10 ways to save at fine-dining restaurants
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If you consider yourself a bit of a gourmand, but your finances are aligned more closely with pho than foie gras, we have good news. You can eat at some of the world’s best fine-dining restaurants without selling your kidneys or taking out a second mortgage.
Now, before you get too excited, dining at fancy places is still going to be expensive. It’s not like you’re going to walk into 11 Madison Park in New York (voted 2017’s best restaurant in the world) next week and get your meal at half price. After all, you’re not going to find a coupon in your local newspaper or a “kids eat free” night at most upscale restaurants. But if you’re clever and follow some of these tips, you can make that world-class meal a little less painful when you’re paying your credit card bill next month.
Here’s how to stretch your dollars as far as they’ll go at some of the world’s best fine-dining restaurants.
Unless you’re earning seven figures (and, if you are, why are you reading this?) eating at an expensive restaurant is a special event and should be treated as such. Knowing what to expect before you get there is key in figuring out how you can save. For example, does the restaurant have a set tasting menu or are there a la carte options available? If it’s a set tasting menu, saving becomes a bit more difficult, though not impossible.
Before booking a table, do some research online, read reviews, call and speak with the booking team and don’t be embarrassed to ask the simplest of questions. After all, it’s your money, and hey, they don’t know your name yet.
Some questions to ask:
Are a la carte options available?
Are shared plates available?
Can tasting courses be shared?
Is there a service charge added to the bill (in lieu of a tip)?
Are there any nights offering discounted wine service or specials on bottles?
Dinner at very high-end restaurants can often run about $300 per person, without beverages. But restaurant week is a great solution for diners who are reluctant to hand over that kind of cash even for the tastiest of delicacies. This gives the opportunity to experience a restaurant’s ambiance, service and a pared-down menu at a much more moderate price. Most major cities have restaurant week, some having more than one each year, so Google your city to find out more.
If restaurant week isn’t your thing, or the dates don't work, lunch may be the answer. Many restaurants have a lunch service with less expensive options, most including a la carte dishes, so you can try several things without breaking the bank. If you love it, you know a trip for dinner is worth it.
Wine pairings are a great way to experience the very best of the dishes the kitchen presents, but it can be a significant additional expense (plus it tends to be a lot of wine over seven-to-10 courses, but more on that in a minute). Instead of going all in with a pairing that is almost as expensive as your meal, ask if there is a less-expensive option (if your pairing is less than $100, it’s probably best to avoid this request). These restaurants typically carry a very extensive selection of wine, and the “recommended” pairings may not be the least expensive available, so ask, or ...
Most restaurants will not charge you for the full wine pairing if you do not partake of it, so, if after five courses you’re all wined out, let the server know. You should see the difference reflected on your bill. To be absolutely certain about how the restaurant charges, it’s wise to ask when you are offered the pairing what the cost will be if you have only a few.
If there’s no pairing option that is less expensive, or if you just don’t want all that wine, ask the sommelier to recommend a glass that will complement your main protein for the evening or a digestif to enjoy after your meal. You can sip on the complimentary champagne many restaurants offer with the amuse bouche until that arrives.
If it’s just two of you dining, a wine pairing may be perfect to sip and share between you during your meal. You probably should avoid asking for two glasses to split the tasting and just pass them back-and-forth for a quick taste in order to avoid the wait staff glowering at you, though. Sharing a pairing also gives you the option of ordering a glass of the wine you enjoy most during the meal.
Even a $300 bottle of wine shared between two or three of you can be far less expensive than everyone getting their own pairing. A good sommelier can point you in the right direction if you don’t know much about wine.
Going back to some of the questions we recommended you ask earlier, if the restaurant allows it, consider sharing a tasting menu or several dishes if the restaurant offers a la carte options, particularly if you’re light eaters. This allows you to try more flavors and save money at the same time.
If you have a credit card that offers rewards for restaurant purchases, it could wind up ultimately helping you save on your dining experience (anywhere between 1% and 5% back, depending on the card). If you love eating out and don’t have a card that rewards you for it, it may be worth considering applying, especially if your credit score won’t preclude you from being approved (and you can pay it off responsibly).
Looking for ways to trim your budget so you can go out for a fancy meal? Check out these seven simple ways to save $100 in an hour or less.
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