How to Eat Cheaply When Eating Out

by Lisa McQuerrey ; Updated July 27, 2017

Save money when dining out by choosing lunch over dinner, making smart menu choices, sharing meals and taking home leftovers that can be used for subsequent meals.

Time Your Meals

If a restaurant offers both lunch and dinner menus, chances are the lunch offerings cost less. The portions may be slightly smaller, but the savings can be big. Some restaurants also offer less expensive fare on slow weekdays -- get to know the pricing schedule of your favorite eateries to take advantage. Breakfast or brunch buffets can also offer more food for your money.

Tips

    • Look for out-of-the-way local restaurants, especially if you live in a tourist area. The prices are likely lower.  
    • If you're celebrating a special occasion, let your server know -- you could get a freebie out of it.

Take Advantage of Special Pricing

Take advantage of all-you-can-eat offers and two-for-one meals. If you’re an older adult, order from the senior menu or ask about senior citizen discounts. If you have children, go out on kids-eat-free nights or have children choose from the kids menu. The portions for senior and kids meals are typically smaller than for standard meals, and price reductions vary per restaurant.

Tips

  • Ask about restaurant loyalty programs at your favorite eateries and sign up for e-coupons and discounts. While specials usually vary by location, there are a number of websites and apps that allow you to track specials in your geographic area, including RetailMeNot.com.

Share Meals

Select restaurants known for serving extra large portions and split the meal with a dining companion. If you’re eating alone, ask your server to box up half the meal in advance of bringing out your food so you have an extra meal to take home.

Warnings

  • Some restaurants charge a "second plate" or "split meal" fee, so ask about extra sharing charges in advance.

Forego Extras

Appetizers, desserts and drinks, especially alcoholic beverages, can seriously add to your bill. Order water or soft drinks with free refills or buy a bottle of wine rather than single glasses to get the most for your money.

Warnings

  • Watch out for unexpected charges that can be added for making substitutions or adding toppings and other condiments.

Tips

    • If you want alcohol with your meal, ask about a corkage fee, which allows you to bring in your own bottle.
    • When you order your food to go, you also save on tipping.  

Get Everything

Take advantage of everything offered with your meal, including bread and side dishes. Even if you can’t eat it all on the spot, you can take it home and eat it later.