We all like to treat ourselves and our loved ones to a good night out every once in a while and every good night out starts with a great meal at a great restaurant. Dining out can be expensive though, so much so that the simple, cheap delights offered by your local fast food chain might seem more appealing. But there should be no need to deny yourselves a good meal as long as you know what to look for and are willing to make a few compromises.
Here we’ll be offering a few vital tips that you could be using to eat out without spending a fortune or settling for less.
Steer Clear of Chains
Whilst it might prove tempting to go with what you know and settle on a franchise restaurant, the familiarity and the fact that their prices are set by the ‘head office’ means that they’ll be able to charge more and get away with it. So instead of hitting Pizza Express or TGI Fridays for the hundredth time, why not cast your net out a little further and see what the road less travelled has to offer? Not only might you be pleasantly surprised with the variety and quality of what you find, but you could also find a tasty bargain!
To Booze or Not to Booze?
Nine times out of ten, a significant percentage of the bill will be taken up by the drinks, especially if you’re keen wine drinkers. By sticking to water or soft drinks you could cut your overall bill by a good third, perhaps even more! The sad fact is that restaurants will overcharge you on the drinks because they know they can. Even soft drinks are a bit of a con actually, considering the majority of restaurants (especially larger chains) will be using cordial based soft drinks that are costing them literally pennies to pour. There are some restaurants that allow customers to bring their own drinks (Indian restaurants are especially keen on this idea) but they are few and far between.
Keep an Eye Out for Promotions
The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive and this competition will often reveal itself in the form of promotional campaigns. Before you head out, check online for any potential vouchers or offers that might be happening in your area. Typical offers will include ‘two meals for the price of one’, bespoke ‘set menus’, ‘free drinks’ and ‘kids eat free’ but this is only scratching the surface. Don’t only look at the restaurants own official site either. The internet is full of ‘voucher code’ websites, most of which can be configured to search specifically for restaurants in your area. Social media sites are also great resources for hunting out potential promotions so be sure to keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter.
Many restaurants (especially larger chains) might have a discount card system in operation, which will offer discounts for return customers. This could mean anything from a ‘point’ system (where customers gain a certain amount of points with every meal, that can be used for discounts on future meals) to a more esoteric system that rewards specific purchases at specific times or dates. Franchise restaurants might even offer cards that can be used at multiple chains or cards for specific groups such as students or pensioners.
Share and Share Alike
Instead of opting for a starter or dessert each, why not instead go for a platter that can be shared amongst your party? More often than not we will struggle to finish a full three course meal so why pay extra for food that will probably end up being thrown away? If the restaurant doesn’t offer platters meanwhile, consider ordering half the amount and simply splitting it between you. You’ll be surprised how far a lot of portions will go.
As you can see, it’s not difficult to eat out without having to completely empty your pockets and the money you save could be spent on keeping the night out alive. You could catch a show or a film, hit a few bars and clubs or simply pick a few bottles of wine up from the off-license and take the party back home.
The only thing better than a great night out, is a cheap great night out and by following the above advice (and using your own intuition of course) that great cheap night out could be little more than a dream away.
Crispin is an expert in money saving and budgeting. He’s written this article for Restaurant Choice to share his tips and tricks on budget dining out.