5 tips to save money dining out this spring

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I, like many others, love to eat out. Not only do I get the night off from cooking, I enjoy getting a bit dressed up and trying a new culinary experience.

But, eating out can be pricey. So, I use a few tricks to keep the check from getting out of hand. Being frugal when dining out also allows me to do it more often, so it’s well worth the effort. Here are five easy tips to save money while dining out.

1. Choose casual dining over fine dining

We all dream about the white tablecloth, multiple forks and maybe a Michelin star or two, but fine dining for me is reserved for super-special occasions. While I love a fancy meal, most of the time, I venture out to a casual but high-quality restaurant when eating out. Now, with the rise of the ‘fast casual’ experience, you don’t have to sacrifice quality of food for a lower bill. (Fast food lover? Here’s some of the best deals at your favorite local chains.)

I have also been to many restaurants that are BYOB, which can save you a lot of money. If the restaurant doesn’t offer that option, make sure you ...

2. ... cut back on the drinks

The fastest way to run up the tab is ordering multiple drinks. While we all like a refreshing cocktail or nice wine with dinner, you can easily spend more on drinks than the actual meal. So, try and limit yourself to one drink, or stick to a nonalcoholic alternative, which is typically cheaper. If you have kids, ask if they offer kid-sized drinks (usually half the price) or have them split one.

If you are eating out at a fine dining venue, here’s how to save.

3. Tap restaurant rewards

Many popular restaurants will offer coupons to get people in the door. Make sure to check online for discounts, freebies and deals from your local establishments. Many restaurants also run deals during happy hour or have early bird specials. If you have kids, like me, eating at 5 p.m. is actually preferred.

4. Share your meal

Another easy way to sample the menu and save is by ordering an appetizer and entrée to share. Most restaurants are notorious for serving huge portions, so two adults sharing will still leave full.

If you just don’t feel like sharing, you can always take your leftovers home. Typically for me, the leftovers I take home become lunch the next day, saving me a $12 salad at my desk.

5. Find a credit card that rewards you for dining out

Some credit cards give points or cash back for restaurant dining. If you use that card when dining out, you will be making money every time you decide to splurge on a restaurant meal.

Eating out is fun, entertaining and a wonderful social experience. Just because you are watching your wallet doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally splurge (here’s why having a splurge fund makes money fun). Use these tips so that when you just don’t feel like cooking, you can confidently head out and give the kitchen a break.

One of the easiest ways to track how much you can spend on eating is through a budget. This easy downloadable spreadsheet can get you started.

Image: Pricilla Du Preez