Friday, June 6, 2008

Eating out

I enjoy eating out quite a bit. Growing up this was a once-a-month event for us. Therefore, it was a very big deal. Sean ate out a lot in his growing up years. He likes it, but prefers to eat a home most of the time.

For a family of nine, eating out can be a ridiculous expense. Once each person gets their own drink, meal and we pay the gratuity for a "large" group, we can easily spend close to $100 at a sit down chain restaurant. Ugh! That is one week's worth of groceries!! So, eating out is usually a scheduled event depending on activities and special events.

I have found that eating out is something that I need to do on a fairly regular basis. I need a break from the kitchen and the clean up. It is "down time" for me and something that I look forward today. And sometimes at the end of a busy day it is a better choice just to meet at a restaurant and eat there. But to keep it real, my goal is to spend no more than $30. Hey, and if it's free, that's even better!

Through the years we've found great ways to cut back and still enjoy eating out several times a month. This is how we do it:

1. Water, water, water-except for mom and dad or if it is a birthday child. I'd gladly take a side salad with a glass of great ice tea just to enjoy the drink.

2. Coupons are a must. Many of our town's restaurants have regular coupons that come in local fliers as well as the big chain coupons. Arby's, Steak and Shake and Fazoli's are some of our favorites. Local restaurant coupons are often printed on the back of register receipts.

I also know that for those that support their local public radio/tv they are given a 2 for 1 restaurant card that is limitless for up to a year.

3. Sign the kids up. So many restaurants have birthday clubs which provide a free meal to celebrate. Saving these up makes for a great frugal date with mom and dad. Also, our summer reading program has amazing rewards for kids- free shakes, Chic-fil-a meals, Dairy Queen, Bob Evans kid meals. Pizza Hut also has a book-it program which provides each child with a personal pan pizza per month from September to March if they meet reading goals. (Deadline for 08-09 is June 13th-sign up online.)

4. Take advantage of Kid's night. $.99 and a drink is the deal at our Fazoli's on Tuesdays. Combined with a 5 off $20 coupon and we can all eat for about $15.

5. Enjoy restaurant promotions. We loved our Chic-fil-a free Wednesday morning breakfasts for about 8 weeks this winter. We also have enjoyed being participants on Panera's "practice" night. They gave each person who walked through the door $15 in play cash to spend. Yes, that was $15 with the children included. We had a NICE meal and lots of goodies to take home! It was fun for the children to try different soups and salads. It seems as though frequently restaurants are giving out free items. Today it's Krispy Kream Donuts.

6. Share. Truly, restaurant portions are out of control and so much is wasted. There is enough food for 2 people to share one entree. We oftentimes split a meal and then order more as needed. When we leave a restaurant there is not a scrap of food left on the table. We are not a big fan of ordering off the kid's meal. Normally it is more frugal to get an adult entree and split it between the children. Besides, they get better food and more choices this way.

Perhaps the easiest restaurant to share at is Mexican. We order a large fajita, sides of beans, rice, cheese and lettuce. Each child gets as many flour tortillas as they like. Then it's make your own taco time!

7. Eat out at lunch. At a nicer restaurant a late lunch can be upwards of $25 less expensive than at dinner. On vacations we'll often eat with the old people around 3 pm at a leisurely pace and then just have popcorn later before bed.

Do share: How do you save money while eating out? What are your favorite blogs or websites for finding restaurant deals?


Anonymous said...

My husband and I have four children, and we practice some of the same principles as you do when eating out.
We know which nights are "kids eat free or discounted". In our area, Mr. Gatti's offers free kids meals on Monday and Tuesday nights. Applebee's offers discounts on Tuesday nights. If we are near Nashville, Fazoli's and Chick fila offer Tuesday night kids specials. Wednesday's are pretty dry in our area. If we had a need to pick up food on a Wednesday, we would grab a family meal at Mrs. Winner's, KFC, or Captain D's. On Thursday's Captain D's has Kids Eat Free meals with inside dining. For the weekends, we try to eat at home but we use coupons if we need to pick up something.
Also I keep "on sale colas" and juices in the back of our vehicle. We order water most of the time, even at McDonald's. If we want a cola, we order ice and use a cola from the back of the car.
I keep a three ring binder in the car that I drive. I three whole punch coupon flyers for all the local places. I also have pockets with coupons for Kroger and CVS. I can't leave without my binder in my car.
I also sign my children up for all of the birthday meals.
My boys love FAMOUS DAVE'S. On birthdays, I take in our birthday email along with an internet coupon for 25% off a family meal. The birthday child normally orders a child's rib basket and the rest of us split the family meal. We order extra corn muffins of course.
My children also love Cracker Barrel, but it is so expensive. We rarely frequent this place.
At each child's birthday, the child chooses a restaurant of his choice for a family birthday dinner.
By the way, my husband now lives on a weekly budget. He is asking for his own coupon binder. Years ago he would get frustrated with my coupons. Now he complains that I keep all the good coupons. I am now getting a binder together for my man.
He has enjoyed the free fruitisa at Taco Bell this week. He is also grabbing for the free chicken sandwiches at McDonald's.
We do not eat out all the time, but we have a definite strategy to not break a reasonable budget when we do eat out.
We try to eat at our own table on most nights.

Cindy-Still His Girl said...

I tell my girls if they want pop when we are out to eat, they can buy it themselves with their own money; that is completely fine. They are suddenly quite satisfied with water. :)

Tara said...

We have 4 kids and use many of your same strategies. My kids are young enough now that if I do happen to buy a kids' meal I can feed two kids.

One thing I like to let the kids do at sit down dinner restaurants is order from the side dishes menu. Often they'll be happy with a cup of fruit and cottage cheese, throw in some free crackers and you've got a meal. My kids eat like birds though, so this wouldn't work for everyone!