13 Ways to Save Money at Restaurants that Won’t Embarrass Your Friends

Jen SmithPersonal Finance, Savings31 Comments

Ways to Save at Restaurants

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My husband and I didn’t travel well together for a long time. When we’d leave the city he’d get increasingly paranoid about spending money and for me, all inkling of a budget left my mind as I imagined all the new fun and food there was to be had.

And I have too many memories of arguments with my husband, Travis, because he refused to order his own entrée, opting to only eat the food left over by our friends.

So now we plan beforehand so he knows we have the money to spend and I don’t spend it all in one place. And we eat out abroad and in town so much better because of it.

Thankfully for my marriage, there are so many ways to save money at restaurants. It takes some planning but the thought of not splitting my meal makes it all worth it.

1. Mystery Shop

If you haven’t looked into mystery shopping you’re missing out on free food! This is our #1 go-to when we want a nice dinner and we can order whatever we want because we’re not paying for it!

Well, you do have to pay for it but you get reimbursed up to a certain amount (which I’ve found is always plenty).

If you’re interested in, I wrote a post about how to be a successful mystery shopper so you can get more and better gigs every time.

2. Restaurant.com

This website has amazing deals on restaurant gift certificates. Most of their gift certificates are $25 for $10 or $10 for $4. There is a minimum to spend at most restaurants so take that into consideration when purchasing.

It’s still a great deal though. A $25 gift certificate bought for $10 with a minimum $50 bill is still about 30% if you don’t go crazy.

3. Groupon

I’m a Groupon lover for life. I buy entry to races, activities, car maintenance, even my teeth cleanings on it. And I use Ebates to get cash back on my Groupon purchases. Win-Win!

I usually find restaurant deals are about half-off regular price and while you can’t use them during certain times, like happy hour, there’s no minimum purchase so you can really get the full value.

And if you decide not to use your Groupon before it expires you can transfer the amount you paid to Groupon Bucks and use them to buy another Groupon. So convenient.

4. Living Social

Essentially the same deals as Groupon but every once in a while you’ll find something they don’t have.

Living Social tends to give you more time to use your voucher. I saw the same deal for a restaurant on both sites and Groupon gave you 30 days while Living Social gave you 120.

5. Creative Loafing

They’re known for their free weekly publication on what’s going on around the city by their awesome events that spotlight local business. And they have some great deals on local restaurants.

I like CL Deals & Loaf Deals because it highlights local restaurants. You’re not going to find most of these on Groupon or Living Social and it’s half-off deals across the board (none of that 48 % or 49% off shenanigans.)

Because of its transparent pricing structure and its commitment to promoting small business, Creative Loafing is my favorite on the list for restaurant deals.

6. Discounted Gift Cards

Do those websites still not have enough variety and savings for you!? There’s still the option to buy discounted gift cards.

That fantastic thing about using discounted gift cards is there are no restrictions on how you use them. You can go during lunch, happy hour, holidays, you can do take-out and spend as little or as much as you want. And they never expire. It’s the most flexible option on the list.

You can use sites like Gift Card Granny to search gift cards.

7. Sign up for Emails

If you have a favorite restaurant (or a few) sign up for their emails. You’ll usually get an initial deal for signing up and a freebie on your birthday. You’ll also get notified of promotions.

Don’t let yourself be tempted by their yummy food pictures if it’s not in your budget. Use a free service like Unroll.me to round up your newsletters into a single email you can read but not be distracted by every time you log into your inbox.

8. Follow Restaurants on Social Media

Businesses love to offer special deals to their followers on social media, I do it all the time in my day job. If the chain or franchise is national you can follow your local store and see if they’re doing any local specials.

9. Look for Coupons Online

If I find myself at a big chain restaurant I’m going to sit in the car and look for coupons on my phone before I go in. Most places accept mobile coupons but make sure you read the fine print because some are not so nice (I’m looking at you IHOP.)

10. Do Brunch or Lunch

Why would you just eat a meal when you can do brunch?

Dinner is a meal, brunch is an experience. And if you can’t brunch, do lunch. Food eaten in the afternoon is always cheaper than in the evening. I don’t know why but hey, more room at the brunch table for me.

11. Eat an appetizer

Some places serve their appetizers are so big you can eat them as a meal. This is a great option if you’re traveling or you’ll be out for a while and can’t take leftovers home.

12. Skip the Alcohol, drink water

The markup on alcohol in restaurants is insane. It’s not that hard to make a good cocktail at home. My mindset is that if I skip the adult bev with dinner I can have it at another time. Then I have money for two outings instead of just one!

13. Take Some Home

Ask for a box early and put in the amount you want for lunch the next day. Because I know if I see it, I eat it. And you know you’re always miserable when you eat too much. So make it easier on yourself and hide the food early.

Some people think dining out is a big no-no while paying off debt, but for us, it’s a necessity. And with so many ways to save money at restaurants, it’s worth the extra time to pay off the loans and makes the journey sustainable.

But God forbid we pay full price.

Tell me: Do you go out to eat while paying off debt? What tricks do you use to stretch your restaurant budget?

Ways to Save at Restaurants

31 Comments on “13 Ways to Save Money at Restaurants that Won’t Embarrass Your Friends”

  1. Super interesting, we don’t have a lot of these here but it has got me thinking about saving money at restaurants with what we do have…

    1. Thanks Kim! The gift cards are probably your best bet then. There are so many local deals that can’t be summed up into a general post but I’d like to explore more of them one day!

  2. My trick is to be the one to *suggest* where we all go out to eat. By picking a place in town that’s reasonable early-on, most friend are cool with it. The alternative being waiting for someone else to make the call — which could be a fancy place where I’d feel awful spending so much on food :/

    1. That’s the trick! It makes deciding where to eat way easier, which is a double win in my book.

    1. I know! And now the deals stay up for so long your really only have to check once or twice a month to find all the deals you want!

  3. Signing up for emails is a great idea! There are a couple of restaurants my wife and I like to go to. Not sure if they have an email/promo list but I’m going to go check.

    1. Yeah! My birthday is coming up and I’m basking in all the birthday deals they’re sending me! If they don’t have an email list then they surely have a Facebook page!

  4. nice! groupon is my jam! also becoming a yelp elite member has its perks too! my husband and I eat out with our kids all the time and for some reason we’re ALWAYS shocked with the bill! LOL

    we’re big foodies, so we each get a beer, two appetizers, and we share an entree. My kids aren’t picky eaters and would much rather have truffle fries and risotto than chicken fingers and fries, so they normally share an entree as well. Normally it’s too big for them so finish so mom and dad finish it! we walk away without spending so much and we’re comfortably full for a family of 5.
    i’m totally going to check out your mystery shopper post because it’s something that I’ve been interested in getting into!

  5. I love Restaurant.com! And my mom sometimes finds bulk coupons for them on Living Social. Here in Oklahoma there’s a website called Keep It Local OK…the card is $15/year, and you get discounts at locally owned restaurants. I’ve always made back my money and more. I follow a few restaurants on social media, and am always on the lookout for their discounts and specials

    1. Love that! I’m a big fan of eating “local” so I love any way I can find to save on small biz restaurants.

  6. I love restaurants.com! The site itself is shady looking but I have not had a bad experience with “sorry we don’t accept this” massive pool of awkwardness in front of any friends yet.

  7. Pingback: 20 Things We Did to Pay off $53K of Student Loan Debt - Saving with Spunk

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