Out-of-the-home dining is an almost $900 billion industry globally. Recent studies show that one-third of Americans use dine-out options as at least one of their meals daily. With statistics like this, chances are you’re one of the millions who head to restaurants, and it’s probably putting a dent in your budget.
The hectic pace of today’s typical lifestyle means, whether we want to or not, we often find ourselves running through fast-food joints. From greasy burgers to mouth-watering delicacies in fancy restaurants, the options appear to be endless.
Unfortunately, our wallets are not, and if you’re feeding a family, those dining out tabs can run up fast.
While you may not be able to skip the take-out entirely, you can limit the expense when you’re there. These five tips will help you dine out without breaking the bank.
1. Sign Up for Discounts
Almost every restaurant, particularly those that are chains, have discounts available. You may have to sign up to join their newsletter or club, but you’ll catch on to when the deals are coming.
Some restaurants offer BOGO specials for you to take advantage of, purchasing a meal and getting another free for your family.
Other businesses give a percent discount or points you can redeem for dining there. Keep track of your points and use them to get free meals down the road!
Meanwhile, use the coupons and discount offers to determine where you’ll eat out next. It limits the stress of the universal conversation, “Where do you want to eat?” “I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?”
2. Choose Smarter Dining Times
The time and day that you head out for your meals can make a difference in how much your tab is.
For instance, in many restaurants, lunch specials are usually cheaper than dinner entrees. If you can plan your on-the-go meal for that day before the lunch specials end (typically 3 or 4 p.m.), you can save a big chunk on your check.
Some fast-food restaurants offer daily specials for a few hours on their slower days, where popular items are on discount or BOGO. Check around to make good use of these money-saving deals.
Other discounted times include specials where kids get a free meal with the purchase of an adult entree. Start a family tradition of weeknight meals at your favorite local Kids Eat Free restaurant!
3. Shop for Gift Cards Online
Gift cards are replacing cash and individual purchases as presents for any event. Statistics show that gift card purchases totaled almost $200 billion in 2018 alone, yet over $1 billion of these went unused — many of them lost!
Typical gift card purchases include restaurants, department stores, or prepaid cash cards. Today, you can buy a physical card or get a digital gift card; the recipient only needs to know the code and can use it.
The bulk of these purchases are for restaurants, but what happens when you get a card for a place you don’t like?
Check out this handy solution:
How to Use Online Gift Card Shopping
Yes, people who get cards that they don’t want can trade or sell them online, and you can buy them at a discount.
Some reputable sites to buy, sell, and/or trade gift cards include:
When you buy a gift card here, you can shave a few dollars off the value. A $25 restaurant card, for instance, might be $21 on the site. Even if you’re planning on going that day, you can purchase the discounted card and print the code for immediate use.
It’s a win/win situation. People who don’t want the cards get to keep the cash instead, and you get to go eat out like you were going to anyway, but pay less. By shopping for specific gift cards ahead of time, you can decide where to eat and save a few dollars in the process!
4. Watch What You Eat
The importance of watching what you eat is everywhere today. It’s no secret that regularly eating out at restaurants can cause a person to gain weight alongside spending too much money.
You can eat out and still stay in good shape in both aspects, though.
It’s healthier for your body and your wallet to skip the sodas and alcoholic beverages. Go for water all around and knock at least $3 a person off your bill. Non-alcoholic refreshments usually start at about $3, while alcoholic drinks can be double or triple that cost.
Food portions in restaurants are usually much larger than the average person’s needs, as well. You can split meals with a dinner buddy that has similar tastes or opt for smaller appetizers instead of entrees.
5. Use Credit Card Perks
Some credit cards give you rewards for eating out. A small perk of 1-2% returns for spending your money at a restaurant doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re a frequent diner, it can add up.
If you’re buying the food anyway, why not get some money back for it?
Other credit cards offer benefits to dine at specific restaurants. Bonuses such as spending a minimum amount to get a statement credit or cash incentives are standard.
Check your cashback offers on your credit cards and make sure you are using your perks.
Fast food, sit-down, and to-go meals are turning into the typical form of daily dining. As a billion-dollar industry, restaurants provide a much-needed service to busy families and individuals on the go.
Support these business owners without emptying your pockets. Practice careful spending with these five tips to keep a few extra dollars in your wallet with every meal!
Aaron Hunt is the Property Manager of Prime Place UNL, a student apartment complex near UNL.