7 Ways to Radically Reduce Your Restaurant Checks

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The most obvious way to spend less at restaurants is simply to avoid them.

Then your best friend gets engaged and wants to go out for a celebratory meal. Your sister’s birthday follows, which necessitates a trip to her favorite Greek restaurant. Your co-workers want to go out for lunch, and you obviously can’t miss that. Throw in an anniversary dinner and the fact that you want to try IHOP’s Red Velvet Pancakes, and suddenly you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on dining out. In fact, the average household spends approximately $2,500 at restaurants every year, according to the National Restaurant Association.

While we can’t avoid restaurants completely, we can find ways to save some dough. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares ways to keep dining out from taking a bite out of your budget. Check out his video, then read on for more.

Now, let’s dig into some more ways to keep your restaurant bill in check.

1. Use coupons and promotions

Sign up for daily deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial – where you can find discounts for 50 to 90 percent off. You can score bargains like a Hibachi dinner for two at Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Maple Shade, N.J., for $26 rather than $54. It’s a great way to try out a new restaurant on the cheap.

Also take advantage of restaurant promotions. Applebees consistently offers a 2 for $20 deal, which includes two meals (which you can select from a list of entrees) and an appetizer. Olive Garden is popular for its limited-time offers, which include the Never Ending Pasta Bowl and Unlimited Soup, Salad and Breadsticks. Some restaurants, like Maggiano’s Little Italy, are now offering a “Dinner Today & Dinner Tomorrow” deal, which allows you to enjoy a meal at the restaurant and take another meal home. For more, visit our deals page.

If you live near a city, take advantage of Restaurant Week, when many restaurants offer delectable deals on otherwise expensive dining experiences.

2. Buy cheap gift certificates

Visit Restaurant.com, where you can browse local restaurants and buy discounted gift certificates – like $25 certificates for $10, or $50 certificates for $20. The site lists more than 18,000 restaurants nationwide to choose from. A quick search for restaurants in Philadelphia turns up $15 worth of fare from Mexican Post for just $6. For more details about these certificates, check out How to Cut Your Restaurant Bill in Half.

3. Skip the booze

Alcohol isn’t cheap, especially at restaurants. Order wine by the glass, and you could be looking at a 400 percent markup. And as delicious as they are, fancy, fruity drinks are also overpriced. Even at a budget-friendly chain restaurant, you could end up paying as much as $7 for a Strawberry Daiquiri.

Soda isn’t much better – you can pay 300 to 600 percent over cost. While it’s not as pricey as alcohol, it adds up. The cheapest (and healthiest) route, of course, is to order water.

4. Order an entree that includes extras

If you’re going to spend more than $10 on a dinner entree, it should include a soup, salad, or at least a dessert. If you can’t eat everything, take the rest of your meal home, or purposely save some leftovers.

Breakfast is no exception: Order something that includes a cup of coffee. You’ll save a buck or two.

5. Order an appetizer as your meal

Appetizers like quesadillas or chicken wings can easily be a sufficient meal – especially since they are usually served in portions big enough to share . What’s more, they are often half the price of an entree. Consider having everyone at the table order an appetizer to share, and you’ll have a wide variety of food to munch on – and will benefit from savings too.

6. Check your bill

This one might seem obvious, but check your bill for accuracy – especially if you make changes to your order after placing it, which can add to the margin of error.

And if you think you paid too much for a mediocre meal, don’t be afraid to politely mention it to your server. We’ve all ordered the chicken dish that included more pasta than chicken. Rather than being annoyed about paying top dollar for a bowl of pasta, say something – maybe you’ll score a discount, gift card, or even a free meal.

7. Earn cash back through surveys

Sign up for iDine, and earn 5 to 15 percent back when you dine out by completing a survey within 30 days of your meal. For every survey you take, you’ll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card.

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