Save Money at Restaurants – Tips for Spending Less When Eating Out

December 4, 2008

Saving money on your restaurant bill is simply a matter of doing several small things that can add up to big savings.  I cover most of them last year in how to cut your restaurant bill big time but I’ll cover a few of them here and add in one that I missed.

Main Course & Appetizers

Spending less at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean eating less food.  For example, at some restaurants the portion sizes are big enough that you can split a meal with the family member or friend you’re eating with.  This works especially well at establishments that bring out chips and salsa, bread, salad, or some other complimentary food prior to the meal. 

Of course, there are other pre-meal options that aren’t free at all.  Appetizers can be quite expensive for the amount of food you get from them. They can cost half or two thirds the cost of your main dish so avoiding them can save you some money.

Drink Costs

Drinks have a pretty big markup, it’s hard to believe that some places charge $2 for a glass of soda with your meal.  Alcohol is even more expensive, a few drinks can really tack onto your bill.  It may be strange if you’re used to having a Coke with dinner, but ordering water will certainly cut your restaurant bill.

Deal of the Day

Many restaurants offer specials on the weeknights to help bring people in during their slower times. You can save money by always knowing which establishment in town is offering the deal of the day.  Also, don’t forget restaurants that offer free meals on your birthday!

Buy Less, Pay Less

One tip that really made some people mad last time I wrote about restaurant savings was “Spend Less, Tip Less”. This isn’t really a tip as much as it is a reminder.  The idea is that there are costs to eating out that are based on the total cost of your meal.

If you figure the tip as a percentage of the total bill, then the less you spend on food, the less you tip.  If you server does a stellar job and you want to throw in extra for the tip to say thanks, that’s up to you.  Just remember, the same concept applies to sales tax, the smaller your bill, the less tax you pay. 

Use Coupons

One of the tips that I forgot last time that some of the readers pointed out was to use coupons for your meals.  You can often find them in newspapers or coupon mailers, save them in an envolope and use them later when it’s time to eat out.

You can also find some pretty cheap deals on restaurant gift certificates over at

These money saving tips are part of the series on saving money on entertainment.  So far we’ve covered how to save money on your television bill, and save money at the movies.


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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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11 Responses to Save Money at Restaurants – Tips for Spending Less When Eating Out

  • John

    The money saving tips were great but it probably will tick-off your waiter that gets gratuity based on the total cost of your food. Money saving for you…usually less tip for him/her.

  • jennifer

    I wait tables for a living and live in a beach community. Please remember when using coupons, tip on the PRECOUPON amount. I dont think people realize that we tip out on the amout before the coupon. Also, just because you order water, does not mean that ten slices of lemon come with it so that you can make lemonade.
    And if a restuarant does offer bread, it is smart to charge after the first basket.

  • Chris @ BuildMyBudget

    Great content in this post. One recommendation I have is checking out a website like Because my wife and I really like to try new restaurants, I was able to get some really great gift cards at a deep discount.(ie: $10 for $0.60!) It was an amazing deal! But if you are going to eat out, take the advice from this post and do as much as you can to save!

  • Charlie

    Great tips. I completely agree with your drink tip. Another thing to be careful of is to specifically ask for tap water. Restaurants may try to serve you expensive bottle water with your meal.

    Also, if you do opt for drinks, ask that they be served with your meal and not be given to you while you wait for your meal to cook. Restaurants know that you’ll continually sip until your drink is gone and have to order more when your meal arrives.

  • MoneyGrubbingLawyer

    The same points you make about appetizers can also be applied to desserts- the cost ratio can be pretty high. It may be hard to pass up the dessert cart, but if you’re trying to save money it can be a good place to start.

    You can also often save a bit by avoiding the special menu additions that your server tells you about. There’s a reason they don’t normally tell you the price after rattling off the details of the delicious special creation- they’re usually among the most expensive of the entrees.


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