10 Tips for Dining Out on a Budget

Confession time (we have a lot of those, don’t we?): for the most part, I HATE to cook.  When I have time, I do enjoy cooking.  But it takes a lot of time to plan meals, pick up ingredients, prep the meal, cook the meal, and clean up.  I stay so busy that it’s hard to take the time to do everything.  Therefore, we tend to dine out, or carryout, dinner most nights.

Eating out can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.  Much like you plan meals you’re going to cook, you should plan dining out.  Here’s my tips for eating out on a budget.  While I’m using some examples of my favorite restaurants, be sure to research what’s out there for the restaurants you like best! The key is to plan ahead and make sure the great deals for dining out are on your radar:

1. Sign up for emails and texts from your favorite restaurants.
The first thing I always do is sign up for emails and texts from whatever restaurants I’m considering for my meal.  Many restaurants will send you a coupon just for signing up!  Chili’s and Logan’s both send out great coupons–my favorite to get from Chili’s is a free appetizer coupon, while I always hit up Logan’s when I get a Buy One, Get One Free coupon (yes, you get an entree for free, up to a certain value!).  Fazoli’s also sends out some great coupons!

I never eat out at Logan’s or O’Charley’s without a coupon!

Many of these restaurants send out free stuff for your birthday as well, so be sure to register your entire family!

2. Sign up for reward programs. 
If you tend to eat out for lunch, check to see if a restaurant has a lunch punch-card, to where if you buy so many meals, the next one is free!  My local Old Chicago has a lunch deal where your 6th lunch is free!

Speaking of Old Chicago, they have the World Beer Tour Card.  I don’t drink, but I have this card anyways.  You just let them swipe it when you visit, and you get deals sent to your email that you can use when you present your card.  During your birthday month, you get a free pizza, and other frequent offers throughout the year, usually for at least $5 off of your purchase.

And let’s not forget Qdoba!  With Qdoba’s rewards program, you get 100 points for every entree you purchase, and a free entree after 800 points.  If you dine in on Tuesday nights, it’s double rewards points, so you can get a free meal after only 4 entree purchases!

3. Check your local papers for coupons
Yes, you should check your Sunday paper for restaurant coupons.  Here lately, I’ve seen coupons from Logan’s, Carraba’s, Fazoli’s, Old Chicago, Olive Garden, and Ruby Tuesdays, just to name a few.

4. Apps
When we were in Charleston, we downloaded Yelp to look at reviews and find places to eat. Some restaurants offer free food, such as appetizers, or 10% off if you check in at their restaurant on Yelp.

Furthermore, some restaurants have their own apps.  Logan’s, for example, is currently offering a coupon for $4 off $20 if you download their app!

5. Sign up for deal websites
This is probably one of my top ways to save money when dining out!  I get emails from Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, and Lexington Dealsaver.  They usually offer half-priced certificates to restaurants around town (ex: pay $10, get a $20 certificate).   I recently scored a $22 certificate to Saul Good Restaurant and Pub for $11 on Amazon Local:)

Kane loved Saul Good!

You can always check restaurants.com for some good deals as well!

6.  Fill out the surveys
Many restaurants will have surveys at the bottom of receipts that you can fill out for so much off of your next food purchase or a free appetizer.  Don’t forget to look for these surveys, and take the time to fill them out before you leave the restaurant, so you don’t stick your receipt in your wallet and forget about it!

7. If you have kids, dine out on Tuesday nights!
This one is a bigger!  On Tuesday nights, many restaurants have a kids/family night.  Some examples of deals you can find include:
1. Penn Station–Buy one sub, get one 6″ sub for free.
2. Fazoli’s– $.99 kids meals with the purchase of an adult entree.
3. Old Chicago– $1.99 kids meals with the purchase of an adult entree

Some restaurants even offer deals where kids eat for free with the purchase of an adult entree! And if Tuesday nights doesn’t work out for you and your family, check the lists below to see other nights when you can score similar deals at other restaurants.

Here’s a local list for people who live in Lexington, but a more nationwide list can be found over at the Krazy Coupon Lady.

8. Buy discount cards from fundraisers
I recently purchased an awesome discount card from a group that was fundraising for their sports team.  It was only $10, and had amazing deals to some of my favorite restaurants.  I feel like these pop up no matter where you live, so keep an eye out for them.

This card pays for itself after 2 trips to Raising Cane’s or Buffalo Wild Wings!

9. Go during happy hour.
I love hitting up restaurants during happy hour for their specials on appetizers!  Many restaurants offer half-price appetizers during their happy hour, and you can cut your bill significantly by taking advantages of these specials!  I think sometimes there’s a misconception that happy hour is only late at night–some of my favorite restaurants have happy hours that run from 3-6 p.m., which is perfect for a family dinner.

10. Drink water and definitely not alcohol
Drinks just add to the tally at the end of the meal.  Try to stick with water, which will probably save you $2-3 per person, as opposed to getting a soft drink.  I can never bring myself to just get water, but it’s a great instant saver.  Also, while I don’t drink, I know tons of people who do.  Alcohol is usually more expensive at restaurants compared to purchasing it in-store, so try to refrain from purchasing alcohol at the restaurant (or stick to the specials).

On a final note, even if you’re trying to save money when eating out, please don’t short the tip as a way to save:)

Hope these tips help!  Do you have any tips for eating out on a budget???

Nice to meet you!

Hi there! I’m Tif Fannin, the blogger behind Bright on a Budget, based in Lexington, Kentucky. Bright on a Budget is a Southern fashion and lifestyle blog where I share everyday looks, beauty, and travel, along with a behind-the-scenes look at my life as a working mom of two. I have a penchant for bright colors + good deals. Follow along for posts that are relatable to the everyday woman.

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  1. 7.8.14

    Great ideas!! We stick with the "only water" rule ourselves. Drinks always add up! We were also on a "splitting the meal" kick. But, you know, when you're hungry, you're hungry!! 🙂

    Katie @ Cup of Tea

  2. 7.11.14
    Tif said:

    Katie, it about kills my soul to pay for a drink.lol I do, though, because I like my diet pop. Chauncey and I have completely different tastes in food–and by that, I mean I have the taste of a 5-year-old and Chauncey will try anything once–so we don't ever get to split a meal.