Whether you’re celebrating something special or closing out a long week at the office, eating out is always a treat. The tab, though, isn’t always as nice. Costs add up quickly, and you’re often hit with a bill that’s quite a bit larger than anticipated. Luckily, you don’t have to skip nights out altogether. A few quick tweaks are all it takes to save your hard-earned cash. Here are a few tried-and-true savings hacks to keep in mind the next time you’re at a restaurant.
Get it to go
If you order in-house each time you visit a restaurant, you’re missing out on some serious savings. Ordering to go is a quick, effortless saving hack that many people overlook. Can’t get enough of that chicken cordon bleu? Don’t wait until you’re ready to leave to get a carryout box. As soon as your server arrives, request that your order is brought in a large to go box (yes, you can still eat there).
Why large? It’s simple — your waiter isn’t likely to measure out your food. Instead, they’ll add as much as they need to fill the box and you’ll only be charged for the initial size you ordered. If you order a small plate of spaghetti in a large to go box, for instance, you’ll get a meal double or triple the size without paying an extra cent. Talk about bang for your buck.
Stick to appetizers
Think appetizers are a waste of money? Think again. If you’re someone who has trouble clearing their plate, regular meals are an unnecessary strain on your wallet. More often than not, ordering two or three (or four, or five) appetizers is significantly cheaper than ordering full entrees. Don’t worry about going hungry — many appetizers are big enough to be a meal on their own, especially for those with a lighter appetite. When dining with a group, order a handful of appetizers everyone can split.
Appetizers aren’t the only shareables on the menu. Entrees can be shared, too! The next time you’re out with friends, study the menu together and pick a few dishes each of you would like. Be sure to ask your server to bring a few extra plates for the table. Once your orders arrive, divvy things up into equal portions before everyone digs in. You’ll cut your tab in half, and you’ll get to enjoy multiple dishes.
Time your visits
Restaurant bill savings hacks are more than just what you eat, but when you eat. It’s no secret that dinner dishes are the most expensive items on the menu. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch, though, are quite a bit cheaper. Many restaurants have breakfast and lunch deals that run late in the day — you can often order breakfast until 11 a.m. and lunch until 3 or 4 p.m. Try hitting your favorite spot a few hours earlier to cash on breakfast dishes for lunch and lunch dishes for dinner. Keep an eye out for establishments that offer discounted or “kids eat free” deals as well. If you see something that catches your eye, mark your calendar and enjoy some (cheap) family time.
Happy hour, of course, is the best time to visit. Though happy hour conjures up images of after work libations, restaurants have started to jump on the bandwagon. Countless restaurants offer happy hour meal deals where customers can buy full-sized meals for the price of a starter.
Rethink your drinks
Yeah, we know — a delicious meal without a crisp glass of wine or a cool glass of beer isn’t always ideal. Forgoing extra expenses, though, is the easiest savings hack around. Your beverage of choice is far, far more expensive at restaurants than it would be at the local liquor store. It’s not unheard of for restaurants to charge $6, $8, or even $10 dollars for a $4 beer. Instead of ordering a drink, ask your server for water. Water isn’t as glamorous, but it’s a lot more wallet-friendly than that specialty mimosa.
Should you skip drinks altogether, though? Absolutely not. Simply cutting down can make a world of difference. If you’re meeting someone for breakfast or lunch, try to skip drinks until dinner. If you’re out to dinner, order one drink if you tend to order multiple or buy a bottle. The best saving hack, however, is to keep your eye out for deals. Check a restaurant’s website and Facebook page for specials and plan your next night out accordingly.
Ask about discounts
Ultimately, the easiest way to save money at a restaurant is to ask. Many restaurants offer discounts customers aren’t aware of. Like retail stores, eating establishments often provide discounts for students, military members and military families, senior citizens, and children. They might not have their discounts on their menu or on their website — they still enjoy profit, after all — but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Kim Courvoisier, director of content at Thanx, a customer engagement and loyalty platform for restaurants sees many of their merchants utilizing compelling offers for their most loyal customers.
“Most restaurants offer a loyalty program of some sort. Many offer an app that enables you to order online, make reservations, and earn points or special offers once your spending hits a certain threshold. Many offer incentives just for signing up. It’s a fantastic way to save some money while being rewarded for your loyalty,” says Courvoisier.
Every time you go out to eat, mention to your server that you’re a student, military member, or senior citizen. Ask, ask, ask! If you’re successful and manage to snag a surprise discount, you’ll have a few extra dollars in your pocket at the end of the night. If you’re unsuccessful, you’ll still enjoy a great meal. Make sure you have your appropriate ID with you — you can make claims all you want, but you’ll have to have proof that you are who you say you are.