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Twelve ways to save money at restaurants


  • You can get a discount at just about any restaurant simply by sharing a dish with the person you are with. This includes very expensive restaurants. Don't be embarrassed, just say you can't eat an entire dinner yourself. Portions are generally too large anyway. (A few places may charge a token fee for splitting a meal, but most don't.) A helpful waiter will bring a separate dish for your companion and make sure that both of you have plenty of bread. Leave a generous tip.
  • Before ordering ask about "specials" not on the menu. These are often very fresh and good bargains. Many restaurants have regular specials each day of the week. Generally Monday through Thursday are the best deals.
  • Children and seniors may be entitled to discounts. Some restaurants offer special prices on a regular basis or on certain nights. Also a menu might have a separate section with inexpensive meals for children and seniors.
  • Watch for "early bird specials." Some restaurants charge less if you come early in the evening, generally 4PM-6PM.
  • Avoid buying several separate items (a la carte). Normally combination meals are less expensive even at fast food restaurants.
  • Look for coupons, especially "two for one" offers. For example, always check area magazines, the kind that are passed out to visitors. These publications often have hefty discounts for newcomers and are frequently overlooked by locals. You may even find coupons in the yellow pages of the phone book. Unlike other promotions, meal coupons may be good for as many as four people.
  • Check your local visitor's bureau. They may have special offers for tourists that locals can also benefit from but usually miss.
  • Some places sell books of coupons that are good for a year at numerous area restaurants. Thumb through the book before buying. It's not a good purchase if you don't like the restaurants or the kinds of deals they offer.
  • If you eat out often, consider joining a club. There are several national services that may offer 25% off on selected restaurants. Generally you will have to pay a yearly membership fee.
  • Drink water and save a dollar or two per person. Most waiters will put in a twist of lemon for free. Restaurants can make a huge profit on beverages.
  • Lunch often costs much less than dinner. The same meal can cost 50% or more at night. This was my father's favorite trick. He liked to take me out for a "business man's special" at noon.
  • Check out a new restaurant. Restaurants are very competitive. In order to survive and become established a new restaurant must have good service, good food, great prices and specials. Generally a new restaurant will bend over backwards to please you. Look for introductory offers. If you are planning a special event, a new restaurant will often be very attentive to your needs at a good price. When my wife and I were married, we convinced a new restaurant to let us have a wedding dinner there. The cost was reasonable, the food and service were excellent.

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