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5 Ways to Save Money at Restaurants

John Schmoll
Dining Out Poll Reveals Popular Eating and Drinking Habits (ABC News)

Going out to eat is a favorite past time of many families. The fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American family spent nearly $2,700 per year on dining out last year illustrates that point.

Unfortunately, enjoying a meal out with a growing family can easily become an expensive endeavor as you start looking at the number of mouths to feed. There are ways around spending so much; you just have to be a little creative. Here are five ways to reduce your bill the next time you go out:

1. Not every kid needs his own meal.

If you've ordered from the kids menu at a restaurant recently, then you know how big the meals are -- they're almost as big as meals for adults, and they can cost up to $10 each.

If you have multiple children, an easy way to cut down on this expense is to have them share a meal. Not only does this lower the cost of feeding everyone, but it also cuts down on food waste. Let's face it, children do not need to eat as much as their parents, so this is an easy way to moderate their consumption and lower the bill at the same time.

2. Take advantage of happy hour deals.

This may not be an option for every family, depending on the work schedule for each parent, but it can be a great option. You can score lower pricing on anything from meals to drinks to appetizers by dining out a little earlier than normal. This, of course, varies by restaurant but can be a great way to avoid busting the budget. With earlier dining, you're also more likely to have your choice of seating and enjoy your meal in a less crowded setting.

3. Look for promotions.

Restauranteurs know that it's expensive for families to dine out. With that in mind, many restaurants will have some evenings where children can eat for free with a parent. This is one of the easiest ways to save with a family as it automatically cuts down your cost to dine out.

Just make sure you know the details of the promotion as some restaurants only allow one child per parent and have other limitations. Remember the idea of splitting the meal between children? Ignore that in this case! Order each one a meal and still have them split the one meal. This allows you to take a meal home that can be used for lunch the next day or two.

4. Become a fan.

With the growth of social media, many restaurant chains are using Facebook and Twitter to market. By becoming a fan, following or liking their social media pages, you can often receive coupons or some other special offers to dine at their restaurants.

While this will generally be sporadic, it can be a great way to take advantage of special offers that will help you lower your dining bill when you catch them. One tip though, make sure you limit how often you give out your email address as you don't want your inbox to become overrun with restaurant offers that you'll only use occasionally.

5. Skip drinks and dessert.

This is a common but simple way to save money while dining out with your family. It might be fun to order a drink or dessert, but they only add to the final bill as they can often be nearly as much as your meal itself.

Instead of ordering a drink, order water and enjoy a drink at home instead. The dessert may look good, but will only add cost and calories to the night. Instead of ordering a dessert, have a little fun with the family and make a dessert back at home. Not only will this allow you to enjoy spending time together as a family, but it'll likely be cheaper as well.

Eating out as a family can be a great way to enjoy a treat, but it doesn't have to be costly. With a little creativity and strategy you can dine out as a family and not go broke in the process.

John Schmoll is the founder of online finance community Frugal Rules. For plainspoken advice on how to budget, invest and find freedom through frugality, join his free newsletter.

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