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How to Reduce Your Restaurant Expenses

If you’re like me, then you love the novelty and experience of dining out at restaurants. Eating at your own home, night after night, can feel mundane and boring. But, there’s an obvious problem: restaurants are expensive. How can you avoid the boredom of eating at home constantly without blowing your budget on pricey dinners. After lots of trial-and-error, here are some of the best tips that I’ve adopted in my quest to dine out without overspending. Feel free to use these tips to reduce your restaurant expenses as well!

reduce your restaurant expenses#1: Get Just Drinks or Dessert

If your motivation for dining out isn’t the food itself, but rather the atmosphere, you can enjoy that same atmosphere by eating a big meal at home (so you won’t be tempted to eat once you’re at the restaurant), and then just ordering an appetizer, drinks or dessert once you’re out-and-about. You’ll still enjoy the ambiance of a new place, without the high bill at the end of the night.

#2: Get Just Dinner

On the other hand, if you’re food-driven and want to dine out because the restaurant’s chef can cook better than you can, order just the main entree. Skip the appetizer, dessert, and especially drinks — you could pour yourself a glass of wine at home (in other words, indulge in the free water at the restaurant).

#3: Use Deal Sites

Groupon, LivingSocial, Scoutmob and other deal sites will give you a discount, but beware: If you find yourself dining out more because of these daily deal sites, then you’re not actually saving any money in the long-run.

#4: Think of Each Item in Terms of Total Cost

It’s easy to look at a menu and think: “That’s just $5. I can order it.”

But before you place your order, reframe the price in terms of it’s total cost. First of all, $5 plus tax will come to around $5.40, depending on the tax rates in your area. Then tip will cost another dollar, bringing you to $6.40.

Let’s round up to $6.50, and try this exercise: imagine that every $5 worth of food on the menu actually costs $6.50, or that every $10 worth of food on the menu actually costs $13. If your appetizer, entree and soft drink come to a total of $20, then, imagine that it actually costs $26 — and keep that number in your mind before you place your order. Reframing the way that you “view” menu prices can help you make better buying decisions.

reduce your restaurant expenses#5: Mark Your Calendar

It’s easy to under-estimate how often we dine out. I might “feel” like I’ve only dined out once or twice in the past week, when in reality, I’ve actually gone out three or four times.

In order to combat this tendency, mark your calendar every time you dine out. This will allow you to visually see how often you’re going out to eat, and the answer might surprise you — and might even motivate you to stay in more.

#6: Create an “Only with Friends” Rule

Is there a specific person who is normally your “restaurant buddy” — such as your spouse? Do you eat most of your meals with the same person?

If so, then create a new rule: You and that person can’t dine out, just the two of you, for the next month. Every time that you eat at a restaurant, you need to be accompanied by other people — friends, family, colleagues. This will reduce your tendency to say, “Honey, I’m hungry, let’s go to the new Italian place” on an impulse. It will force you to plan-in-advance for all of your restaurant dining.

If going “cold-turkey” for a month sounds too hard, then try reducing your frequency to only once per week, and designating that as an official date night. Mark this on your calendar, so that it’s also an advance plan rather than a hunger impulse.

Do you have other ways that you save money when dining out? Please share in the comment section below!

Kennedi writes about money and saving for Face & Fitness.

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Just for health reasons we decided to only eat half of our meals or share a meal. The calories and portions are huge. We try to make the times we go out a special occasion and not just a habit. Just not healthy and too expensive in the long run. Coupons are good too.

    • That’s a great idea, Lance. You’ll both save money AND reduce calories!

  2. I use gift cards that I win or purchase at a discount or with a bonus. Then I combine the gift card with coupons and frequent use cards. Our family is also signed up for birthday freebies. We also enjoy kids eat free nights.

    • Wow, it sounds like you’re great at optimizing deals! Nice work.

  3. One technique that I use to keep costs low is resisting the urge to eat out at nicer, sit-down restaurants. Instead, my wife and I choose less expensive options like Chipotle and other similar establishments. For two of us, we walk out of there completely satisfied for right around $16 bucks.

    Not bad.

    • That’s a great strategy. You get the fun and novelty of “going out” but at a reasonable cost!

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