Whether you’re an adventurous foodie or you prefer a menu of comfort food, dining out can be a delicious way to spend time with loved ones or celebrate an occasion. Eating in restaurants can also get expensive if you don’t keep the habit in check.
Fortunately, you don’t have to forego your favorite restaurants when you’re on a budget. Try a few of these tips to save money the next time you dine out.
From fast food chains to local mom-and-pop spots, many restaurants offer punch cards and points programs to reward customers for their loyalty. If you’re a regular at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant, ask if they offer a loyalty program. Over time, your patronage could translate into freebies and discounts.
Bonus tip: Some restaurants offer free desserts (or even free meals) for birthdays. You can check online or call ahead to inquire about birthday deals at your favorite spot.
It pays to take advantage of restaurant specials, and you’re more likely to find them during off-peak hours.
Dining out on a weeknight or during happy hour can be one of the best ways to find deals and specials that save you money. Even fine-dining restaurants may offer weekday specials that make a splurge destination into an affordable night out. Happy hours can provide steep discounts on adult beverages that tend to lead to high restaurant bills—more on that below.
To find specials, check your favorite restaurants’ websites or social media profiles or call ahead.
Keep your eyes peeled for savings available to various groups: Senior discounts, teacher discounts, veteran discounts, kids eat free, and so on.
Many restaurants also offer discounts and specials on national days. National Cheese Curd Day, for example, falls on Oct. 15.
One of the easiest ways to save money on your restaurant bill is to sip tap water instead of alcohol, soda or novelty drinks. The markup on beverages can quickly add up, especially if you’re dining in a group. Tap water is free, and it’s never a bad idea to stay hydrated.
If you’re dining at a sit-down restaurant, expect to tip a minimum of 15 percent of the pre-tax total, according to the Emily Post Institute. Skipping the tip is not a viable way to save a few bucks—it only takes wages out of your server’s pocket.
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