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12 Ways to Save When Eating Out

12 Ways to Save When Eating Out

Eating out can be an enjoyable experience but also quite expensive. If you eat out five times a month, total costs could run as high as $3,000 per year. This is a lot of money that could be better spent on family vacation, building an emergency fund or paying down debt. What steps can you take when eating out while still saving money?

1. Dine at Off Times

Many restaurants will offer the same entrees for both dinner and lunch menus. Try getting to the restaurant a little earlier than normal or call ahead and ask about early bird specials.

2. Follow Restaurants on Twitter

In an effort to increase brand awareness and attract new customers, restaurants will offer promotional codes via Twitter for free appetizers or reduced prices. If you're already on the social service, follow your favorite restaurants take advantage of these offers.

3. Take Half Your Meal Home

Meal portions at restaurants have been increasing over the years. It is not uncommon to get chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes in another side large enough to feed two people. Cut the meal in half and plan on taking the remaining food home with you.

4. Plan Your Dining In Advance

Services like Yelp in UrbanSpoon offer customer reviews of most restaurants in an area. This isn't just a means for tourist to avoid high-priced low-quality restaurants since locals can benefit as well. Restaurants off the beaten path with great food and low prices are often discovered using these types of services.

5. Use Online Coupons

Daily deal sites like Groupon in LivingSocial made names for themselves initially with restaurants. Offering two-for-one promotions or savings ranging from 50% to 75% off is a great way to discover new restaurants or get a great value at establishments you already enjoy.

6. Be a Frequent Customer

Becoming a regular patron of a restaurant often comes with perks. A free bowl soup or dessert can be a negligible expense for a restaurant but makes a world of difference in terms of goodwill and word-of-mouth. Keeping existing customers is much less expensive than getting new ones so treating regulars well is a top priority for most restaurants.

7. Pick the Restaurant

When going out in groups, especially when it's friends or relatives from out-of-town, pick the restaurant ahead of time to provide quality options at reasonable prices. Instead of letting others pick a five-star restaurant, make a suggestion for a restaurant that's just as good but offers better value.

8. Participate in Surveys

Survey sites like iDine offer between 5% and 15% back when eating out. For just a few minutes of your time you can create a free account and provide feedback of your dining experience. After you reach $20 they will mail you an American Express gift card which you can then use the next time you have dinner.

9. Learn About Steak Cuts

Not all steaks are created equal but that doesn't mean they don't taste good if prepared properly. Everyone knows Filet Mignon and Rib-Eye are tender and taste delicious but they are also quite expensive. Other lesser-known cuts such as skirt, hanger and flank steaks are much less expensive but if prepared using marinate and other techniques can be just as flavorful.

10. Become Facebook Friends

Friending your favorite restaurant on Facebook will allow you receive posts on promotions, special offers and freebies. To encourage customer interaction and provide news of upcoming events, companies on Facebook promote different incentives for their friends.

11. Ask About Special Occasion Deals

Restaurants benefit greatly when large parties use their establishment for birthday and anniversary gatherings. Savings range from free entrees or desserts to reduce prices and sign up is normally free on the company's website.

At your favorite restaurant, ask your server if they have a membership club for special occasions.

12. Buy Gift Certificates Deals

Purchasing gift certificate normally costs the face value such as $25 or $50. Restaurant.com offers discounted gift certificates which can be great for people who like eating out. Discounted gift certificates are normally nonrefundable and dine-in only. There may also be a minimum purchase requirement. If these limitations don't bother you then you can get the same amount of food for half the price.