Eating cheap as a party of one offers no challenge. When feeding a family of four, eating out cheap is much trickier. Mouth-watering commercials and eye-catching menus make it that much tougher to keep it under $40. Obviously, some restaurants like the Olive Garden and Red Lobster are off limits when we want to eat inexpensively. I apply these eight tips for eating out on the cheap.
I do the ordering and paying. Friendly servers often make the mistake of "sucking up" to the wrong person. I am the woman in charge (at least of the household budget.) I help the kids find the kid menu while the husband and I look for "feasts for two." My husband is a sucker for appetizers and "extras" like the salad bar.
We go where there are free appetizers! I don't want to pay for an appetizer. That's like ordering a fifth meal! Instead, we go to restaurants that offer peanuts, nachos or fresh bread free. That usually saves us $10 on the final bill.
I ask about the specials, specifically the price. I don't care who gets embarrassed at our table--I ask about costs. Some restaurants offer "specials" that are only special because they cost more than the regular entrees. Don't get caught in that trap! However, a real special will save you up to $5 on a meal.
I ask to see the lunch menu. Some restaurants offer lunches and lunch prices, past the lunch hour. It never hurts to ask. Eating from the discounted lunch menu can save up almost half the full meal price.
Never eat at the bar. It's too easy to order an expensive cocktail. Those friendly bartenders get me every time. Never, ever eat at the bar.
Call ahead for kid deals. I love, love, love the "kids eat free" policy of some of my favorite restaurants. Unfortunately, this is only on certain days so do your homework. Call the restaurant and check their website before you load the family into the SUV. You may also need to present a coupon to the server, so print up what you need.
Verify that refills are free. We tried a new restaurant a few months ago and loved the food and atmosphere. I did not love the bill. Each refilled drink cost me a dollar! With a family of four, that was a whole lot of refills. No thanks! I always ask or search the menu for text that reads, "Refills are free."
Have dessert elsewhere. It's so much cheaper to wiz through the drive through and purchase a soft serve ice cream cone than to order a dessert from the restaurant. The kids feel like they are getting two treats in one and I have more money in my pocket. It's a win win to eat out for cheap!
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