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15 ways to cut your fine dining bill in half

Tired of spending a fortune on restaurant meals? Check out 15 ways to make the experience more affordable.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 11, 2014 12:37PM

This post comes from Allison Martin at partner site Money Talks News. 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyYou don't have to keep wishing on a star that you'll one day be able to afford fine dining establishments.

It's usually one of the first expenses to take a hit when the spending plan comes into play, but the last thing that we actually want to part ways with. However, it is possible to enjoy the finer things in life, at least in the food category, without breaking the bank. Here's how.

1. Daily special

Most fine dining establishments share their daily special online, in the waiting area or via the server once you are seated. Even if your mind is already made up about your meal of choice, don't be afraid to expand your horizons and try something new. You may actually like it.

Also, inquire about specials offered throughout the day, such as half-priced wings after 5 p.m.

2. Lunch menu

Heading out for a hot date? Lunch may seem like the worst time to go, but can save you a nice chunk of change. The portions are often equivalent and come at a third, if not half, the cost. Just be sure to go online and view the menu before heading over.

3. Deal websites

If you can do so without going overboard, check out deal websites, such as Groupon or LivingSocial, for promotional offers at fine dining establishments in your local area. Just make sure that you will actually redeem your purchase because the vouchers are typically nonrefundable, and check for any restrictions that may apply.

4. Stick to the main course

There’s no point in fine dining if you don't indulge in a full-course meal, correct? Well, not necessarily. The extras, including appetizers, alcoholic beverages and desserts, can sometimes cost more than your main course.

My suggestion: Skip the add-ons and go elsewhere for desserts or drinks. And if you must have a drink, stick to the most affordable items on the menu.

5. Discount by affiliation

Are you a senior citizen, member of the military or college student? Inquire about any special discounts that may be available to you.

6. Coupons

Peruse the restaurant's website, or the Entertainment book for coupons and promotional offers on cuisine at fine dining establishments. Also, check the Sunday newspaper.

7. Weekday dining

You can beat the crowds and take advantage of the specials offered during the slower periods to entice customers to come in. Besides, lunch specials typically aren't available on the weekends.

Couple toasting champagne glasses at restaurant table © Chris Ryan/OJO Images/Getty Images8. Check in online

Select mobile applications, such as Foursquare, will allow you to retrieve a free drink or appetizer from the restaurant just for checking in. When I visit Chili's, I always check in to receive an order of free chips and salsa. It's more casual than fine dining, but still a good deal.

9. Culinary schools

Check with the culinary institutions in your area to find out if they have restaurants that are open to the public. In most cases, the three-course meals are offered at an extremely affordable rate, and prepared by students preparing to head into the culinary world as chefs.

10. Gift certificate promos

This is particularly popular during the holiday season, but some fine dining establishments run promotional offers on gift certificates. Also, try gift certificate resale sites, including Gift Card Granny and ABC Gift Cards, which offer secondhand gift cards at a steeply reduced rate.

11. Kids eat free

Want to bring the entire family along? Find out if they offer a special night when kids eat free during the week.

12. Split the meal

My favorite Italian restaurant offers such generous portions that I often split it with my dining partner. However, a fee may apply if you do this, so inquire with your server.

The two of you can enjoy a scrumptious meal together while cutting the bill in half.

Besides, why spend big bucks on two over-sized entrees just to take home leftovers that could possibly go to waste in the refrigerator?

13. Freebies

Does the restaurant of your choice offer freshly baked bread or some other unique freebie before the main course is served? If it's an item that whets your appetite, fill up and order a smaller, less expensive meal.

And in some cases, you may score a free appetizer simply by signing up online for the restaurant's loyal customer program.

14. Special occasion

Is it your birthday or anniversary? You could land a free meal at your favorite fine dining establishment. If they don't offer this perk, there are plenty of others in your area that are willing to treat you on your special day.

I always head over to Kobe Japanese Steakhouse on those special occasions because being a member of their rewards program grants me a free meal.

15. Order takeout

If you're more interested in the food than the actual restaurant experience, why not order takeout and enjoy the cuisine in the comfort of your own home. Want to spruce things up a bit? You can also head to the local park or sit on the patio and watch the sunset.

Either way, you will save money on drinks, appetizers, desserts and the tip. Sounds like the perfect date night to me.

More from Money Talks News

I don't know what the author thinks the meaning of "fine dining" is. Hint: It is NOT a restaurant that will give a discount to a college student, and it is most certainly not a restaurant that will let your screamers eat free. Maybe she's thinking of her neighborhood taco place.
Apr 19, 2014 3:04PM
One way to cut your bill in at restaurants less and at home more.
Apr 16, 2014 9:21PM
Too bad Pulitzer doesn't have an award for the worst article of all time...these tips are absurd and in no way apply to fine dining. The only items that are even close to realistic are #2 and #9, everything else applies only to restaurants such as The Keg, Chili's etc. I am appalled that MSNMONEY would allow this to be presented as an article of value. I think it may be time to look into a new Editor.
Apr 16, 2014 6:15PM
This aricle is not about fine dining places at least not in NYC.   To save in NYC eat appetizers instead of a main course, have drinks before you leave home or at the closest Happy Hour and drink table water.
Apr 16, 2014 6:57PM
Chili's and Kobe are not "fine dining".  They're pretty much family sit-down dining.  Places where the bill approaches or passes $50-60 per person are fine dining.
Also, daily specials are often things that need to be got rid of, especially on a Sunday or Monday (i. e., during or after the weekend) before they go bad.  They probably won't be day-before fresh.
Apr 19, 2014 5:49PM
My, my, my, these articles really crack me up.  First of all, dining out isn't supposed to be "cheap."  One is sitting on their behind, being served and cooked for, and another person does all the dishes.  It's an expensive activity by its nature, not one to be manipulated with frugality. 

To echo others in this forum, these "tips" are hardly for fine dining restaurants.  I've worked in real fine dining for nearly twenty years, and almost none of these ideas apply to any serious establishment.

1. Daily specials either don't exist at fine dining spots or are items that they need to get rid of i.e. they're getting old.

2. Sure, lunch can be less expensive.  However, many fine dining restaurants don't offer lunch and if they do, one probably isn't eating or drinking as much as they would at dinner.

3. Not many fine dining places offer coupons.  Why, you ask?  Because most coupon diners suck, plain and simple.

4. Yes, obviously.  If one orders less food, the bill won't be as high.  Buy less, get less.  F*cking brilliant!  Also, this elusive "elsewhere" for drinks and dessert probably charges money for their products and services as well.

5. I've never worked at ANY restaurant that gives a discount to seniors, military, or students.  This applies almost exclusively to chain restaurants.

6. I'm not sure why the author chose to separate coupons from discounts, but in either case, see point number three.

7. IMHO, this is about the only valid point on the list.  Some fine dining restaurants do offer less expensive menus on certain nights of the Monday, due to slower than normal traffic.

8. Once more, these deals apply almost exclusively to casual chain restaurants.  And free chips and salsa?  If that's going to make or break ones ability to afford dining out.....that person can't afford to dine out, period.

9. It's true that one can buy a cheaper meal at a culinary school (if one happens to live near a school), however, these are people preparing to enter the restaurant world as prep cooks, not chefs, as this article and every commercial for culinary schools would have you believe.  ;-)

10. Once again, this point applies almost exclusively to casual restaurants.

11. Kids eat free at the local fine dining restaurant?  Really?  What's to say here, except that the author is a moron.

12. Restaurants, like other businesses, exist to make money.  So yeah, we love it when a table reserved for two spends the money of one.

13. Free bread ought to afford everyone the ability to enjoy fine dining every night of the week!

14. My favorite and most hilarious of all the points here.  One MIGHT receive a free glass of bubbly or a dessert for their birthday, but the entire meal for free is a joke to say the least.  Once again, restaurants are businesses trying to turn a profit.  If we gave away a free meal for everyone's special occasion, we wouldn't be in business very long.  I might add that for me personally, the more one expects something for free because it's their birthday or anniversary, the less likely I am to give it to them.

15. Take out at a fine ding restaurant?  Good luck with that.

What a crap article.  Lets all stop pretending that eating out is an activity designed for being frugal.  Cooking at home is where one will save money, not trying to get free stuff from a business designed to make money.  MSN needs to stop spreading these hilarious and false claims about dining out.
Apr 19, 2014 4:43PM
Has the moron that wrote this actually ever been to a Restaurant?
Apr 19, 2014 4:02PM
Here's a way to completely cut your dining bill completely,,,EAT AT HOME!
Apr 19, 2014 4:17PM
Daily special means we're pushing this today. Not, that it is discounted. Matter of fact a lot of times "daily special"  means dish that's been sitting around too long and we need to get rid of it. Also if you look in the menu you will often find that the price is the same, special or not. If you can't afford to eat out.....stay home. The author should plan ahead for articles instead of throwing a bunch of ideas that don't make sense together. Just because our government does it, doesn't make it right. 
Apr 19, 2014 3:58PM
After reading through this long and redundant (theme = freebies) list, I'm saving money from loss of an appetite to go out now.
Apr 19, 2014 5:28PM
Dining etiquette:  If you do use a coupon, please don't forget to tip your server on what the actual cost of the food/drinks were BEFORE coupon is applied.
Apr 19, 2014 5:19PM
Finally an article that doesn't make you scroll through 15 pages with one  line written on each page ..
Apr 19, 2014 5:56PM
Doesn't sound like a night of "fine dining " to me . Sounds more like Pub 99 , coupons , kids eat free , take out ? Allison Martin wrote this article . Allison do you know what "fine dining " is ???    
Apr 19, 2014 5:04PM
HAHAHAH...  he actually says  fill up on the  free breadbasket??? ------HAHAHA  ... I can just see him eat up all the bread and  drinking 3 glasses of water and then leaving  HAHAHAHA .... he actually says eat at home 1st then share an entre ----HAHAHA  what a great dining out experience, eat at home first, Heeheehee   NOT!!!!!
I have recently said on more than a few occasions that "I eat like a king".  Making a Chicken Picatta or a Chicken Marsala at home are both quite cheap.  Chicken breast can be gotten for around $2 a pound so having a reasonable 8oz portion each with the olive oil, lemon spices etc  will cost each diner about $1.75 EACH.  Now a loaf of crusty bread or rice for the starch alongside a nice fresh vegetable and the running total EACH is up to $3.  Buy a bottle of wine in the range of $7-15 and get a dessert at the deli counter and you spend maybe $12 EACH.  For a tip...??...   the preparer gets a half an hour foot or back rub and maybe that even morphs into some fun and games for BOTH.   Of course it is nice to occasionally just go out to eat but how often does that leave you feeling like you sacrificed quality for ambiance?  I have always felt that cooking is a gesture of love.  Right now there is a roast pork in the oven which will be served with rosemary sweet potato fries and a vegetable.  35 years later my wife still continues to amaze me. 
Apr 19, 2014 5:36PM
"The portions are often equivalent and come at a third, if not half, the cost."  I believe this should be half, if not a third.  Math is not their strong point?
Apr 19, 2014 4:30PM
eat home before you go out, then you won't be hungry and will eat less  r maybe even go out just for dessert
Apr 19, 2014 5:48PM
Restaurant mark ups for wine are excessive - often 3-4x the retail price for a bottle and a glass of wine can now  cost. $12-$15. Don't let them rip you off. Order a cocktail or a beer and pocket the savings. You can have a glass of wine when you get home plus you are less likely to get a DUI.
Apr 19, 2014 4:09PM

Better advice. Buy a bottle of wine instead of individual glasses or drink water. Watch the coupons. Restaurants are tricky. Read all directions and fine print on coupons and follow instructions. Restaurants lure people in with coupons because they know people pay attention to them.

limit the drinks, no appetizers, no dessert. Only tip 20% for good not mediocre service. Go to Mc'Donald's for dessert or eat it at home Unless you want to spend a lot on dinner.

Best advice.......cook at home. Forget these chain restaurants.


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