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?