Couple ordering meal in restaurant © NULL, Corbis

Eating in restaurants can be expensive. It's estimated that each American spends an average of $2,620 a year eating out. Roughly 93% of consumers enjoy eating out, and the restaurant industry takes in a 47% share of all food-dollar expenditures. But you don't have to spend a fortune at restaurants this year. Try these tips to help you save money while dining out.

Choose the right time of day

If you are looking to try out the newest restaurant in town, try going for lunch instead of dinner. Or try heading there at happy hour. Dining during off-peak hours can save you money while still allowing you to try new dishes. Not only do some restaurants offer buy-one-get-one-free deals on beverages during happy hour, they also typically have specials on food. There are even apps for your mobile device, such as Savored, that advertise the discounts some restaurants offer during off-peak hours.

Look for deals

Many restaurants offer promotions through various deal-of-the-day websites. Groupon, for example, offers vouchers that can save you 50% to 90% off your meal. The trick with Groupon is making sure you use the deal before it expires. Also, if your chosen restaurant has more than one location in your city, make sure the deal you buy is valid at the location you want to visit.

There's also restaurants.com, which offers discounted gift certificates. Such gift certificates are good at a range of restaurants, though you typically may use only one certificate per restaurant per month.

Check in

If you have a smartphone, you can use social networking apps like Yelp and Foursquare to "check in" at locations. Both allow you to search for deals nearby, which may influence your dining decisions. And as an added bonus, many restaurants offer discounts to those who check in. Just mention it to your server.

If you're a frequent restaurant-goer, OpenTable is another option. OpenTable allows you to accumulate points for making (and keeping, of course) reservations through its website. Once you have accumulated 2,000 points, you are able to claim a $20 gift voucher for its network of restaurants. While most reservations earn around 100 points, you can search for some that are worth 1,000 points.

Bring your own bottle

Wine and other alcoholic beverages are often marked up as much as two to three times their wholesale value, meaning the restaurant is making a pretty penny on your $11 glass of pinot noir. Surprisingly, many restaurants mark up their cheapest bottles of wine the most. One method for saving on wine is by calling ahead to see if you can bring your own bottle. Some restaurants will allow you to do this, but they may charge a corkage fee. By researching the corkage fee, which can be as much as $20 per bottle, you can price out how much you'll spend on a bottle of wine.

Share a plate

Portions at restaurants tend to be a lot larger than anything you would consume at home. Many people find ordering a meal overwhelming because they want both an appetizer and a main course. If you're out with friends, opt for sharing both. That way you can try both items without having too much food, plus you get to share the costs when the bill arrives.

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The bottom line

Eating in restaurants can be costly, but if you pay attention to the small ways you can trim your bill, the cost becomes more manageable. By sharing food, scouring websites and paying attention to the time of day you go out to eat, you may be able to cut your bill by as much as half.

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