Five Best Ways to Eat Out On a Budget


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
I love dining out! It doesn’t matter if I’m alone or with family and friends. There’s nothing quite like picking out a dish that you didn’t slave over at the kitchen and being served dinner without thinking about doing the dishes after. Not only can I eat food I normally can’t (or don’t) prepare myself, but there’s also a sort of instant gratification involved in the entire dining out experience.

Apart from that, the ambiance of good dining experience cannot be beat, which is why eating out has become a regular habit for me – yes, even when I’m on a tight budget. I’m sure some of you are the same, as well.

So for today, I am going to discuss all about dining out on a budget. It’s a shortlist of practical tips I’ve learned through years of trying out different eateries and restaurants because no way am I reverting to the sorry brown bag breakfasts and lunches of my teenage years! So please read on, and hopefully, you can also find some of these tips useful.

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Eat a la carte wherever you can

If you’ve ever gotten roped in by those combo meals that promise more burps for your buck, I’m sorry to say that you got duped. While it’s tempting to purchase a packaged “value” meal because it already has a main dish plus sides and a drink in it, what you’re paying for is really the convenience of not choosing what you actually want. And that’s exactly how you become a non-adventurous (and predictable) diner!

“Free” or discounted/unlimited drinks have become a favorite bait of the food and beverage industry because a few fluid ounces of beverage won’t send a restaurant into bankruptcy anyway. Its main goal is to actually get people buying bundled meals because it creates the illusion of providing a complete dining experience. But personally, I don’t want sugary drinks with my meal most of the time, so what good would be saving a couple of cents or dollars do for me if I’m just forced to drink something I didn’t want in the first place?

So whenever you can, go a la carte when you dine out, and nix the drink-side-main dish combo if you aren’t really looking for them in particular. It will make your dining experience more tailored to your needs and wants (dietary, gustatory, and otherwise), and ultimately more satisfying.

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Answer surveys on restaurants that offer rewards

Now here’s a smart eat out, pay less life hack that’s a bit out of the left field – answer restaurant surveys! Some restaurants are ready to hand out small survey cards to get an idea of how you found your recent dining experience, but those usually don’t come with rewards. Instead, go for online rewards sites that offer paid surveys from the restaurant industry. These restaurants usually partner up with survey sites to get valuable feedback from customers. In return, they give different rewards such as cash, discount coupons, or gift cards to their establishments – basically stuff you can use to have a cheaper but satisfactory dining experience.

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Budget in your dine-out days

Now if you want to learn how to eat out less but not quit dining out altogether, then learn to budget your meals. It doesn’t have to be a difficult task to accomplish. Simply learn to include those days when you feel like you deserve to dine out (such as on birthdays and other special occasions) and leave room in your monthly budget for them.

One of the biggest budget-busters I’ve discovered is when I dine out simply because I feel like it, or when I’m feeling too lazy to make my own meals. The temptation is often there when peer pressure is involved (“we have to try out this new place!”), or when advertising gets the best of me (it usually happens whenever commercials come on, or a restaurant ad pops up in my social media accounts). Having a budget in place, along with advanced plans for where, what, and when to eat out, will help prevent unexpected eating expenses while letting you take control of how much to spend monthly on food.

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Take advantage of food “holidays”

It seems as if all of a sudden, there are all these national food holidays crowding our calendars. There’s a National Glazed Donut Day in January, National Pancake Day in February, National Shrimp Day in May, National Chinese Take-Out Day in November, National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day in December (yes, apparently this one really exists), and so on and so forth with just about every single day accounted for by a particular type of food or eating activity.

Not that I’m complaining, because these foodie holidays have given me a new method to improve my dining out budget. I realized that a lot of dining establishments and food-related services are willing to jump on this food holiday-related craze for several good reasons. One, it creates an entirely new reason for people to eat that particular food on that particular day, so that’s instant advertising for restaurants offering the same kind of food. Two, it’s an opportunity to introduce new promos for people to take advantage of, and for these restaurants to push certain food items that don’t normally sell as well on non-holidays.

I usually get a heads’ up on “national” food days by marking them down in advance on my calendar or looking up promos on my favorite restaurants’ websites or social media pages. It’s worked to my advantage so far – I’ve gotten discounts, gift cards, and free desserts, sides, and appetizers on these days!

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Look up restaurants’ special discounts

I discovered this cheapest way for a family to eat out via my mom and her senior citizen discount card. I already mentioned that I don’t mind dining alone (my portions remain untouched!), but I realized that having a senior citizen, a student, or a small child with me when I dine out also has its advantages. Most of the time, the discounts contribute a sizeable chunk of the grand total.

Restaurants would want to have returning customers, so discounts for different groups of people are usually offered to entice big groups to keep dining with them. That’s why I always make it a point to ask the receptionist about discounts before making an appointment for big group meals at their establishment.

So you see, it’s not so difficult to master how to eat out on a budget. You just have to see beyond what is being offered up on the regular menu and apply what you’ve learned whenever and wherever you can. Bon appétit!
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