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Dining out on the cheap

You've been eating in more, stopped ordering pizza delivery, clipped and printed coupons, bought generic groceries, brown-bagged your lunch and budgeted your entertainment. It saved you some money, but you're dying to go out to eat again, right? Well keep in mind that being frugal doesn't have to mean being stingy. If theres a cause for celebration, there is nothing wrong with going out to eat to celebrate a success. If you are a smart diner, going out to eat can be an indulgence that doesn't tip the budget scales.

  • Use Those Coupons!-You may already get coupons sent in the mail for various items including local and chain restaurants. Use these! Also try browsing your local newspaper or Sunday paper. These often contain coupons for local restaurants that offer "10$ off entire tab" or "free appetizer w/ purchase of entree". A site called wow-coupons.com has a pretty extensive list of coupons for restaurants. Hotcoupons and ValPak are also worth noting. Don't forget to ask friends and family members if they may have any coupons laying around that they don't plan on using or that may expire soon.
  • Order water to drink-A soda at a sit-down restaurant usually runs around $2.49. Even at fast food joints, the small is at least $1.00. For even a party of two, that's an extra $5.00 added on to the tab. 
  • Go to lunch or breakfast-At most places the same size entree is cheaper during lunch! A growing number of dining places even have lunch specials that save you money in an attempt to attract more lunch-time diners. Even all-you-can-eat restaurants have lower fixed prices before 4:00 P.M., sometimes even half the price! An added bonus is you'll be beating the dinner crowd and rush hour.
  • Dine out on the weekdays- The same menu items are usually cheaper, and they usually have weekday specials.
  • Make the appetizer the entree- With supersized portions becoming the norm, an appetizer will easily get you full for less than the price of an entree. Excellent for sampling everything on the menu if you order a variety sampler.
  • Voice your Opinion-At many chain restaurants, the back of the receipt has a 1-800 number or website where they want customers to detail their dining experience. In exchange for your time you usually receive some offer or rebate good toward your next purchase.
  • Skip dessert-Plain and simple... its overpriced. If you really need your sweet fix, pick up a tub of ice cream at the grocery store (enough to feed the entire family dessert) for the same price as one dessert at the restaurant.
  • Think ethnic!-Many locally owned Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle-Eastern and Asian have delicious authentic dishes that hit the spot for a fraction of the price you'd find a similar entree at a chain restaurant.
  • Eat on "Kids Eat Free" night-The general rule is one free kids meal (Sometimes two) per adult entree purchase.Use My Kids Eat Free to calculate places in your area that offer this special on different days of the week.
  • Restaurant.com- Restaurant.com is defiantly worth checking out! You can score gift cards for discount prices. For example, a $25 gift card is often gotten at $10. Sometimes, they have special promotions where you can get up to 80% off!!
  • Order vegetarian- These meals are typically cheaper than their meat-containing counterparts on the menu.
  • Fill up on free appetizers- Eat at a diner or cafe that has complimentary break baskets, or a Latin joint that offers endless chips and salsa. This way you can fill up on the freebies, and take at least half you entree home with you to eat as lunch. Another option is to split the entree with a friend.
  • Meet up for drinks and appetizers- Catch up over the latest news with friends between meals. You'll still reap the social benefits of dining with friends for a fraction of the cost of going to dinner.
  • Get the Entertainment Book- For $15-20 you can purchase this 2009 Entertainment Book chock full of buy-one-get-one-free and 50% off coupons. A great investment for any family or individual that dines out frequently.
  • Skip the round of drinks- With beers around $4 a bottle, and cocktails around $9, even one round of spirts can put a hole in your pocket. After a few rounds you may have to bust open the savings. Find a dining joint that has a "B.Y.O.B policy" (Many family-owned Asian places do). If your a true wine fanatic, split a bottle after the dinner in the comfort of your own home. For the price of two glasses during, you can usually get your hands on a decent bottle of wine at the store.

Sign up for the E-clubs- An increasing number of restaurant are getting internet savvy!  You can sign up for the internet clubs and get coupons, discounts, and special offers. Most of them will also send you a cool birthday freebie

*These do require some type of purchase, unless otherwise noted

  • Arbys- Sign up for the E-club and get assorted freebies and special offers to your inbox all year long.
  • Black Angus Steakhouse- Free dessert when you join the BA Prime Club, and  free dinner on your birthday.
  • Carrows- Free dessert once you sign up. Additional free dessert on your birthday.
  • Chilis- Free dessert for signing up for their E-mail club.
  • Firehouse Subs- free sandwich on your birthday
  • La Madeline- Free soup or small salad for signing up. Additional freebies around your birthday.
  • On the Border- Free appetizer upon signing up for their club for Club Cantina.
  • Red Robin- Free gift for signing up for Red Robin Eclub, and free burger on your birthday.
  • Souper Salad- Sign up for the Souper Fresh Club and get a free birthday buffet, plus additional periodical freebies
  • Unos Chicago Grill- Free pizza on your birthday