Saving Money Eating Out

Enjoy eating out?  It is a welcome luxury for most families.  Our readers share their best money saving tips, which chains offer discounts, specials, free meals for kids, etc.    Scroll down to see deals available at specific restaurants, plus coupons to print from your computer.  *Note:  Not all the deals mentioned below are available in all areas.  We haven’t verified reader submitted deals, so please do your own investigating.

Go during Happy Hour and eat their appetizers specials as a small-plate meal instead of ordering an entree.

Use your Smartphone to save.  Check in on Foursquare to see what discounts are available to you.  Often you’ll save on appetizers, desserts, or take a certain amount off an entree.  View more ways you can use Foursquare to Save.

Share entrees “Family Style” instead of one per person.  For instance, if there are five in your family often three entrees will be enough.

  • Groupon Daily offers in your city often include restaurant deals
  • Restaurant.com – Purchase restaurant gift vouchers for half price or even less
  • Amazon Local – Similar to Groupon, sometimes restaurant deals are available
  • Living Social – Similar to Groupon, Living Social features deals around town.  The cool part of their site is that if After you buy the deal, you’ll get a unique link to share. If three people buy the deal using your link, then your deal is free.

Eating Out: Money Saving Tips from Our Readers

Here’s a tip for saving money at your favorite local restaurants – make sure you like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or Instagram, or whatever sites they have advertised.  I see local places in my area offering things like “first 5 oz of frozen yogurt free” or “$2 off entree” coupons on Facebook all the time.  It’s a great way to drive up local business, and it’s easy to share the offers with your local friends via Facebook etc. — Susie from CA

Our kids are 2 and 5, and we recently discovered how expensive it is to order 2 kids meals at a sit-down restaurant.  So, unless it’s a special occasion, our kids have to share 1 meal. We tell them that we will have ice cream or a special dessert when we get home, and that makes them happy.  They didn’t ever eat the whole meal when we ordered them each one anyway, and they are usually too distracted by all the sights and sounds of a restaurant to eat a lot. It really cuts down on the price of the meal.  We also don’t order appetizers or dessert and we drink water so the kids can have lemonade or Hi-C. — Julie from TX

Tuesday nights in our area find lots of restaurants with Kids Eat Free and special fun things. Some of the bigger steak restaurants have kids eat free Monday thru Thursday. Something I do is just order water for myself at dinner this saves $1.50 right there. — Kelli from OK

I drink water at restaurants.  I am amazed at the price of a glass of pop!  We went out to eat for lunch today and my husband’s pop was $1.79!!!  We have an 11-month-old so I always take her something to eat in case we order something that she is not able to eat yet.  We got ice cream a few weeks ago and I ordered her a baby cone, not knowing we would be charged for it.  The cost for that small cone was 85 cents-I would have shared mine if I knew we were going to be charged! — Amanda from OH

Most restaurants have family night where the kids eat free with an adult entree.  Some restaurants will give you 2 free kids’ meals with one adult purchase…just call.  My kids (5, 4 and 1) never finish their food, therefore, the older ones split one and the younger one shares mine or I take stuff with me from home that is more nutritious.  We also order water which saves anywhere from $3.50-5.00!  If only one drink comes with the kids meal, then they share.  I just ask for another glass.  Coupons help too!  And at a sit down restaurant I always tip the server at least 15% before the discount.  I remember working for the tips. — Stacey from IN

Okay, this is very innovative and clever…Whenever I go out to eat I always carry a Ziplock baggie of grilled chicken bits.  I order a vegetarian meal, and eat half of the meal.  Then I pull out a piece of the chicken and place it on the plate and viola!  A free meal!  And they will throw in an extra meal on the house!  It works at most restaurants, but don’t try it at McDonald’s, they won’t work with you.   ;)  Just kidding (lol) I thought you guys might need a little laugh (:0) — Nakita from OK

My husband loves to eat out.  To save $, we purchased an Entertainment Book.  It costs approximately $20 and it comes with at least 100 “buy one entree, get one free” coupons to both upscale and fast food restaurants in our area.  It also contains coupons for services such as dry cleaning, car washes, etc.  Another thing we do, is try to frequent restaurants that will contribute to our son’s 529 account via Upromise.com.  This way we always say that we are eating for our son’s college education.  — Adriana from TX

Restaurant Bag for Kids

We have boys under 4 years old …when we do go out for dinner we look for “family friendly” places (good kids menu, lots of isle space for our stroller, fun atmosphere)….
My tips would be: pack a “Restaurant bag” to keep in your car. Mine has this in it:

  • Bibs (because they won’t wear the disposable ones and mine have a tie on them they can’t escape from!!:))
  • Clorox disinfecting wipes (I wipe the highchairs and tabletops they sit at!  I used to waitress and know how nasty the cloths are you wipe the tables with!)
  • Wet Ones/no soap antibacterial wash (can you tell I’m a nurse?)
  • Toddler spoon and fork (with extra snack baggies to keep them in when their dirty)
  • Snacks (in case the waitress is slow with bringing the appetizer and/or crackers to tie them over till the meal comes)
  • Sippies: the 2 year-old just spills the kids meals drinks and plays with the straws)
  • Disposable place mats: look for them at consignment stores and/or garage sales, the dollar stores have them and so does Wal-Mart.
  • Thank you notes: have the kids sign them (or scribble a note) to your waitress, it will make her day!!:)

— Debbie from MI

While waiting in line to be seated, get a menu and have your order ready and tell your person seating you to tell the waitress your ready to order immediately!!!  even write it out for her if you wait longer than 10-15 minutes……speed is everything with three small hungry children!  (and one breastfeeding mommy!!)  Also, have her bring the check with the food if your not planning on dessert, it makes a quick exit if need be!!  Order two kids meals and either split an adult meal or appetizer because the kids NEVER FINISH THEIR FOOD at such a young age so you end up eating half theirs anyhow!!  Plus, if they offer tortillas or bread ahead of time, it’s a good filler for everyone!!!! Drive thru: order yourself a kids meal vs. the value meals….you get more food for your money that way because the kids portions are very close to the adult version except for the fries —but I personally don’t need the extra fat!!:)  — Debbie from MI

Due to both our and our kids activities, we eat out A LOT and have found some ways to save money.  We eat at Skyline Chili almost every Wednesday before church activities when kids eat free.  They also have a punch card which we get punched so that every 10 visits we get an adult meal free.  Our kids love BW3 which has $.25 wings on Wednesdays which is the only way that we can afford to go there!  The Entertainment Book and Gold C books that our schools sell offer lots of Buy One/Get One Free deals that have saved us 100 of dollars every year.  We also like to trade those coupons with friends and co-workers as everyone has different favorite restaurants.  Especially in the summer we have found that we can meet Dad for a big lunch at many restaurants and save money over eating dinner out. — Joanne from OH

In our community, and in most larger cities, there is a coupon book put out each year called an Entertainment Book.  It is full of coupons good towards goods and services, food, etc.  It costs 20-25 dollars, but is well worth it. My husband and I receive one each year from a dear friend for Christmas, and have now started giving them to other ‘budgeting’ couple friends-it is always a hit.  It has different sections for restaurants-up-scale down to fast food. Most of the coupons are like buy one meal get one half price, but some are buy one get one free.  Some have restrictions, but are usually no big deal, like up to a certain amount (15-30 dollars).  We have kept track of our savings different years, and have saved several hundred dollars in one year using this book.  Another great thing is that it gives my husband and I an excuse to try one really “fancy” restaurant each year.  We get dressed up and leave the baby at home!! These can usually be bought at banks, through the chamber of commerce, or some of the eating establishments…check around.  Good luck, and happy eating!!! — Rachel from OK

My 3-year-old son and I love to go out to breakfast or lunch as a treat.  We often do this on “grocery shopping-bank-errands” day.  — Tracey from MA