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7 tips to reduce your restaurant bill

Want to take a bite out of your dining budget? Try these tips to lower the cost without sacrificing a good time.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 22, 2012 10:36AM

This post comes from Amanda Geronikos at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News logoThe most obvious way to spend less at restaurants is simply to avoid them.


Then your best friend gets engaged and wants to go out for a celebratory meal. Your sister's birthday follows, which necessitates a trip to her favorite Greek restaurant. Your co-workers want to go out for lunch, and you obviously can't miss that. Throw in an anniversary dinner and the fact that you want to try IHOP's Red Velvet Pancakes, and suddenly you've spent hundreds of dollars on dining out. In fact, the average household spends about $2,500 at restaurants every year, according to the National Restaurant Association.


While we can't avoid restaurants completely, we can find ways to save some dough when dining out. 

1. Use coupons and promotions

Sign up for daily deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, where you can find discounts for 50% to 90% off. You can score bargains like a hibachi dinner for two at Yokohama Japanese Restaurant in Maple Shade, N.J., for half off. It's a great way to try out a new restaurant at a more affordable price.


Also take advantage of restaurant promotions. For instance, Applebees consistently offers a two-for-$20 deal, which includes two meals (you select from a list of  entrees) and an appetizer. Olive Garden is popular for its limited-time offers, such as unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks.


If you live near a city, take advantage of Restaurant Week, when many restaurants offer delectable deals on otherwise expensive dining experiences.


2. Buy cheap gift certificates

Visit, where you can browse local restaurants and buy discounted gift certificates such as $25 certificates for $10, or $50 certificates for $20. The site lists more than 18,000 restaurants nationwide. A recent quick search for restaurants in Philadelphia turned up $15 worth of fare from Mexican Post for just $6. 


Image: Restaurant (© Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images/Getty Images)3. Skip the booze

Alcohol isn't cheap, especially at restaurants. If you order wine by the glass, you could be looking at a 400% markup. And as delicious as they are, fancy, fruity drinks are also overpriced. Even at a budget-friendly chain restaurant, you could end up paying as much as $7 for a strawberry daiquiri.


Soda isn't much better. You can pay 300% to 600% over cost. While it's not as pricey as alcohol, that still adds up. The cheapest (and healthiest) route, of course, is to order water.


4. Order an entree that includes extras

If you're going to spend more than $10 on a dinner entree, it should include a soup, salad or dessert. If you can't eat everything, take the rest of your meal home or purposely save some leftovers.


Breakfast is no exception: Ordering something that includes coffee can save you a buck or two.


5. Order an appetizer as your meal

Appetizers like quesadillas or chicken wings can easily be a sufficient meal, especially because they are usually served in portions big enough to share. What's more, they are often half the price of an entree. Consider having everyone at the table order an appetizer to share, and you'll have a wide variety of food to munch on and will benefit from savings, too.


6. Check your bill

This one might seem obvious, but check your bill for accuracy, especially if you make changes to your order after placing it, which can add to the margin of error.


If you think you paid too much for a mediocre meal, don't be afraid to politely mention it to your server. We've all ordered a chicken dish that included more pasta than chicken. Rather than being annoyed about paying top dollar for a bowl of pasta, say something. Maybe you'll score a discount or gift card -- or even a free meal.


7. Earn cash back through surveys

By signing up for iDine, you can earn 5% to 15% back when you dine out by completing a survey within 30 days of your meal. For every survey you take, you'll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Oct 23, 2012 2:47PM
Try drinking water. Not the $2.25 tea or soda. It adds up.
Oct 23, 2012 2:35PM
you want to trim your bill then maybe you should not eat out if you are worried about how much it costs  stay home and eat PB&J
Oct 23, 2012 5:48PM
Far too many people eat out and then trim their bill by cheating the server out of their tip.  Eating out requires that you tip.  If you can't afford it, stay home. 
Oct 23, 2012 3:11PM
"Have everyone at the table get an appetizer so you have a wide variety to choose from"...
I hate when some I go out to dinner with someone who is feeling cheap and therefore tries to dictate what I order. "Will you get this so I can try it, because I just got the garden salad but I want to try it!" Or "lets all get appetizers!" Or the dreaded "Lets get an entree to share." Um no, as long as I am paying for my own bill I will get whatever I want thank you very much. Sometimes it coincides perfectly with what someone else wants and we help each other out, and sometimes my husband and I are feeling cheap so we divvy up our food to save money, but other than that I am going to get what I want. And that is that. 
Oct 23, 2012 2:46PM
Too many people who can't afford to eat out or go party are out doing it. Then they could pay their essential bills.
Oct 23, 2012 3:06PM

How stupid can this guy be?  Why eat some food @ home and then drive to a restaurant and finish?


Might as well finish your meal @ home and stay @ home. 


You are going to spend money on gas, oil, tire wear and a potential for an accident on your way to a restaurant!

Oct 23, 2012 4:10PM

If you are this cheap....stay home ...Please do us restaurant people a favor.

Oct 23, 2012 4:02PM

This guy is an idiot...Why is American society overweight ??  Fill up on the bread...How stupid---unhealthy cheap...

Oct 23, 2012 5:00PM
Honey Boo Boo and her mother stink.
Oct 23, 2012 3:09PM
Did you see the lady holding her cat while eating?
Oct 23, 2012 8:06PM
you bunch of cheap bastards, if you can't afford to go out to eat, don't.  you'll be doing your waiter or waitress a favor.  you probably tip 10 %, steal the silverware and sweet n' low,  and then bitch that your steak isn't quite cooked to perfection.
Oct 23, 2012 3:09PM
Oh great, now my tip will really be lower then it is already! Folks, stay home and eat if your worry about paying to much on the bill.  It does a server a favor rather then getting less then 10% on their tip.  Or maybe some people are not educated on tipping right.
Oct 23, 2012 3:07PM
The best way to get a free meal is going to a BBQ.  Eat and then go home!
Oct 23, 2012 5:53PM
See I can understand this Post, It's a Little hard to take a date a and say HEY HEY NOW Just order some water with your meal, Trying to save a few bucks.. LOL.. I live in Ny, If your lucky you can hit happy hour or find places to eat with good deals... Or tell your woman lets make a meal at home..
Oct 23, 2012 8:32PM
Restaurant food can really make you sick. Eating out costs way too much. Learn to cook at home or if you can afford it.. get yourself a live in Chef.  Just remember all the nasty germs other customers bring into a restaurant and you never know who's cooking up your food or where it comes from.
Oct 26, 2012 2:10PM

Order Coke, and bring a vodka pint 

Oct 23, 2012 5:27PM
Water with a slice of lemon..squeeze the lemon and stir in some sweetener (equal, splenda) for a light, refershing drink...and at no charge.
Oct 23, 2012 3:10PM
I prefer relatively inexpensive restaurants that offer decent food preparation.  That includes a wide range of restaurant types.  Chinese is foremost, followed by Mexican plus some well known cafeteria chains such as Furrs.  Indian and Greek restaurants, in my experience, are too pricey.
And yes, I will occasionally take advantage of coupon offers made through the local newspapers.  The problem with many such offers is that they require either the diners order drinks or that the purchase must be at a substantial minimum amount for the discount to apply.

Oct 23, 2012 6:27PM
My brother and his wife get an appetizer and one meal then pay 1 to2 dollars for an extra plate, then drink water wit a slice of lemon
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