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Jan 22, 2009 09:39 AM

Tips for eating out less expensively in a bad economy?

There are the usual tips

- Look for early bird specials
- Use promotions, coupon books (but only if they have decent restaurants)
- Plan dining out on off nights when restaurants often have promotions instead of prime time on Friday and Saturday
- Take advantage of restaurant week promotions. Currently SF there is Dine About Town where there are three-course prix-fix lunches and dinners at special prices. You have to watch to make sure it is a deall, but I just had a $47 meal for $22 that was by a top area chef.

There was a good tip, I thought on some talk show. If you have children, instead of hiring a babysitter, get together with other parents and child-pool. Parents take turns of watching the kiddies instead of hiring a babysitter. It saves one cost on an evening out.

Every little bit helps, IMO. It doesn't cost anything to book on opentable and eventually you get back some dining dollars.

If you must eat out on Friday-Saturday, eat at lunch where many times the same dishes are a few bucks less.

I'm a little distressed by this discussion on the chain board where it seems people would rather eat at chains like the Olive Garden because they know what to expect and don't want to take a chance on a bad meal at an independent restaurant

This astounds me, especially since they are saying this on Chowhound and only have to ask on their home boards about what is good and bad. Why settle for mediocre, though it is reliable mediocre. IMO, it is better to eat out less frequently than squander the little money there is on a blah corporate meal.

Anyway that link is there to discuss the charms of chain dining. I hope this thread will be about strategies for eating out at restaurants that are not chains.

This seems like a good opportunity to explore those mom and pops and expand food horizons.

Also, IMO, don't stiff a good server to save a few bucks. If you have to cut the tip, don't eat out or eat out less frequently.

Anyway, any other tips for keeping costs down?

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  1. Don’t order alcohol out!

    Sometimes I will order just an appetizer and salad

    2 Replies
    1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

      Or order beer instead of wine or cocktails.

      There was one SF poster who was alway going on about how little money he had and yet was always eating at great restaurants. He ordered beer instead of wine and was quite the knowledgable person on beer. Also, he and the Mrs. often split the entree.

      1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

        There are several places in D.C. that have 1/2 priced bottles of wine specials on certain nights of the week, for those who like to have a couple of drinks with dinner. However, it's very true that alcohol generally raises the bill significantly.

      2. Yes, cook at home. It's literally a multiple of 4-5 times more expensive per meal to eat out.
        I don't think people realize yet how much this economy is going to change and affect people. Eating out used to be something you did on holidays, and to celebrate personal occasions, not every weekend. The other use for eating out was for business relationship building purposes.

        Seriously, I don't think telling people how to waste money more slowly is much help for them.

        So back to your original inquiry, I would say the best way to save money on eating out would be to use it appropriately, and save it for special occasions. If you need to socialize, host and attend dinner parties at your friends' homes - again, that was done much more in the past, rather than going out to restaurants.

        2 Replies
        1. re: softDiner

          I cook at home all the time, living in Bermuda we do not have a great selections of restaurants and I HATE going out and spending at least $300 per couple for a meal I KNOW I could have cooked better.

          We have lots of Dinner Parties / Themed nights with our friends and it gives me the opportunity to try new receipes!

          Matter of fact we are having a 70's night this weekend we having fondue and for cocktails Harvey Wallbangers and White Russians

          1. re: softDiner

            I like your comment about eating out appropriately.

            I think if anyone is stepping into any restaurant these days it should be to make your food dollars count.

            Say you get just one Starbucks specialty drink a week and one fast food meal. That's $4 for the drink and about $7 for the meal. If you just cut those out, at the end of the month you would have over $40 for a really nice splurge somewhere. And many people spend way more than that each week.

            Why throw money away on thoughtless food that pretty much just fills the belly. Delay instant gratification and use those dining dollars for true deliciousness

          2. Accept that every meal out doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. Lower your price point. One of the great things about Chowhound is finding delicious meals at a taco cart or grocery store food court.

            1 Reply
            1. re: viperlush

              Oh I understand not that every meal has to be elaborate or expensive, but I living in Bermuda we have not choice except for expensive meals.

              We have no chains, except one KFC and it's no deal like the states.

              That is why we save up for when we travel off the island.

            2. Eat at restaurants that feature local fare. My husband and I moved to the MS Gulf Coast nearly a year ago. Growing up in IN, seafood was a luxury and true creole and cajun cooking was unheard of, but here on the Coast where it is abundant, it is just about the most affordable dining out you can do.
              There is also a large Vietnamese population in my area, so if you're brave enough to go for one of the Viet places that appears to be a little hole in the wall, you'll quickly find you can enjoy one of the most authentic, delicious, AND inexpensive meals you'll have anywhere. The same holds true for Mexican food in this area. This is not to mention the dozens and dozens of little cajun/creole mom and pop restos/shacks that dot the area. It seems going for authenticity in food, rather than stellar atmosphere can mean a huge savings. I may be weird, but I prefer the quirk of an old laundromat repurposed into a Pho joint over the consistent sheen of manufactured Italy at Olive Garden any day.
              My Yummy Life

              1. "I'm a little distressed by this discussion on the chain board where it seems people would rather eat at chains like the Olive Garden because they know what to expect and don't want to take a chance on a bad meal at an independent restaurant..This astounds me, especially since they are saying this on Chowhound and only have to ask on their home boards about what is good and bad."

                I don't wish to digress from the title of your thread, but you might want to read or try to understand a little more before passing judgment. Not all of us live in a place so well populated or full of those who are chowhound/foodie types that we have the luxury of simply posting to ask where is good in their neighborhood only to be offered up a plethora of delectable choices. Where I live, we are surrounded by really, really, really bad restaurants. The decent places are at least a half hour away and are very expensive. The best, affordable choices in my neighborhood, believe it or not, ARE the chains.

                Edited to add: I'm sure many people reading a post like mine simply don't believe it. Today is a perfect example, let me run it down for you, for real.

                mr. rockandroller and I have to go to a specific store for an errand that is out in another suburb, not our neighborhood but one where we used to live (and we may move back there at some point, we still enjoy it there as it's very low crime, good schools, manageable traffic/commutes, etc.). We will probably be hungry after we go to the store we need to visit, and will want to get dinner out. These are literally our choices, I won't use the specific names of the restaurants but I'm sure you can figure it out:
                Steak chain
                Italian chain
                "American" chain
                BBQ chain
                Fish/seafood chain
                Sit-down burger chain
                ALL the fast food chain places
                Fast casual chains, such as giant burrito place, "homestyle" chicken and sides place, sub shops, salad/sandwich/bakery place.

                Indie restaurants include:
                Italian place - terrible, have been there twice
                Upscale asian place - way, way too expensive for a casual weeknight meal, reservations only
                Japanese place - very bad. Last time, my 2nd try, I left without even eating my entree.
                Pizza place - takeout only and mediocre pizza
                Greasy spoon/American breakfast place - absolutely awful, nothing but Sysco or lower products.

                I know *every* restaurant in this neighborhood. I can assure you there is no stone unturned. There is nowhere else to eat if you want a decent meal than the chain.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rockandroller1

                  Yes, I made my points in the chain thread (maybe too often) and would rather not digress here and instead shush out tips for eating on a dime, so to speak, at non chain restaurants here.

                  I think you offered the same and good arguments in that thread and I have been in areas like that. However, others in the thread were not in that same position. Anyone living in a major town like Cleveland or Cincinnati can do better than a chain. Anyone interested in discussing this further I hope you'll use this link ... and convince some of those lost culinary lambs that there are better choices.