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20 Tips To Stretch Your Dining Dollar

11 Feb

ImageNo such thing as a free lunch? Not so fast. I’ve collected the best tips & links to get you great deals on dining out. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE to receive the best tips daily. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

We all have our reasons for dining out, and depending on your motivations and budget, you can save a bundle especially if you combine the tips listed here. But whatever you do, be sure to budget your server’s tip into the bill; being thrifty is acceptable, being cheap is just plain rude.

  1. Time of day
    Lunch is cheaper than dinner. It’s usually a more limited menu & the portions are a bit smaller, but the savings, especially at fine dining establishments, can be significant. You can also go a bit later & take advantage of early bird or happy hour specials.
  2. Day of the week
    Restaurants want to attract diners on low traffic days earlier in the week with attractive specials. Also, many restaurants take deliveries of certain items on specific days of the week, resulting in specials that will give you the best deals & freshest ingredients.
  3. Skip the appetizers
    Depending on where you are dining, items such as soup or salad, is usually included in your meal, which serves as your appetizer. Appetizers at restaurants are often pricy & can actually spoil your appetite unless you split them among diners. If you have your heart set on appetizers, you can pick a restaurant that offers free appetizers with meal purchase. However, this usually can not be combined with any other offer, so the price of the appetizer will be your only savings on the meal. You usually find these with coupon issued for chain restaurants. Another option is to take advantage of free appetizers during happy hours at a neighboring bar or sometimes at the restaurant’s bar. Be sure to use a smartphone app to find the happy hour deal nearest you.
  4.  Skip the drinks
    Beverages have the greatest profit margin for restaurants, even those with free refills, so stick with tap water. If you want alcohol, follow the above suggestion and find a happy hour special near your restaurant. Some restaurants, especially those without a liquor licenses, will allow you bring your own bottle of wine or beer for either free or a small fee.
  5. Skip dessert
    While it’s nice to have a fancy dessert with your dinner, that doesn’t mean you have to have it at the restaurant, especially if you are full from enjoying a nice meal. The mark-up on desserts is ridiculous because they buy them elsewhere. If you want dessert, pick an offer that includes free dessert, or stop at a coffee shop or bakery where you can enjoy a coffee & dessert for far less and the change of venue can spare you the post-meal sleepiness.
  6. Don’t pay for the location
    Remember when you dine at a posh uptown restaurant, you are paying as much for the real estate as you are dinner, since they have higher overhead costs. Modest storefronts, even strip-malls, can house some very fine affordable eats.
  7. Don’t order what you can make at home
    This can be tricky when it comes to dining out with kids, so pick your battles wisely. Chain restaurants tend to use a lot of convenience foods that are the same as what you can buy at the store for far less. However, if you’re kids are picky eaters & the restaurant offers free kids meals, it may be worth it for a family night out.
  8. Order the special
    Restaurants plan their specials around their deliveries, so the special will not only give you the best deal, but also the freshest ingredients.
  9. Order ethnic eats
    True ethnic restaurants, especially in ethnic neighborhoods, tend to have the freshest & most interesting offerings. They are often affiliated with ethnic markets which allow them to buy imported goods for less & they tend to have less overhead, allowing this savings to be passed on to customers. I can get a delicious fresh lunch special at my local ethnic eatery for less than many fast-food value meals!
  10. Pay with the right card
    Many restaurants offer their most generous rewards for paying with their credit card when dining out; use this for more expensive meals, since that will give you the best returns & these restaurants often don’t issue gift cards. Less expensive meals, mainly at chain restaurants, are best paid for with gift cards. As outlined in my post Why You Should Buy Holiday Gift Cards…For Yourself buy your chain restaurant gift cards for as much as 40% off face value.
  11. Coupons & Promo Codes
    Sites like RetailMeNot can help you find the best dining deals near you, however, they are almost exclusively for chain restaurants & often need to be printed out in order to be redeemed, so this not the best method if you are away from home or using a smartphone.
  12. Smartphone apps
    There are a number of smartphone apps that can help you find great deals, especially when you are already out for the evening.
    Scoutmob lets you browse participating restaurants who offer 10% to 50% off, “Return Perk” deals for repeat customers & info on upcoming events in the area.
    Foursquare  lets you “check in” to restaurants in your area via your smartphone to access coupons for the specific merchants nearby.
    Jump Tonight allows you to view upcoming deals a full week in advance.
    Night Out real-time updates about restaurant specials, happy hours, and other promotions in your area with savings of up to 50% off.
    Around Campus enter the name of the school in your area and you’ll instantly see a list of restaurants, bars, and cafes offering vouchers or coupons, for discounts and deals such as free beverages or 50% off on your birthday.
    dealnews browse deals or set up alerts for your deals from your favorite national restaurant coupons as well as aggregated local deals from the likes of Groupon, Living Social, and more.
  13. Group discounts
    Group buying networks such as Groupon and LivingSocial, or even the more traditional restaurant.com help restaurants reach a new audience quickly, which usually means big discounts just to get you in the door.
  14. Membership benefits
    Nearly any group you belong to can be eligible for a group discount, but they need to be negotiated in advance. National organizations like AAA have discounts set up as part of their membership package, while others, like trade unions, often negotiate locally on an as-needed basis. Almost any organization, workplace or club, from fraternal organizations to civic groups, can set up member discounts.
  15. Veteran’s benefits
    Veterans & active service discounts, but best offerings are on Memorial Day & Veteran’s Day.
  16. Show your age
    Birthday Freebies offers vary, some require an accompanying purchase, almost all require advance registration.
    Kids eat free searchable database with locations, maps, and contact info for chain & local restaurants. Usually requires an accompanying adult meal purchase.
    Senior discounts many discounts available to seniors including those as young as age 50.
  17. Mystery shopper
    There are a number of reputable companies such as Bestmark and Goodwin Hospitality , that have diners complete surveys about their meals in exchange for a set fee, which is either equal or greater than the price of the meal.
  18. Write a review
    There are a number of ways to write a review in exchange for dinner, not just blogs or community newspapers, but also customer reviews on apps like Yelp. Receiving a free dinner depends on how you sell your service to the restaurant owners.
  19. Culinary school restaurants
    The best bang-for-your-buck restaurants across the nation are culinary school restaurants. It’s not just nationally know schools like Le Cordon Bleu, but local colleges & even high schools. I can get an entire gourmet meal at my local high school restaurant for less than what I would pay the butcher for the filet mignon.
  20. Package deals
    This is most commonly offered when booking hotels or entertainment via online or local travel agents. Sometimes they are advertised, but if they are not, be sure to ask.

When stretching your dining dollar, be sure to plan ahead & combine offers whenever possible. If you don’t see any offers, it never hurts to ask, and always, always, always, tip your server. Bon appétit!

Attention All Bargain Shoppers!

30 Jun

ImageIf you are in the Cleveland area TODAY, you MUST go to the City Wide Sale in Lakewood, Ohio. Think of it as a city wide Sidewalk Sale and Yard Sale on steroids; pure bargain bliss!

Check out the links to see all the participants and a handy online map for locations and parking. Lakewood is built on a grid pattern with business, apartments and bus stops (great public transport) on East-West streets, and residences on North-South.

If you get hungry check out the many tasty  eateries. I recommend Melt and my favorite sandwich “The Parmageddon” Mmmmm, smaczny!

So lace up your walking shoes, put the baby in the stroller, grab your shopping trolley, and get ready to snag some bargains in one of the most Walkable Cities & best Front Porch Culture in the region!

p.s. If you are bringing the kids, you might want to download free smartphone app Bathroom Scout

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