Five Ways to Save Money When Eating Out

Eating out can be expensive, but if you plan strategically you could stay within budget and have a good dining experience.

What’s not to love about eating out.  There’s a change of scenery from your usual kitchen, you’re not washing the dishes and you’re not only eating one thing but trying many different dishes. I also find that food somehow always tastes better when I’m not the one doing the cooking.

When I’m in a time crunch after work, eating out becomes a habit.  It has become as common as checking my email.  Sometimes though I find that after a week I’m burning through hundreds of dollars on food.  I then remind myself that I need to have a budget and be a bit more strategic when eating out.  Especially eating out with a social group can be difficult in that you don’t always have the final say on the restaurants you’re eating at.  With current inflation rates, AU students may be finding it harder to stay on top of dinner budgets.

Look for coupons

This might be a no brainer.  Eating out with coupons really helps me to stay on top of my dinner budget.  For example, Groupon is one of the apps I use for trying different food without breaking the bank.  They offer different deals from time to time letting customers try different cuisines.

Some of the coupons I’ve saved for days I feel like not cooking.

Check out the menu online beforehand

Before going for dinner with friends, always take a look at the menu beforehand.  Scope out what would probably be a good value (such as a large portion size or particular item you enjoy) so you’re not left figuring out what to eat at the restaurant.  Moreover, without coming in with a game plan, your server may upsell the menu and make you dish out more than you have to.

When I’m having a large meal out with family, I always opt for lunch instead of dinner.  Dinner prices tend to be higher for the same menu items.

Opt for lunch instead of dinner

Dinner always seems to be higher priced compared to lunch.  Perhaps because lunch is often slower for many restaurants, whereas during dinner the same menu item can be marked up more.  If you have an option, push for a lunch date rather than a dinner date, at least if you’re the one paying.


Before certain gatherings where I know the restaurant menu items are overpriced, I will eat beforehand to avoid overeating at the restaurant.  Especially Michelin star restaurants or high-end restaurants that have tiny portion sizes.  To truly enjoy the atmosphere and experience without starving the whole night, opt for some snacks before you even leave the house.

When I’m eating out, I never order appetizers or drinks.  I stay laser-focused on what I came there to try whether it’s the pasta or the lasagna.  This keeps my dinner budget well within my goal.

Skip the appetizer and drinks

Sometimes when I eat out, I’ll go straight for the entree.  Appetizers and drinks are add-on items that can turn your meal into a feast, but isn’t always the best idea for a frugal customer.

Hit up happy hour

Most restaurants have specials or happy hour drinks and food where the menu items are at a deal.  This is a good option if you decide to eat at an odd hour such as afternoon or late night.  I’ve ate out at happy hours often and have been able to get great value out of a meal.