @Sherryness: As a single dad, I hear you. On the other hand, I’m a good cook, so I usually only eat out when I really need a break or when it’s a special occasion.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    I’d suggest dating models, but the cocaine bills are simply insaaane.

  35. kepler11 says:

    Have to agree with some of the others here — if you’re telling people to have drinks, appetizers, dessert at home to save money, why even pretend like you’re going out to eat? Do something different — treat yourself at home, or don’t eat out so much and do it right the times that you do. Or the other tips are reasonable, about finding specials or times of day/week when it’s cheap at a favorite restaurant. But it’s not very classy to piecemeal skimp when you want a nice experience.

    by the way, restaurants barely make money on the food. Drinks are where the profit comes from.

  36. sleepydumbdude says:

    Save on drinks by sneaking a flask in and spiking your sodas. :P I actually used to do that before I was of drinking age.

  37. Tip 7
    One Word: cannibalism!

  38. humorbot says:

    Wow, way to class it up. May as well just stay home. This is like my dear grandfather who would reuse teabags 4 times and literally wring them out after the 4th cup to ensure he obtained the most “value” per bag.

  39. Simply not as fun and frankly, a bit tacky. If pressed for cash I’d half or quarter the number of nights out, or cook at home (usually a tiny fraction of the price for a meal of similar quality), which is romantic and fun. If one wishes to spend time with friends but cannot afford the high price of restaurant meals/drinks, why not explore alternatives, like having said friends over for dessert/drinks after their meal out, hitting a movie (even at today’s high costs if you eat in you’ll save loads) with them, or suggesting inexpensive takeout and a relaxed, at-home activity.

  40. richtaur says:

    This is really lame. Seriously you go out and have a nice dinner with wine for the pleasure, convenience, intimacy and elegance of it — not when you’re trying to save pennies.

    Also: dessert elsewhere? And pay another tip? Huh?

  41. UpsetPanda says:

    There are a lot of flaws in this tip list but the biggest one is the fact that the OP suggests eating half a meal at home. First, that $8 appetizer is only probably $3 more than the money you spent getting it, plus the fact that you’ve got to prepare it – one of the several reasons to eat out (and I don’t mean Applebees – we’re talking about REAL food).

    A tip that is actually useful would be to suggest not ordering an appetizer AT ALL because of the proportions of meals. By the time you finish that appetizer, the meal will have come and you’ll be half full already. Order a meal with a lot of variety (meat, veggies, starch).

    My roommate and I used to eat at this Indian restaurant…we found out that we got more food by ordering it for pickup, rather than eating in the restaurant because they had to fill the container. Not only that, in the restaurant, even if we didn’t order appetizers, the plates themselves were smaller than the containers, and could hold less food.

    This same principle could be applied to restaurants – order a big appetizer, and you probably wouldn’t notice if your plate was just a little less full. This isn’t the case of most of the restaurants I’ve been to, but it could happen.

    And suggesting you have a cocktail at home before going to dinner? That’s not a good idea, unless you’re taking public transportation.

    And the “specials”? Sometimes specials are more expensive than a regular meal, and don’t actually give you more food. And a lot of specials are market priced – possibly even more expensive. Yes, specials tend to be the most appetizing when the waiter/waitress recites them but they never give you the price, or they slip it in really fast at the end. A better tip would probably be to gauge what you actually want and then choose something you’ve never had or something you enjoy but a less expensive version. After all, the same cut of salmon is used for the $15 dish and the $25 dish but it’s all about the side items and the veggies. There is no reason that seasonal veggies and potatoes should be an extra $10.

  42. yesteryear says:

    i would like to read this guy’s list of 6 ways to save water and electricity. #1. be sure to finish all activities that require light before the sun goes down. #2 urine can be re-used as drinking water… etc.

  43. UpsetPanda says:

    @yesteryear: #3 Get a key to your neighbor’s house and while he/she is gone, take over buckets of water and fill them for your shower later.

  44. ironchef says:

    pretend to be an important food critic!

  45. nonzenze says:

    Use a credit card that gives you 5% back at restaurants (prerequisite: mental discipline).

  46. Brie says:

    @yesteryear: ha! I live in a house previously owned by my uncle, who used it as a weekday pied-a-terre. We were about to have our first child and I called him to tell him I’d finished switching the utilities to my name. He said, “Be sure you stay on the yadayada measured service!” I said: the what? He said, “Under that plan, you use most of your power after 5 PM. So just wait until after 5 PM to do your laundry and things like that.”

    “What? Do you realize I’m about to have a BABY?”

    “You should go on that plan! It’s cheap!”

  47. misslisa says:

    I’m with y’all that this guy’s suggestions are idiotic. Actually, my BF and I save a bundle on eating out by not eating like fucking pigs. It should be appetizers and dessert OR an entree, not both. In our case, it’s one entree split between the 2 of us, plus one cocktail apiece. Any more than that, and I’d feel like the dude in the Monty Python movie who needs a bucket to spew in. (Now THAT’S an appetizing image!)

  48. johnva says:

    Drink good beer instead of wine. WAY cheaper, and just as enjoyable, for me. The only thing that kills me is going into a nice restaurant and seeing only Bud, Coors, etc on the menu. No idea why they believe customers would want crap beer if they wouldn’t drink bad wine.

    Wine is a much better deal from a local wine shop than a restaurant. I can afford to drink much better wine that way.

  49. Jackasimov says:

    Instead, why not make it a late night gourmet dinner in?

    Head out to your local fave restaurant at closing time. Wait for the the dishwashers to fill the dumpster with the nights leftovers and uneaten portions, pick through carefully (your almost sure to scrounge up a full portion of most items), scrape the gravy and cheese off of your nice outfit and head back home. While your lady is getting ready in the bathroom having a romantic sponge bath (saving big $$ on water and soap) pop your treats into the microwave, then tastefully arrange them on gently washed plates from lunch.

    After dinner spend some quality time on the couch imagining things. Your sure to come up with some real doozies that will entertain you for the rest of the evening. To add a little romantic zing to the night try acting out Steel Magnolias or Bridget Jones’ Diary with Fandango-style (or plain) decorated paper bags!

    As a bonus, try drinking enough booze the night before to last you through tonight’s dinner.

    Remember, life totally sucks and you wish you were dead but she is worth it!

  50. rdldr1 says:

    Where I grew up, there were a TON of all-you-can-eat buffets scattered around town. Its cheap and everything is included, if you dont mind the lack of quality. Hmm, no wonder I moved out of there.

  51. purplegrog says:

    If you work for a major employer whose presence pumps a lot of cash into the local economy, remember that many businesses will give you a discount just by virtue of you being employed by that company. This works with franchised restaurants too. The primary rule of thumb is not to be afraid to ask if there’s a discount available for X company’s employees. The worst that could happen is that the underpaid teenage cashier behind the counter would think you’re cheap.

  52. Learethak says:

    @luckybob343: Damnnit beat me to it.

    I had a roomate in college who told similar horror stories working as a dishwasher and then a line cook for a reseraint chain the Starts witha D and rhymes with Lenny.

    Ham smells funny? “Special of the day!”

    His manager believed that if you deep-fried bad food it magically unspoiled.

    Also, in the two years he was a dishwasher he never once washed one of the thermal carafe coffee-pots.

  53. AnonyLawyer says:

    Restaurant.com sells gift certiffys up to 70% off their face value…I buy a few at a time to our favorite restaurant and use them whenever we feel like eating out. You tip on the amount b/f the gift certif deduction, but if the service is good, I don’t mind ..

  54. rpm773 says:

    When the drips who wrote this article come calling to invite us out to dinner, I think I’ll let it dump into voicemail.

  55. missdona says:

    Cork fees (also known as corkage) are very normal. It’s paying for the service of the wine being served.

  56. SexCpotatoes says:

    @Gorky: I dunno why you’re spending $5 on breakfast, there’s a place called The Cameo in Massillon Ohio that only charges 3.16 for Two eggs, home fries (potatoes), Sausage links (3), two slices toast, AND coffee. Even adding a dollar tip brings you well below the $5 you quote for less food.

    It’s actually almost too much food. There have been mornings where I almost couldn’t finish the meal.

  57. nadmonk says:

    I know it’s already been suggested, but definitely sharing a plate. Most resturants don’t mind doing this and will actually give you an extra plate or serve it on two plates and most already have huge portions. It has the added bonus of being at least a little romantic.

  58. UTC says:

    This is – dare I say it? – Ric Romero-esque.

  59. FMFats says:

    When you bring a good bottle of wine to a restaurant, make sure you factor the cost of the wine into your tip, since the corkage fee certainly doesn’t go to your server. It’s also much appreciated and good form if you offer a small taste of the wine to your server.

  60. bravo says:

    An easier suggestion for this guy is to just eat at a cheaper restaurant.

  61. jeff303 says:

    I dunno about paying cash. Many credit cards give 3%-5% back on restaurant purchases.

  62. Maulleigh says:

    One thing I do when my wealthier dining companions have their heart set on an expensive restaurant, I just have a cup of tea. I still get to sit there with them but I don’t have to go into hock.

  63. flyingphotog says:

    @jpx72x: When was the last time you saw a pizza cut into 12 slices, even a large? Pizza Hut cuts their large pies into 8 slices. That calorie count might be a bit off… But you’re on the right track. I was thinking the same thing about Gorky’s Mc Donalds’ and pizza diet.

    I do sometimes drink water to save a couple bucks, especially when out to lunch with co-workers.

  64. kimsama says:

    @irfan: @bravo369: A good way to save on corkage is to check if the restaurant has a “free corkage” night. It’s most common on Tuesdays/Thursdays (nights when the restaurant might need an extra draw to get a packed house). You can buy a nice bottle for $15 on the way there (the same bottle would probably be $40 at the restaurant), which is normally the price for 2 glasses of wine. There are some really nice restaurants around me that do this. (P.S. bravo, restaurants charge corkage because #1 they don’t want people bringing Arbor Mist or a box o’ wine in — if they charge, you probably won’t bring some cheap shit, but a nice bottle you really want to have, which won’t make the restaurant look tacky, and #2, because they are a money-making business, not your home kitchen ^_^).

    I regularly go out on Tuesdays/Thursdays to take advantage of free corkage or other deals that restaurants might offer on less busy nights. Surprised that going out on non-weekends/Fridays wasn’t one of the recommendations.

  65. I don’t have drinks, appetizers, or dessert on a normal evening in, so I usually don’t bother to buy them when I’m out ANYWAY. (Well, drinks more often than the others.) God, with as huge as portions are, I’d be a blimp. I’ll stick with 1/3 to 1/2 of my entree with the rest put away for tomorrow!

  66. realist.com says:

    Who would be this cheap to go out and drink…this is like saying when going to a bar get drunk at home first then sit in bar and not buy anything.

    if you are going out to eat it should be for a special occasion, and there shouldn’t be any cheapness (god could you imagine having a date take you out and saying, oh lets eat half the meal at home first)

    People who eat out all the time are lazy, and probally fat…ya, i said it.

  67. realist.com says:

    @missdona: ya, and it shows class, thats the reason why you go out…

  68. Parting says:

    What’s the point of dining out then? You can do as well cooking yourself and save more money.

  69. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    @BuddyHinton: Splitting the meal is a great tip.

    My wife and I don’t eat out as much as we used to (more take-out now… blegh) but when we did often times we would split the massive portions that we probably would’ve wasted in a doggy bag anyway. Plus it makes the 1000+ calorie meal a little less guilt-stricken when you chop it in two.

  70. Diet-Orange-Soda says:

    And *don’t* get an appetizer. Most of the time they come slow and you meal is sitting on the table before you can even finish it.

  71. ath0 says:

    Eat from the dumpster out back, you will save big $$

  72. harryhoody says:

    Wow, this makes dining out seem so fun!

  73. realist.com says:

    @chouchou: WTF

  74. sir_eccles says:

    Stupid tip: When the waiter isn’t looking, sneak out the front door without paying!!

    Real tip: Share appetizers and desserts, it’s kind of romantic too.

  75. @realist.com: “if you are going out to eat it should be for a special occasion”

    Sometimes it’s because “Dear God, I can’t stand the thought of cooking and I want a STEAK, not McFood.”

    (Actually, we’re somewhat more likely to eat in for a special occasion and cook for ourselves!)

  76. UTC says:

    Order a lower-grade hot chocolate at the restaurant. But make sure they use milk, instead of water. That way, you’ll get an unexpected taste treat on a pauper’s budget.

    Thank, you, Mr. Romero!

  77. b612markt says:

    I’m sorry – when I make the decision to eat out, I already know that i am about to spend too much money. I don’t want to make the nice experience 10% crappier by saving $5-10 by denying myself something I want at dinner.

  78. Mr. Guy says:

    This is pretty dumb. is it not COMMON SENSE that if you buy less, you don’t spend as much? how about instead of stripping down your dinner out to the wall studs, just go out fewer times and indulge when you do?

  79. sixseeds says:

    I didn’t even know it was possible to bring your own wine to a restaurant with a liquor license. That just seems so tacky – like those old commercials where the lady pulled the salad dressing bottle out of her purse. All the places I know of in Chicago that charge a cork fee are BYOB, and now that I think about it, trying to make liquor profits off the fact that you can’t get a license is kind of obnoxious.

  80. Syunikiss says:

    My boyfriend and I save a lot of money when we eat out by only getting what we can eat, and not gorging ourselves. We often either split meals, or sometimes get things a la cart (depending on the place, not everywhere). When we go to Mexican restaurants most people order the dinners. Say if they want enchiladas they get the enchilada dinner which comes with 2 enchiladas rice and beans. I found out that I only really eat one enchilada, and I hate beans. So I order one enchilada and a side of rice. It satisfies me, and I don’t feel terrible afterwards for eating too much. We also tip the same as if we ordered two meals (it’s not the waiters fault that we decided to eat cheap) and it still comes out a lot cheaper.

    Another thing is we never get appetizers or desserts, I see no point in it. Appetizers nowadays are so big it can practically be a meal itself (and sometimes I order one as my meal). Adding in that restaurant meals are too large of portions, it just seems like a death wish to order appetizer, entree, dessert.

    Oh, and on the “you can save money by not eating out” debate… of course that’s true, but sometimes it’s just nice to get out. Especially if you and your significant other can’t cook well. Our methods of eating out doesn’t feel like we’re scrimping by, as we have no ambition to eat too much food. I feel much better when we split meals than if we both ordered an entree and overeat. Also, I hate left overs, they always pile up in the fridge forgotten. Though it is an adventure cleaning out the fridge and seeing what ecosystems are living in there.

  81. spinachdip says:

    @se7a7n7: Yes and no. It’s recognizing where you’re getting ripped off the most, but still enjoying the dining experience.

  82. SmellyGatto says:

    ok, my rant and opinion. If you choose to go out to dinner, you should choose to go somewhere different, fun, with good food, and not a chain. If you have decided to go this route, trying to scrimp and save pennies will only ruin your experience (note: I am not advocating reckless spending, what I am advocating is not letting worrying compromise the dinner and the ambiance). If you can’t afford to go and slurge a little, then wait and save up the money. If you don’t think it is worth it, then that type of experieince isn’t for you. The ONLY place to possibly shop smart is in the wine selection. Either go to a BYOB that serves amazing food and bring a good bottle of wine (remember good does not always mean expensive) or go to a decent place with your own wine but beware the corkage fee. Some restaurants may charge anywhere between $20-$200 in corkage fees– (tip, bring something good and rare and offer your server the opportunity to taste it, that will usually end up in him/her waiving the corkage fee.).

  83. thaddius says:

    This sounds more like, how to take the fun out of dining out!

  84. reznicek111 says:

    @jpx72x: The menu you analyzed isn’t that excessive in the calories department, but it’s woefully lacking in fiber and vitamins. Not a veg in sight (unless one considers tomato sauce and hash browns vegetables)!

    If you have to eat like this on a trip (I know, I have), bring Metamucil or some apples. ;)

  85. evilinkblot says:

    This is the most useless piece I’ve ever seen on consumerist

  86. Truthie says:

    Isn’t it going a bit far to suggest eating part of your dinner at home? If I am going to heat up and serve some food, why go out to dinner in the first place? Why not just buy some fancy entree from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or Wegmans and avoid going out to eat altogether? Then you save even more money!

    Also, be VERY wary of specials, especially the ones not on the printed menu that your server tells you about. Because no one wants to be the cheap douche that asks how much the special costs, they are usually the worst value on the menu. That, and the special is often something created to use up random leftover ingredients the restaurant had.

  87. bbbici says:

    “Find” a hair, band-aid, or insect in your meal after you have eaten 80% of it.

    Complain about something and get a dessert or drink.

    If your table is not ready for your reservation when you arrive, look really pissed and you will get free drinks.

    BTW, always tip on the PRE-DISCOUNTED price of your meal.

  88. Morton Fox says:

    Here’s one I came up with recently: If you go to a restaurant with a salad bar, e.g. Ruby Tuesday, there’s usually a burger, fries, and salad bar combo on the menu. Order that combo. Then fill up on the salad bar so you can’t finish the burger and fries. Take the burger / fries leftovers home and reheat that in the microwave oven for lunch the next day. So paying for one meal gets you two!

  89. SmellyGatto says:

    Again, the use of !!!!!!! in the article tipped me off to the level of douchedness.

  90. SmellyGatto says:

    @Morton Fox:

    I’d leave that little scenario off your eHarmony profile. :)

  91. PaperBoy says:

    Woah, folks! Quit hating on the writer. He’s not screwing anybody here. Believe me, if you have kids and only one income (or one and part-time because, ya know, sombody’s gotta raise the kids) it is a total sanity-saver for your marriage to get out to a decent restaurant more often than just your anniversary.

    This is a reasonable way to approach it that doesn’t involve shortchanging anyone (he doesn’t say to stiff the waitstaff, for example) while avoiding those things on the menu that have the steepest mark-up.

    Now, I personally wouldn’t go this entire route, but splitting an appetizer or one of those too-huge entrees most places serve and having a drink at home first (you get drunk on one lousy high-ball?) isn’t ripping anybody off. You can still enjoy the atmosphere and service of a really good restaurant and pay a fair price, and have a better experience than hitting the local TGIBenniganbee’s. It’s better to buy a couple entrees and support a good, independent local restaurant than go whole hog at a cheap chain or sit home and order from Domino’s.

    Yeah, cheapskates are tacky and often cheat themselves to the point of “Why bother?” but there’s nothing wrong with saving a buck or two when things are tight. You don’t have to do ALL these things, but applying one or two of these hints is a good way to dine out and not break the bank.

    As a young couple saving our money, my wife and I found this type of approach to work very well. And no waiter or restaurant owner ever complained that we weren’t ordering a three-course meal that we couldn’t afford and that our waistlines didn’t need.

    Let’s hear it for the battle-cry of the marrieds: “Weeknight date with a coupon!”

  92. DrGirlfriend says:

    Just because he’s stopping at Harry & David the night before he goes out to dinner doesn’t automatically make the “appetizer” he bought there free. He still paid to buy the heat & serve bacon brie. Maybe not as much as a couple of appetizers at a restaurant, but if you split your app like you split your entree, then you probably come out even.

    Of course, the more you order at the actual restaurant, the more you actually have to tip. So that right there is another money saving idea: spend less so your tip is smaller!

  93. lihtox says:

    These are six good ideas, but not necessarily all at once: you might not want to have cocktails, appetizers, AND dessert at home, but choosing one of the three would help save money, and might be an idea that a reader hadn’t thought of. Having an appetizer at home = don’t go into the restaurant starving (because when I’m starving I always think I’ll want more food than I actually end up eating), and it can be fun to end a night out with a stop at an ice cream parlor, rather than spending the $6 for dessert at the restaurant.

    Best way to save money is to not drink; I’m a teetotaler and I am floored by how much people will spend on a 1-oz. beverage.

  94. timsgm1418 says:

    I thought Scottish names are usually Mac and Irish names are Mc..wouldn’t McDonalds be Irish?@TheSpatulaOfLove:

  95. OsiUmenyiora says:

    So the answer to saving money when eating out is to not really eat out at all? Skip the appetizer, drinks and dessert — whoopee. How about you just pack a picnic lunch and go to a park or something.

  96. hydrargyrum says:

    @SexCpotatoes: Maybe you can get a full breakfast for 4 dollars in Massillon Ohio. That’ll barely get a coffee and a couple donuts in Chicago…

  97. bigmac12 says:

    Find the Bars that have free Happy Hour food…some are as complete as a regular meal. This way you can get zonked, well fed and watch the rest of the drunks antics!

  98. Mary says:

    Wow, as somebody who doesn’t drink these tips are primarily useless…

    As somebody who almost never finishes my entree so I rarely order appetizers or dessert, these tips become completely useless. Ah well.

  99. nick_r says:

    Some of these seem like attempts to save money at nice restaurants, to which I say that nothing kills the fun of going to a nice restaurant like trying your best to shave money off the bill. Live a little, indulge a little, budget so that a fancy meal once and a while doesn’t break the bank.

  100. SmellyGatto says:


    WOW. You have ZERO idea what you are talking about. BYOB doesn’t mean you can’t get a license, in most cases it means you opt not to sell liquor. The corkage fee in a BYOB is traditionally instituted to cover the cost of stemware on hand to serve various types of beverages in (Red, white, port wine glasses etc.). The corkage fee in a restaurant that has a wine list can vary and in many cases is calculated based on the estimated expense of the selction you bring in. the logic is that the restaurant loses a sale of wine in the same price category. So, if you bring in a $100 bottle of wine that is in a a class with wines they sell for $250-300 then you might expect a $50 to $100 corkage fee. Sometimes you get lucky and the fee is $5-25. The tacky thing to do in that type of restaurant is to bring in a cheapassed bottle of wine or bring a wine they have on their very own list. sure, you paid 3 to 4 times less for the same bottle at the liquor store, but it stil a very tacky move.

  101. SaraAB87 says:

    I don’t think I am worried about this because I only eat out 2-3 times per year, if that. I like to avoid restaurant food because most of it is bad for you. Some restaurants have 3,000 calorie meals, no wonder I am full before the main dish gets to the table! When you go out for food, don’t go out to save money, go out for the experience

  102. gtbernstein says:

    Remind me never to go out with Mr and Mrs X. They seem like the type to haggle me over the bill. They must be loads of fun, when they go out in big groups.

  103. Superborty says:

    I apologize as I didn’t read all the comments, but wtf? No sh-t you can save money by doing these, outside of the specials which always cost more. To the writer: the Beatles broke up.

  104. solipsistnation says:

    This is pretty bogus. Aside from the Anthony Bourdain “Specials = crap that’s about to rot” advice, why bother going out to eat at all if you’re going to just eat a bunch of random frozen food before leaving? Either don’t order appetizers at all or plan a whole meal at home from frozen stuff.

    As far as bringing your own wine and paying the corkage fee, consider that you’re likely to be bringing a $15-30 bottle, and then paying $15 on top of that. Unless you’ve got a bottle of Two Buck Chuck or some other cheap plonk, Is it worth the trouble to save a couple of bucks and end up with (likely) crappier wine than a restaurant with a decent cellar could provide? Again, why bother going out if you’re just going to bring all your own food with you?

    This is almost as dumb as that one post from the car rental guy that quickly turns into abuse of people who try to save money on car rentals…

  105. ElenorR says:

    My family has been in the restaurant biz for 30 years, here are our tips for how to REALLY save money when you go out to eat:

    – Avoid eating out on Fridays and Saturdays and holidays like Valentine’s Day. Your wait is longer, the quality of service is lower and the prices are often higher. If you do choose to go out on a big night, order off the menu, the specials are likely to be overpriced on a big day. Friday and Saturdays are a good day to opt for the prix fixe menu. A la carte on weekedays.

    – Avoid chain restaurants, find good local places who will appreciate your business. They will often comp repeat customers they like with a new dessert or appetizer they are trying out. Further, you are supporting your local economy. If you like them, talk them up to your local paper and on local city sites.

    – Ask the waiter for a wine recommendation or two. Often the waiter won’t suggest the most expensive wine, but the one that will go best with your food. If he does this, tip him a little extra so he continues this practice. Yes wine in a restaurant is expensive, but it is a good way to discover new wines.

    – Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu or chicken. Chicken is usually marked up to cover the prices of other expensive ingredients. Fish (if fresh) is often your best value.

    – If the desserts are made in the establishment, then order them, they won’t be too expensive and they are usually good. If they are ordered in, I agree with the OP and suggest that you go to a nice bakery instead. The overhead on ordered desserts is high and the freshness can be suspect.

    And as a final note, be nice to your waiter, treat them with respect and if possible tip in cash. It won’t improve your service, but it will make up for cheap schmucks like the OP.

  106. no.no.notorious says:

    @Superborty: LOL yeah.

    nothing makes you look more like a cheap college kid than going to a fairly nice restaurant and only having water and chicken parm. especially if you do that over and over again at the same place, most servers will avoid serving you if they know who you are. it happens all the time in the places ive worked ‘oh man…so and so…i don’t want to wait on them…’

    seriously, if you want to make it a nice evening because it’s a special occasion, it’s better to share a whole lot of stuff with your date (which i do, AND i have enough for dessert, AND manage to have enough to tip well) than just having spaghetti and meatballs and calling it a night.

  107. biffybeans says:

    I do not agree with “Try the specials” in fact, I try and avoid the specials at all costs. Wonder why? Check out Anthony Bourdain’s book, “Kitchen Confidential” and you’ll see that specials are generally what they are pushing to get rid of before it goes bad. DEFINITELY avoid any fish special that’s covered in a sauce. Avoid specials on Sunday/Monday, or the days before they get their meat/fish deliveries.

    Specials are not always food ready to go bad, they can also be ultra low-cost ingredients prepared in such a way that it creates a high profit margin.

    And lastly, specials can be dishes that are partially prepared ahead of time, so they can be quickly served during a busy time. Keep all of these things in mind before ordering the “special.”

  108. Mr. Gunn says:

    I think this kind of article is way better than the “OMG EVERYBODY PANIC TEH CHEMICALS ARE IN TEH WATERZ!! kind of stories.

    A couple tips I might add:
    The markups on wine decrease as the retail price increases, so often the best deals are found in the middle of the list.
    Ordering a bunch of appetizers and sharing them is a fun way to try a lot of different things and is a lighter way to eat than each person having an entree to themselves.

    The “have a cocktail before” thing is a good idea, but I usually do this before going out to see a show, rather than dinner. Regardless, one cocktail isn’t going to put anyone over the limit.

  109. KJones says:

    I vote with others, cook something nice at home if you want to impress.

    If you really want to eat on the cheap but make it look good, there are a few classy buffet style places. Or if you want it served on plates, try Indian, Chinese or other Asian restaurants where you can pick courses, mixing and matching or sharing them.

  110. HeartBurnKid says:

    @flyingphotog: I see that every time I go somewhere other than Pizza Hut, myself. Just from the chains in my area, Papa John’s and Round Table will both cut their Larges into 12 slices, and their Extra Larges into 16.

  111. Garbanzo says:

    @MissedTheExit: When you have a baby you can’t do laundry after 5 p.m.?

  112. ManicPanic says:

    @Jackasimov: Your comment was freaking hilarious! I just snorted water out my nose! If I told Mr. ManicPanic we were going to stay in to imagine things on the floor since we don’t have a couch to save money, he’d think I’d gone insane. Thanx for the 5:00 pick me up!

  113. kable2 says:

    Why do people feel like they are cheating by not tipping. I mean the place is making loads of money off of you for the food. That $2.50 drink costs about 10 cents for example. that $50 bill cost the place about maybe $15 at the most.

    Let the place pay for their workers. BFD carrying a plate of food and a couple of drinks, yea thats worth $15.

    /Well I might actually leave a buck or two

  114. EYESONLY says:

    Getting dessert elsewhere (esp. at a specialty place like a bakery) is typically a better idea anyway, because so many “nice” restaurants don’t make their own desserts–they just microwave prefabricated ones, so the thing you’re getting isn’t unique to that restaurant. The excellent blog WaiterRant had a post about this last year–the original post (“Why You Should Never Eat Dinner and Dessert at the Same Restaurant”) seems to have been taken down, but you can read it here.

  115. MrsMicah says:

    @Sorter42o: Actually, while I tend to be thrifty about my ordering, I tip the server something like 30-50% to reflect what they would have normally gotten and to compensate them for your work.

    However, if you treat me like crap because you think I’ll undertip, then I’m less likely to tip you well.

    Not all frugal people are cheap. Sometimes you have to take responsibility for getting a bad tip. On the other hand, I tipped a waitress 100% for good service when I was having an appetizer/drink during happy hour.

  116. Rode2008 says:

    Pull out one of your hairs and sort of stir it around a bit into the final bits of your meal. Call the waiter over and feign being absolutely repulsed. A few pretend “dry heaves” will: (1) get the meal off your tab; and (2) maybe even earn you a free desert.

  117. SmellyGatto says:


    Or pay for your meal like and adult.

  118. HeartBurnKid says:

    @kable2: Because you’re not screwing the restaurant; you’re screwing the poor schmuck who just spent an hour catering to your every whim. It’s good to take care of people who take care of you. I think it is truly sad that it’s now so expected that restaurants can pay their help crap wages with the excuse that they’ll “make it up on tips”, but that’s the way it is, and stiffing your server on the tip is putting the screws to the wrong person in the equation.

  119. Jahnavi says:

    The Entertainment Guide has great 2 for 1 specials. Restaurant.com enables you to purchase gift certificates to local restaurants that reduce the costs. Also many cities have “restaurant week” which usually includes a three course meal at a super cheap price.
    10 ways to save money