The 3 Best Ways to Slash Your Restaurant Costs in Minutes

Girl in restaurant
Photo by narikan / Shutterstock.com

Many millennials are eating out a lot these days — and older Americans aren’t too far behind them.

A recent Bankrate study found that 54 percent of younger millennials, those ages 21 to 26, eat out at least three times per week.

While that’s more than all older generations, a good percentage of older folks eat out often as well. Bankrate found that:

  • 33 percent of members of Generation X eat out at least three times per week.
  • 32 percent of baby boomers eat out that often.
  • 25 percent of members of the Silent Generation eat out that often.

These numbers remind me of a Money Talks News story that stuck with me, “The $200,000 Lunch.” The writer recounts realizing that the seemingly small cost of going out for coffee and lunch every weekday can add up — to as much as $565,000 over many years.

I hope to retire one day, so I don’t eat out as often as younger millennials. But I don’t deprive myself of eating out, either. I minimize my eating-out tab by never paying anywhere near full price for restaurant meals. This can be done in a matter of minutes by sticking to a few tips that provide the greatest savings for the least effort:

1. Pay with a discounted gift card

Stock up on discounted gift cards before you eat out. You can easily score restaurant gift cards for 25 to 30 percent off their face value online — which basically means you’ll save 25 to 30 percent on every meal or drink you buy with such gifts card.

The best places to find steeply discounted restaurant gift cards are websites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com. To learn more about them, check out “How Unwanted Gift Cards Saved Me $300 Last Year.”

2. Pay with a discounted gift certificate

Cardpool and Raise are great places to find discounted gift cards for major national and regional restaurant chains from Applebee’s to Zaxby’s. However, to maximize savings at a local eatery or small chain, head to Restaurant.com instead.

This website sells printable discounted restaurant gift certificates that can drastically cut the cost of dining out — by as much as 50 percent, in my experience.

While that might sound too good to be true, it boils down to marketing. Many independent restaurants and small chains are willing to offer discounted gift certificates on a site like Restaurant.com — or Groupon.com, for that matter — because it enables them to market themselves to a larger potential customer base.

3. Sign up for emails

Instead of hunting for coupons, let your favorite restaurants send coupons to you. Plenty of restaurants will do this if you sign up to receive their emails.

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 “12 Ways to Slice Your Next Restaurant Check in Half.”

What’s your favorite way to save money when eating out? Share with us below or on Facebook.

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