10 Ways to Cut Your Restaurant Bill Big Time

January 11, 2013

Eating OutA common piece of money saving advice is to cut back on eating out. My wife and I eat much more in than out but like to hit the restaurants on Friday or Saturday nights. Below are some ways that we keep our food bill to a reasonable size.

1. Split the bill.

We have a few favorite restaurants where we know they serve huge portions. Sharing a meal still fills us up and is easier on the wallet.

2. Fill up on freebies.

I love restaurants that bring out free stuff before you get your food. If you load up on free chips and salsa or breadsticks and salad you can easily split a meal and cut your bill in half.

3. Avoid appetizers.

As mentioned above, there are many restaurants that offer free food prior to your meal. Since appetizers can cost half or two thirds the cost of your main dish, I always go for the free food instead of paying for an appetizer.

4. Keep it simple.

Often the simplest things on the menu are the cheapest. Look for your basic burrito, spaghetti marinara, club sandwich, or other simple standby and you’ll likely score the best deal.

5. Skip the booze.

Alcohol has a huge markup, what else do I have to say? If you really need a drink, stay away from the fancy $9 fru-fru drink. Instead, stick with the basic bottled beer, drafts usually cost more.

6. Use Groupon or LivingSocial

Make sure you read the fine print on the deal so you know that your Groupon is valid for the meal you’re ordering. There are also local versions of these sites that sometimes have better deals on restaurants. Also remember to tip your server on the price of the meal before the Groupon is applied.

7. Take leftovers.

I’m amazed at the number of people that throw away their leftover food. Taking home your leftovers won’t save you money on the meal you’re eating but it might on the one you don’t have to buy tomorrow night.

8. Order the deal of the day.

Many restaurants offer specials on the weeknights to help bring people in during their slower times. Since we typically only eat out on the weekends we don’t take advantage of this technique but my in-laws eat out a lot and save money by always knowing which establishment in town is offering the deal of the day.

9. Use your gift cards.

If you’re like us you’ll always have several restaurant gift cards floating around the house from work or family gift exchanges. Our problem is that we often forget to use them. To help take advantage of the savings, keep them in your purse or wallet for easy access.

We’ll choose a restaurant because we have a gift card but by the end of the meal we’ve forgotten and don’t use it when the server brings the bill. The tip here is to put your gift card on the table when you arrive so you remember to use it.

10. Eat on your birthday!

Take advantage of the restaurants that offer a free meal on your birthday! See “Free Stuff For Your Birthday” on the Personal Finance Advice site.

Do you have more ways to cut the restaurant bill? Leave a comment!


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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21 Responses to 10 Ways to Cut Your Restaurant Bill Big Time

  • Jeremy Shapiro

    These are really good tips for cutting expenses. Those of you who are also interested in the deeper, more psychological level of the spending/saving issue might want to check out my column on The Psychology of Money and Happiness. The column is about this: No matter how shrewd we are about money management, serious efforts to restore financial health usually require us to reduce our consuming, and rather than being miserable about that, we can use psychological strategies to get more happiness from less stuff. Check it out!


    Dr. GoodCents

  • Dona Collins

    My fiance and I have a very short list of restaurants we go to when we want to eat out. Partially to save money, and partially because we watch far too many restaurant/bar rescue shows (with nasty kitchens). That doesn’t hurt our savings efforts, for sure! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Frugal Sally

    I would add eating at lunch is cheaper than dinner in most restaurants. Many restaurants have lunch specials.

  • Karen

    I totally disagree with your recommendations. It is very sad to see what people are capable of just to save a few bucks. What about complaining to get free food!! are you kidding me? would you be proud to have someone fired because of your unfair complaints? Stay at home please!!. Dining out is a pleasure to enjoy.

  • Anonymous

    I like these great suggestions. My favorite is to get deals of the day from my favorite restaurant.

  • dani

    we are restaurant professional people. we have just a suggestion, dinner at the restaurant is a pleasure, if you are so cheap, please stay home and cook something for yourself…o sorry if you can, otherwise, just defreeze a nice burger like old american style, food coltureless!!!!

  • Ben

    Good point Jake, some cities sell coupon books that offer pretty good deals at a bunch of restaurants.

  • jake

    Utilize the power of coupons. Many businesses will give you the buy one – get one free, why not take advantage of the obvious if possible?

  • Lev

    Check coupon sites for discounts at restaurant.com – buying a $25 gift certificate for $10 or even less is not a bad deal.

  • Jennifer

    I really like these suggestions! Thanks for the great post! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lisa

    These are really great tips, except for the last on tipping! I like to leave a little extra on the tip if the service is good. Those guys work hard, but get paid little. I actually do things such as this in lieu of donating money to organizations.


  • rkn

    Let’s remember that people in the service industry generally get paid below the minimum wage, receive no benefits, and are in one of the most stressful work environments in America today. So save and be cheap however you like, but remember that those are human beings, with lives and kids, that you are dealing with, and they should be treated accordingly.

  • Ben

    Bill, I can see how you might think the “Complain” tip could be rude. What other of the tips don’t you like?

  • Bill

    how about “don’t go to a restaurant if you can’t afford it”

    some of you suggestions are pretty rude.

    note: I am extremely biased as I am a food lover

  • Credit Cards Advice

    You mentioned avoiding alcohol while eating out. I have actually stopped ordering soda as well and order water only.

    If say, you have a family of four and soda is $2/glass, that’s 8 bucks you can shave off the cost of your meal.

    Drink water instead.

    Not only has this saved me money, I have always dropped a few pounds!

  • Joel

    I work in a restaurant, and I don’t really like the last ‘tip’, since you’re pretty much ruining your server’s day just for a couple bucks off your meal. (Unless, of course, you really are displeased with the meal, in which case, you don’t have to stay quiet just so someone else can be happy.)

    Another tip is to identify the market that restaurants in your area are serving. If you notice that all the other people in the restaurant you are in are yuppies, you’re probably getting ripped off. If you see advertisements for the restaurant on TV, you’re probably getting ripped off. It drives me crazy when the chain restaurant I work in is completely full all the time, and little, quality restaurants around town only have 1 or 2 tables in them. Local restaurants are almost always a better deal! And MUCH better food!

  • CreditShack

    Just remember that if you complain too much, you might find something worse than a rock in your burrito!

    I recently moved to a state with excessive sales tax (around 8%). As a result, my meals are considerably more expensive. I always tip ~20%, but now I use the subtotal as my tip basis, not the total. Why should the waiter get a pay raise just because a bunch of Communists run the state?


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