Tips and Tricks for Dining Out on The Cheap


You’re so responsible when it comes to food. You eat in as often as possible. You clip coupons and buy groceries on sale. You cook healthy soups, stews and chili in big batches and eat them throughout the week instead of ordering pizza. You resist the urge to pick up takeout on the way home from work, knowing you have a vegetable bin full of fresh veggies that need to be used up. You’re so good. You totally deserve a reward.

And what better reward than treating yourself to a delicious meal out? Worried it will be too expensive? Don’t be! Read on for my tips and tricks for dining in expensive restaurants without overspending. And no, it doesn’t involve scarfing down free bread and water and dashing out before the waiter comes to take your order.

  • Don’t be afraid to order two appetizers instead of an entrée. They’re frequently more interesting and less expensive than the listed entrées (even if you order two).
  • Look for dishes that are grain or vegetable based with meat serving as a smaller component or flavoring agent, such as risotto, gnocchi, or filling grain salads, like quinoa or couscous. There is a budget-friendly trend on the rise in food these days — the use of meat as an accent, rather than the entire focus of a dish. This means these types of dishes are less expensive on the whole, since grains and vegetables make up their bulk. It’s a great way to eat well without spending too much.
  • Seek out happy hours with good food deals. Some of the nicest restaurants I know of have dinner menus that are totally out of budget, but offer fantastic happy hours with affordable drinks and even more deliciously affordable food! A few small plates and a half-priced cocktail can make a mighty fine supper for the high-quality/low-budget-focused diner.
  • Go for brunch or lunch. Many fancy restaurants have the same or similar offerings as their dinner menus at brunch or lunch for half the price. And if you bring friends, that means you can try even more dishes!
  • Look for bumper crops. In the spring and summer, corn, beans and zucchini (depending on the season) grow like wildfire during the peak of their season and restaurants, eager to use them up, will sometimes offer dishes with them at a discount. In autumn and winter, look for root vegetables and winter squash for similar kinds of deals.
  • Ask for the special! Like the above tip, a restaurant’s special is sometimes a means to get rid of a particular ingredient. As such, it is sometimes slightly discounted.
  • When it comes to wine, beer, and even certain hard liquors, like tequila and whiskey/bourbon, always ask if the restaurant has a “flight” or tasting option, meaning several small pours served together. This is a great and affordable way to try several types of wine, often for the cost of one mid-price glass/cocktail, and it’s much more interesting. Sometimes if you’re with a friend, one beverage flight ends up being more than enough for two. 

How do you save money at restaurants? Let us know in the comments!

Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally-acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Most recently, she developed “Young and Hungry”, an ABC Family sitcom based on her life and writing. It premiers this summer (2014).


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