Being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t splurge every now and then…
You just do it wisely!!
Being a family of six on a tight income means we rarely go out to eat. Usually if we do it’s because we planned a trip to town poorly and ended up with four starving kiddos. And maybe a starving husband.
tightwad frugal mother of the family, I hate getting caught off guard like this. When I’m thinking ahead I usually bring a snack and waters with us when we’ll be out and about for a while. Or we try to plan our trips right after breakfast or lunch so the kids are full. Still, every now and then we run errands much longer than anticipated, and tummies start to growl.
Of course, when this happens and you’re far from home there are only three options…
- Starve, and deal with grumpy people until you get home.
- Grab a snack at the grocery store to hold you over.
- Bite the bullet and find somewhere that serves good food at a reasonable price.
Depending on how far out we are and how much longer it will be, I might choose options one or two. Option three is reserved for sheer survival. While hubby might be all for burgers and fries, in my mind I’m calculating the cost per person compared to what we could eat at home… and I decide to be the martyr and only eat whatever crumbs are leftover from the kids’ meals.
All kidding aside, there is definitely a strategy we use when we do go out to eat. When you need to feed a lot of mouths for as little money as possible, do not order whatever looks good on the menu. As tempting as it can be, you’ve gotta be rational about this excursion!
Here’s how we save money eating out, and how we’re able to feed our family of six for around $20 no matter where we go,
(and you would be right to assume we never go out to eat at fancy restaurants).
1. Share entrées and be strategic.
Look over the menu and decide what looks good AND offers the most food for your money. Hint: steak is usually out. More often than not this means settling for something that isn’t your top choice, but will satisfy you nonetheless. The goal is to eat something that tastes good and offers enough to fill two people. Then split plates.
More often than not an entrée is large enough to feed two people. Remember, the goal is not to stuff yourself, but to eat just enough to make you lose that hungry feeling. If necessary you can always order an extra side to supplement a large appetite.
It’s usually better to split a full sized plate between kids than to order smaller dishes for each child from the kid’s menu.
2. Order an appetizer instead of a meal.
Sometimes an appetizer is enough to satisfy your hunger. Especially if there are free chips and salsa or bread offered on the house. Ask the waiter how much food comes on the plate to determine whether or not it’ll save you money over splitting a full sized meal between two people.
3. Don’t buy drinks.
Order water instead of soft drinks. It’s usually free. Or bring your own if you prefer. If you’re getting your food to go and you absolutely can’t live without a soda- ask for no ice. The drink will still be cold, and you will get twice as much drink for your money!
4. Keep coupons handy.
When you come across coupons to restaurants you typically frequent, keep them in the car (or on your phone) so they’ll be handy should you need to stop for a bite to eat. There’s probably an app for that. You might score a free appetizer, or a B1G1 meal deal.
5. Go where kids eat free.
Some restaurants offer free meals to kids (usually 12 and under) on certain days of the week. Sometimes it’s limited to one kid’s plate per regular entree purchased. Some places have no restrictions. Check out 63 Places Where Kids Eat Free (Or Almost Free) to find locations near you.
6. Bring snacks for younger kids.
If you aren’t eating somewhere where the kids eat free, pack some food to take along for them. This is really most practical for smaller children. Bring a sippy cup or juice box, and some finger foods for them to munch on. In my experience, buying a kid’s plate for toddlers is NEVER worth it. My toddlers didn’t eat a third of what was on their plate when we ate out.
7. Opt for lunch instead of dinner.
Lunch plates are always cheaper than dinner. If you can plan it, go out at lunchtime instead of dinner. You’ll get the same amount of food for less.
8. Price compare pizza delivery.
When ordering pizza, if you really like one place more than the other but the other has a better deal, call your preferred pizza place and ask them if they will match their competitors deal. They usually will.
9. Better yet, don’t do delivery!
Pick up your food instead of having it delivered (if you don’t live too far), and save yourself that tip money. If you’re out in the boonies you might break even on what you would have spent on gas to just have it delivered. Consider which would be most cost effective for you.
10. Speak up if you’re not satisfied.
If you are not happy with your food don’t let it go to waste, tell the waiter! Be nice about it, of course. Even if you’ve eaten some of it, most places will take it back and not charge you for it.
11. Try to plan your trip ahead of time.
If you plan on going out, know where you want to eat then visit their website and see if they offer printable coupons online. Often if you join their mailing list they will immediately send you an email with a coupon for a free appetizer or something.
12. Check your bill for mistakes.
Waiters admit to adding extra charges to your bill to increase their gratuity. Some have even been caught forging their own tips! Sometimes they forget to give you the discount from your coupon. Pay attention, don’t pay extra! And pay with cash when possible to avoid any billing mistake headaches.
Real Life Examples
Recently my family was running around town and decided we were hungry enough to stop at Applebees for a bite to eat. I had a $20 gift card in my purse which I wanted to use without spending extra money out of pocket for the meal.
After scouring the menu and asking the waiter about portion sizes, we placed our order.
We opted for the Build Your Sampler option, where you can get 3 appetizers for $12.99, with each additional item $3.50. Our kids love quesadillas so we got four chicken quesadillas from this option, coming to a total of $16.49. Each dish came with three generously loaded chicken quesadillas, which was enough (and more than enough for the younger ones) to satisfy the kids.
Jerry added on a spinach and artichoke dip for another $3.50, and I got a tomato basil soup for $3.29 (which was delicious, by the way). We ordered waters all around and helped ourselves to the free chips and salsa. Jerry ended up eating the leftover quesadillas, and we were all full.
The grand total? $23.28, plus tax (and tip). We still ended up spending a few bucks out of pocket aside from the gift card, but we didn’t go much over the $20 goal!
We also like to eat at a local hamburger joint on special occasions. When we go we order four cheeseburgers and opt for a side of soup instead of fries for one of the plates. We split the huge burgers between us, and we can all eat our fill for $20.
Don’t be impulsive when you go out to eat! Be intentional about how you order and you’ll get much more food for your buck.
I’d love to hear how you save money eating out at restaurants! If you have anything to add to this list, leave it in the comments section below.