Need a break from cooking? Want to celebrate a special occasion without breaking the bank? Eating out with family doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, you can easily do it for under $5/person by using some of the tricks outlined in this article.
1. Breakfast and Lunch
Let’s face it – eating dinner out is pretty expensive. Fortunately, most restaurants offer breakfast and lunch specials at a discount. Although it does vary from place to place, many offer these specials until three or four in the afternoon. This can allow you to have a late lunch/early dinner and simply have a snack later on in the day.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, breakfast is cheaper than lunch and lunch is cheaper than dinner.
2. Sign Up For Mailing Lists
Take the time to sign up for restaurant clubs and mailing lists. Not only will the restaurant send you notes about specials, but you’ll often get coupons and a free gift on your birthday. I sign up for every single one I can find.
Tip: Use different family members for different restaurants to take advantage of everyone’s birthday meal throughout the year.
3. Talk to the Manager
Go ahead and pull the manager over to your table the next time you’re eating out. Tell him how much you love his restaurant but that you’re trying to raise a family on a budget. Ask him what specials he has throughout the week. You might be surprised to find that many are not advertised and are reserved for regulars who know about them.
Tip: Lunch specials are often $4.99 or less in the Midwest. It is a smaller portion of food typically.
4. Kids Eat Free
If your children are under 12 years of age, then you can take advantage of “kids eat free” nights. Many restaurants host these nights on Tuesdays. The adults will have to order a meal and it is usually one adult meal = one free kid’s meal. Still, you can reduce the overall cost of eating out easily in this way.
Tip: Look for family-friendly restaurants. The overall prices are likely to be lower to start with, keeping your total, even with the adult meals, low.
5. Order Appetizers and Share
Eating out is as much about doing something together and special as a family as anything else. If you are celebrating a special occasion, you can easily eat a large lunch and then go out for appetizers, which you all share. Most appetizers are large enough to share. So, if you have a family of four, order two good-size appetizers and split them up. If the appetizers are $5 or $6 each, then go ahead and order three or four.
Tip: If you can find a restaurant with reasonable appetizers that also serves free bread or chips, this is bonus food to fill everyone up.
Pizza is an excellent option for family dining. You can almost always find coupons for pizza where you can buy one get one free or buy one get one half price. Even if you just head to your local Pizza Hut, you can get a large pie for about $10 or $11. Sam’s Clubs and Costco also offer pizza at a discounted rate. You can eat in the food court area.
Tip: If you can’t find a restaurant with cheap pizza, order from Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s, etc., and head to a local park.
7. Drink Water – No Exceptions
Nothing will add to your bill more quickly than ordering sodas. Save the sodas for home and insist everyone drink water when eating out. This adds zero cost to your bill.
Tip: Waiters and Waitresses work for tips. Even though your bill is lower, you should still tip 15-20% in most cases. If you can’t afford to do that, see # 8.
8. Fast Food & Self-Serve
If you don’t have enough money in your budget for everyone to eat and to afford a tip, then you should choose fast food and self-serve style restaurants. Of course, these are naturally cheaper, too, for those on a tight budget. While it might not be your first choice, remember it is about doing something special with the kids.
Tip: Use coupons even when eating fast food. Every little bit helps.
9. Order Off the Kids Menu
Some restaurants will allow anyone to order off the kids menu. I almost always ask. I find that most portions are way too big for a single meal anyway (I never waste it and always take it home if a full portion too big to eat). If everyone orders off the kids meal, you will easily hit your $5/under goal at most restaurants.
Tip: Cracker Barrel lets adults order off their kids menu and it includes a drink, which can be a soft drink. It’s a smaller portion, but a great value. For example, you can get three chicken strips and a side. If you ask, they will usually bring you cornbread and biscuits, too.
10. Join Rebate Programs
I belong to several rebate programs. Anytime I go shopping for groceries, clothing, etc., I plug the info into programs such as Ibotta. After a month or two, I have enough points to get free gift cards or cash out through PayPal. I then use this for our eating out money.
Tip: You can also ask family and friends to gift you dining out or entertainment gift cards if they ask what you’d like for birthday or Christmas.
Personally, I would much rather have a gift card. I hate clutter. A gift card is something I can enjoy and use up and not have that dreaded stuff around. I, of course, only say this if they ask what I want. It would be rude to just tell people what to buy you.
I hope these 10 tips help you fit eating out into your budget. Everyone needs a break sometimes from cooking or the ordinary.