If you love to eat out, you’re not alone.
The average U.S. household spent $3,000 on food away from home in 2015, the latest year for which federal data is available. That’s up from about $2,600 just two years earlier.
There are plenty of ways to slash your restaurant spending, though. These tips can help you cut the cost of eating out by more than half.
1. Buy a discounted gift card
To learn more about them, check out “How Unwanted Gift Cards Saved Me $300 Last Year.”
2. Buy a discounted gift certificate
Websites like Restaurant.com sell discounted restaurant gift certificates that can drastically cut the cost of dining out. Buy the gift certificates online and print them out at home, or simply display them at the restaurant on your mobile device.
Here is an extra tip: Make any purchases from Restaurant.com or sites like Groupon and LivingSocial via a cash-back portal such as Ebates. These sites effectively pay you to shop online by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back as a rebate.
3. Use a rewards credit card
If you eat out often, look into rewards credit cards that give a greater percentage of cash back for such purchases.
4. Join AARP
AARP membership benefits include discounts of 10 to 15 percent at certain restaurant chains.
Note that, as we report in “6 Fabulous Ways to Save After You Turn 50,” you can join AARP upon turning 50.
5. Join email lists
Many eateries — from sit-down restaurants to fast-food joints and ice-cream chains — have an email list they use to notify subscribers of deals. Look for a sign-up option on the websites of your favorite restaurants and other restaurants you would like to try.
One of my current favorite examples is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. The restaurant sends me a coupon for an entire free entree with the purchase of one entree about once a month. That’s a savings of up to 50 percent — and all I have to do is show the server my emailed coupon on my phone.
6. Take advantage of your birthday
Some restaurants with email lists ask for your birthday upon sign-up and send you a freebie each year to celebrate.
For examples, check out “Happy Birthday — Get Free Food at These 27 Restaurants.”
7. Dine during off-hours
Pick a restaurant with lunch or early bird specials. Some restaurants also offer specials on certain weekdays.
8. Don’t walk in starving
Yes, hunger is what brings us to restaurants. But just as you’re liable to spend more on groceries when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’re likely to order too much if you walk into a restaurant famished.
9. Eat dessert at home
This is especially smart if you prefer to eat a simple dessert such as ice cream. The carton you bought at the grocery store can be just as tasty for a fraction of the price.
Even if you’re in the mood for a slice of cake, single servings generally can be found in a grocery store’s bakery department or frozen-dessert aisle for less than the cost of a slice at a restaurant.
10. Beware of menu mind tricks
Studies show that certain menu characteristics make customers inclined to spend more money, according to Mental Floss magazine.
Examples include putting photos next to menu items, using fancy language and omitting dollar signs from prices.
11. Rethink your drink
You might think bringing your own alcohol to a restaurant would save you money. But even if a restaurant allows you to bring your own booze, you still might end up paying more than you expect.
Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University, explains on his economics blog that one reason some restaurants adopt BYOB policies is that many customers who bring alcohol then buy coffee to sober up before leaving the restaurant:
“Letting people bring their own bottle boosts coffee sales. Coffee has a very high markup and this increases profits. Plus, coffee drinkers sometimes order dessert, which has a higher markup than main courses.”
Zagorsky says coffee markups can be as much 300 percent and soda markups can be up to 90 percent, so consider asking for water first.
12. Use social media to get discounts
Some eateries share discounts via social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Other places offer discounts or freebies to customers who “check in” via location-based social media networks such as Foursquare, which calls them specials.
What’s your favorite way to save money when eating out? Let us know in the “Comments” section below or on our Facebook page.
This article was originally published on MoneyTalksNews.com as '12 Ways to Slice Your Next Restaurant Check in Half'.