It’s so nice to hang up your apron and let someone else wait on you for the night. Unfortunately, dining out can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 15 ways to save when eating out–whether you’re stopping at a roadside diner for a pancake breakfast or enjoying a decadent date night complete with gourmet food, wine and a Broadway show.
1. Kids eat free!
Many restaurants have kids eat free nights when business is slow. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most popular days for these offers. For example, kids eat free Tuesdays at some Chevy’s, Pasta Pomodoro and Denny’s locations.
2. Treat Yourself on Your Birthday
Take advantage of your birthday month by scoring a free meal or two! Benihana’s will gift you a $30 birthday certificate when you sign up for their free newsletter. IHOP and Denny’s will treat you to free pancakes. Click here for a complete list of birthday deals in your area. Usually you have to sign up in advance for these offers and they will email you when the time comes, so be sure to plan for your free birthday food.
3. Discounts and Packages
Look for discount gift cards from sites like restaurant.com. They also offer deals on dinner and a show packages. Get a restaurant gift card and discount tickets to the The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, The Blue Man Group and many other shows.
4. Guinea Pigs Eat for Less
If there is a culinary school in your area, you may be able to get a gourmet meal for a very low price. Technique, Le Cordon Bleu’s student restaurant, has locations across the country and offers a three-course prix fixe meal for $25.
5. Subscriber Discounts
Sign up for email lists to score freebies like a free mini pizookie or handcrafted soda from BJ’s. Black Angus gives you a free dessert for joining the Prime Club (and a free steak dinner on your birthday). Get a free small plate when you register for California Pizza Kitchen’s Pizza Dough rewards.
6. Order Wisely
Chicken usually has the highest mark up so think twice when choosing your protein when eating out. According to the National Chicken Council, wholesale chickens cost an estimated 94 cents per pound. It may make sense to try a different meat.
7. Local Discounts
Make it a date night. Some restaurants near movie theaters will give you a discount when you show your movie stub.
8. Go out for Lunch
Lunch menus are often replicas of dinner menus, just with lower price tags. It’s a great way to take the edge off if you want to try a pricier restaurant.
9. Be a Wine Snob
Popular wines like Chardonnay and Merlot may be marked up more than others at some restaurants. You may get more value when you choose a less common variety like a Sangiovese or Riesling.
Bring your own wine for an even better way to save. GoBYO.com lists corkage fees. You can search by cuisine type or even for restaurants that charge nothing at all.
11. Use Credit Card Rewards
It may pay off to pay for dinner with plastic. Some credit cards offer a higher percentage in rewards on dollars spent at restaurants. Be familiar with your credit card reward programs and use cards accordingly.
12. Make a Reservation
OpenTable gives you reward points every time you make and honor a reservation (typically 100 points per reservation). When you rack up enough points, you can redeem them for a $20, $50 or $100 gift certificate to OpenTable restaurants.
13. Use Social Media
Following restaurants on Facebook and Twitter is a great way to be alerted to discounts, but some restaurants will give you a discount on the spot. So pull out your smartphone and ask your server if they are offering any discounts if you follow them right now.
14. Eat early
You don’t have to be retired to enjoy the early bird special! Many restaurants offer happy hours that go beyond cocktails and mixed nuts. Head for an early dinner and you may enjoy some very generous discounts.
Find even more ways to save when eating out here–like when it makes more sense to buy the bottle instead of the glass.