How to Eat Out on a Budget
Whether eating out is something you only do on special occasions or something you do every week, the difference between the cost of a restaurant meal and the cost of eating at home can be significant.
Clearly there are some in between options, such as getting a takeaway meal, but often one of the loveliest elements of eating out can be enjoying new surroundings and feeling the buzz of the atmosphere, as well as the fact that there is no preparation or tidying up for you to do.
So, is there a way in which you can enjoy the benefits of eating out while also adhering to a relatively strict budget? In short, yes! You might have to be a little flexible with your plans, perhaps changing the day of the week on which you eat out, or doing a little advance preparation so that you can locate the best money-off vouchers. However, if you're prepared take a bit of time about it, you can have your cake (or steak, or whatever else you fancy ordering) AND eat it.
Using vouchers to save money on restaurant bills, or to get added extras, is a simple but effective way of making eating out possible on a budget. There are many different sources of vouchers and there's no harm in getting involved with all of them. Just make sure you read the terms and conditions of each carefully, as often you will only be allowed to redeem one against your bill so you'll want it to be the one that saves you most money.
Here are some good places to get started with vouchers.
Download voucher apps onto your smartphone. Popular examples are listed below. The apps are usually free to download, so it makes sense to have a few of them.
The above apps are likely to be available on other smartphone systems as well, but if you don't have a phone that supports them you can also visit the websites. It's often useful to do this anyway, as the full website may offer deals that are not so easy to find when using the mobile version of the site.
Keep your eyes peeled for vouchers that appear in both local and national newspapers; always check the back of your receipts as money-off promotions are often advertised there; collect vouchers from food packaging such as cereal packets. Vouchers could be anywhere!
At most supermarkets, you can now save up your loyalty points and redeem them for vouchers that can be used in restaurants and often you will be able to claim more than the voucher's equivalent value in 'real' money, making them even better for those on a budget!
Become 'friends' with your favourite places
Follow your favourite restaurants on Twitter, 'like' them on Facebook, sign up to their newsletter... In short, develop a social media relationship with them so that you are kept informed about any offers they may be running or any special events that are coming up.
Get benefits from companies you already use
Make sure you are up to date with any special offers that are might be operated through companies you already use. One of the most well known examples of this is 'Orange Wednesdays' - a scheme run by a mobile phone network (now called EE, though formally known as Orange) whereby you can opt to receive a code via a text message each Wednesday that will give you money off at certain restaurants, like Pizza Express.
Sign up to members' schemes
If you eat out on a regular basis, it might be worth signing up to a members' club such as Diners Club. You may even find that there are local equivalents of such schemes - in my town you can register for a book of vouchers that will save you money in local shops and restaurants and you are also issued with a card that entitles you to further promotions from time to time.
Putting a little bit of thought into your dining plans can reap rewards when it comes to eating out on a budget. Here are a few tips:
- Avoid the busiest days and times. Could you eat out midweek as opposed to at weekends? Could you do lunch rather than dinner?
- Try and do a bit of research about the restaurant you're visiting before you arrive. If they have large portion sizes, could you and a friend share one? Could you eat a starter each instead of a main course?
- If you are really worried about costs, have something to eat before you go (we're talking snacks here, not full blown meals!) so that you don't need to order three courses.
- Consider whether it might be an option to have a booze-free night. If you (and maybe even your friends) decide not to drink alcoholic drinks when you're out, you'll find that your bill is significantly reduced. Some places now allow you to bring your own alcoholic drinks and, usually for a small corkage fee, drink them along with the meal that you will be purchasing. Always check the restaurant's policy before you arrive, however, otherwise you might face an expensive and somewhat embarrassing mistake.
- If you are taking children with you to eat out then it's always a good idea to investigate the venue beforehand. This is for two reasons, the first of which being that although it is now much more socially acceptable to take children to eat out, there are still places where you might feel uncomfortable and it would be awful to waste money on a meal that you have whizzed your way through while dealing with unhappy toddlers and disapproving fellow diners. If you want a good idea about a restaurant's suitability, you can specify 'child friendly' restaurants when searching on Trip Advisor. The second reason for doing your research is that family friendly places will often have special deals for children, offering free meals or two-for-one promotions if eating at certain times, which could save you a fair bit of money.
Book online beforehand
There are often advantages to be gained by booking your table online before you go. Booking through websites such as:
will not only allow you to reserve your seating, but will also allow you access to a range of money saving offers that you would be unable to find anywhere else. At some restaurants, you can also get a discount if you book a set menu online for a group, so always investigate this option if you are dining with more than six people.
One final piece of advice: always mention any discounts, offers, voucher codes, etc., to the restaurant before you start ordering. Doing this not only gives notice to the serving staff that they may need a few extra minutes to process your bill at the end, but also means they can highlight any limitations or exclusions related to the promotions you are taking part in.