12 Ways to Slice Your Next Restaurant Check in Half

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Americans love to eat out — but the resulting damage to their budget can cause a lot of indigestion.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to slash your restaurant spending. These tips can help you cut the cost of eating out by more than half.

1. Buy a discounted gift card

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You can buy gift cards for less than their face value on websites that enable people to sell unwanted cards. Examples of these online marketplaces include Cardpool.com and Raise.com.

To learn more about them, check out “How Unwanted Gift Cards Saved Me $300 Last Year.”

2. Buy a discounted gift certificate

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Websites like Restaurant.com sell discounted restaurant gift certificates that can drastically cut the cost of dining out. Buy the gift certificates online and print them out at home, or simply display them at the restaurant on your mobile device.

Discount websites like Groupon and LivingSocial also sell similar dining deals.

Here is an extra tip: Make any purchases from Restaurant.com or sites like Groupon and LivingSocial via a cash-back portal such as Ebates. These sites effectively pay you to shop online by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back as a rebate.

3. Use a rewards credit card

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If you eat out often, look into rewards credit cards that give a greater percentage of cash back for such purchases.

For help finding the perfect credit card, visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center. You can sort credit card offers by “Cash Back” and “Reward,” for example.

4. Join AARP

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AARP membership benefits include discounts of 10 to 15 percent at certain restaurant chains.

Joining AARP is just one of the “6 Easy Ways to Save Money After You Turn 50.

5. Join email lists

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Many eateries — from sit-down restaurants to fast-food joints and ice-cream chains — have an email list they use to notify subscribers about deals. Look for a sign-up option on the websites of your favorite restaurants and other restaurants you would like to try.

One of my current favorite examples is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. The restaurant sends me a coupon for an entire free entree with the purchase of one entree about once a month. That’s a savings of up to 50 percent — and all I have to do is show the server my emailed coupon on my phone.

For more tips, check out:

6. Take advantage of your birthday

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Some restaurants with email lists ask for your birthday upon sign-up and send you a freebie each year to celebrate.

For examples, check out “23 Restaurant Chains That Offer Free Food for Your Birthday.”

7. Dine during off-hours

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Pick a restaurant with lunch or early bird specials. Some restaurants also offer specials on certain weekdays.

8. Don’t walk in starving

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Yes, hunger is what brings us to restaurants. But just as you’re liable to spend more on groceries when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’re likely to order too much if you walk into a restaurant famished.

9. Eat dessert at home

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This is especially smart if you prefer to eat a simple dessert such as ice cream. The carton you bought at the grocery store can be just as tasty for a fraction of the price of a restaurant scoop in a fancy dish.

Even if you’re in the mood for a slice of cake, single servings generally can be found in a grocery store’s bakery department or frozen-dessert aisle for less than the cost of a slice at a restaurant.

10. Beware of menu mind tricks

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Studies show that certain menu characteristics make customers inclined to spend more money, according to Mental Floss magazine.

Examples include putting photos next to menu items, using fancy language and omitting dollar signs from prices.

11. Rethink your drink

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Think bringing your own alcohol to a restaurant will save you money? Even if a restaurant allows you to bring your own booze, you still might end up paying more than you expect.

Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University, explains on his economics blog that one reason some restaurants adopt BYOB policies is that many customers who bring alcohol then buy coffee to sober up before leaving the restaurant:

“Letting people bring their own bottle boosts coffee sales. Coffee has a very high markup and this increases profits. Plus, coffee drinkers sometimes order dessert, which has a higher markup than main courses.”

Zagorsky says coffee markups can be as much 300 percent and soda markups can be up to 90 percent, so consider asking for water first.

12. Use social media to get discounts

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Some eateries share discounts via social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Other places offer discounts or freebies to customers who “check in” via location-based social media networks such as Foursquare, which calls them “specials.”

What’s your favorite way to save money when eating out? Let us know in the “Comments” section below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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