How to save money when dining out

It is always nice to share a meal with friends, but keep an eye on the budget. (Rawpixel pic)

Dining out is so much fun, what with many wonderful dishes to choose from and meeting with friends over a meal and a drink. But it can be expensive, especially if it becomes a daily ritual.

Luckily there are ways to reduce the cost so the experience does not bust the budget.

1. Plan before leaving home

When it comes to saving money, planning ahead should be the first thought that comes to mind. Check the internet or newspaper listings before heading out.

On a restaurant’s website or Facebook page, one can often explore the menu in advance. Or there are websites that show a variety of restaurants, linking to their websites to allow people to check out the menu and the prices.

Websites and newspapers also display any promotional deals particular restaurants may be offering. Food review sites rate the cuisine, atmosphere, service and price to help diners select a restaurant that matches their budget and appetite.

There are also sites that offer discount coupons and gift vouchers that can be printed out and presented at a restaurant. There may a small charge to take advantage of the special, but it will still help save money.

Or, instead of an extravagant, expensive restaurant, try casual roadside establishments such as food stalls or food trucks that offer irresistible dishes at inexpensive prices.

But if the heart is set on a “proper” restaurant, try going early, either during lunchtime or the early-bird hour. The same items on the menu will cost much less than at dinnertime. And tipping is not a must if it has already been added to the bill.

2. Drinking wine

When ordering an expensive wine, save money by ordering a whole bottle. Often, the price of one glass may come close to the price of the whole bottle.

One can also save money by smart selection. Ask the waiter about the wines that are almost out of stock. A restaurant often sells off its last few bottles at a lower price so as to finish up the stock and reorder.

Careful selection can lower the wine bill considerably. (Rawpixel pic)

Do some research on wine. Some inexpensive brands offer a similar quality and taste to the renowned, expensive ones. Select those from the wine list.

Those who prefer alcoholic cocktails such as a Mai Tai or Long Island Iced Tea, pick inexpensive in-house alcoholic mixers if available. Expensive name-brand liquor can make that exotic cocktail feel like a waste of money.

If a restaurant allows bring-your-own-bottle, the corkage is usually a fraction of the price of what is offered on the restaurant’s wine list. And finally, just skip the wine if you are not a big fan.

3. Ordering the meal

It is not necessary to order a multi-course meal from each section of the menu. Many appetisers are almost as large as main-course meals but they can be half the price of a main. Focus on the variety of appetisers on the menu and ask your waiter to explain them a bit.

For food such as burgers, pizza or sub-sandwiches, do not add pricey extras – additional toppings on pizza or extra meat layers/decks on burgers and subs.

These add-ons raise the bill while costing the restaurant next to nothing.

Some expensive dining establishments offer relatively large dishes, so if appetites are small, share a dish with a dining companion. Say the steak on offer is about 400 g but half is enough, share it with a companion.

Some restaurants might charge extra for serving one dish as two shared plates, so it is often best to ask for an extra plate and cut it at the table, rather than asking the kitchen to do it. By doing this, one only has to pay half of the bill, a great saving.

Dining alone does not mean one cannot enjoy a variety of different dishes, go ahead and order a few. Eat something from each and have the rest packed up to take away and eat at home for another meal. This means eating restaurant-quality food twice while paying only once.

This article first appeared in The New Savvy

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