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How to Save at Restaurants

If you’re trying to save money, a good place to start is by cutting back on dining out. Americans spend at least $1,000 per year on lunch alone, according to Forbes. But you don’t have to cut it out completely just because you’re on a budget. Here are some tips for saving money at restaurants:

Sign up for e-mail alerts.

If a restaurant has an e-club or allows you to sign up for e-mails, go for it. Many restaurants offer freebies just for signing up or for your birthday. Plus, they will send you coupons, discounts and deals while keeping you up-to-date on any money-saving promotions. To stay organized, create a separate e-mail account just for restaurants and stores so your important e-mails don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Follow restaurants on social media.

You’re spending time on Facebook and Twitter anyways, so why not use it to save some money while you’re at it? Restaurants will often offer discounts and coupons via their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media accounts. Plus, it’s a great way to learn about daily specials that could help you save, too.

Go during lunch or happy hours.

Chances are, lunch is going to be cheaper than dinner, but the hours between lunch and dinner are where the real savings are at. Many restaurants offer happy hour discounts on regular menu items like half-priced appetizers. Check the restaurant’s menu to see if they offer a happy hour or use an app, like Happy Hours or Happy Hour Finder. Always find out what the special is for the day which could be a cheaper option.

Look for deals.

There’s always a deal to be found. Groupon, Living Social and Restaurants.com are just three websites that can save you money on dining out. Some restaurants offer deals for checking in on Yelp. Find coupons and deals in local papers and magazines, too.

Read reviews.

Customer reviews on Yelp, Google and Facebook are usually a great look into the restaurants top dishes, service and average wait time. People often include helpful money-saving options, like if a particular meal is enough for two or if a restaurant offers a great weekly special that’s super cheap. Not to mention, you’ll be able to get a feel if the place is even worth it to begin with.

Use the discounts you already have.

Bring your student I.D. and always ask if there are discounts for students. It’s not just students who can get discounts, either. If you’re an alum, serving in the military, a member of various groups or organizations or even a resident at a specific apartment complex you may be eligible for deals at local restaurants. And when you’re traveling, don’t forget to ask the hotel, campground or motel you’re staying with if they offer any coupons for nearby dining options. Many times restaurants offer discounts to try and get travelers to stop in.

Order smart.

If you’re looking to save, simply order with some thought behind it. Opt to have friends over for dessert afterwards instead of ordering it at the restaurant. Instead of a dinner, order a few appetizers. If your dinner is a big portion, ask to have half wrapped up right off the bat. Besides saving some extra calories you’ll have lunch or dinner for tomorrow, which is stretching those dollars even more.

Whether you’re traveling, strapped for cash or just staring at an empty pantry, know that there are still options out there for dining out that won’t break the bank. Be proactive and know the discounts in your area. You could be well on your way to enjoying that can’t-make-at-home meal and saving a few dollars while you’re at it.

Photo by SD Dirk via cc.