Inexpensive restaurants

Fine Frugal Dining

by Deborah Ng

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Who wouldn't want to have dinner in a fancy restaurant? With no cooking or dishes to wash and dressed in your Sunday best, a nice dinner out makes a special occasion all the more special. It's hard to spring for a nice dinner, however, when times are tough. Just because a couple or family doesn't have the resources to dine in style doesn't mean they have to miss out. There are ways to have a night on the town in a restaurant that doesn't offer crayons with the place mats, without spending like Donald Trump.

Go in a group. Call neighborhood restaurants in advance and let them know you'll have a large party or group. Find out what kind of discount they'll offer. You may have to choose from a special menu or eat in a separate room, but that shouldn't be a problem. Many special party discounts include beverage, appetizer and dessert in the price of a pre-fixed meal.

Check your local newspapers and Pennysavers. Quite a few restaurants have advertisements that offer coupons with discounts, two-for-one deals, or other offers. In order to cash in, you may have to eat early, on a weekday or from a special menu, but good food is good food whether it's served Wednesday evening at 5:30 or Saturday night at 8.

Forgo the libations. Sure, a glass of wine or beer does enhance a good meal, but alcohol, especially mixed drinks, is served at a premium in restaurants. Ask yourself, do I really have to have a drink? What would I prefer more? A whiskey sour or an appetizer or dessert? A soda or iced tea is cheaper than a glass of wine, and a good old-fashioned glass of ice water is the cheapest option of all. If the reason for the beverage is to quench your thirst, then water is definitely your best bet.

Skip the extras. If a meal is satisfying enough on its own, ask yourself if you really need something "to start." Are you ordering an appetizer because you're hungry, or because it's there? In fact, if the appetizer is something you really enjoy, why not eat it as a main course? Most folks wouldn't even dream of devouring 20 chicken wings just before dinner, yet this becomes customary when dining out. Why not have an appetizer or two or appetizer and salad instead of choosing an entree? The same goes with dessert. Sure, those pastry chefs can cook up some delectable treats, but are you eating dessert because you're still hungry or because it looked good on the menu? If you are still hungry for dessert, why not stop at the ice cream parlor on the way home? Or go to the diner for coffee and pie. Chances are this will be less pricey than creme broulee at a fancy restaurant.

Just because you're low on funds is no reason to miss out on a good time. There are plenty of options for the frugal diner. Saving money is one thing, but one shouldn't miss out just because one is counting pennies. There's no shame in clipping coupons. If so, restaurants wouldn't be offering them, right? And just because there are appetizers and desserts listed on the menu, doesn't mean you have to partake. The rules to eating out on a budget are that there are no rules. Well, maybe one. Enjoy!

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