Learn what a server knows about restaurant savings

Insider Reports: Restaurant Savings

by Kayla Kramer

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Save Money when Dining Out

To put myself through college, I work as a server. Our managers teach us ways to get people to spend more money. This is opposite from how I live, as I don't go out to eat very often. I wrote this article to share some money saving tips for eating out at a restaurant.

The place to save money at a restaurant is not to skip a tip! I've put together a few hints to help save money and still enjoy a break from cooking.

  1. Order waters. Servers want you to order alcohol because it brings the check up so much. Most restaurants even require servers to make a specific beverage suggestion when greeting the table. Why would you want to order a bottle of wine at a restaurant anyway? Save some money and buy one on the way home. Enjoy it with your honey in the privacy of your own home. Even soda costs $2.50 at the restaurant where I work. Do the math. One soda equals $2.50. With the tax rate here, it will equal $2.68, and with 20% tip, it will equal $3.21. $3.21 for one soda for one person is outrageous! If you were with a few people, you may as well have an appetizer to share.
  2. Speaking of appetizers, skip them. No restaurant will leave you feeling hungry without one. And never order an appetizer when there is free bread or salsa.
  3. If you really want an appetizer, order it as your meal. They cost less than a typical entree and are big enough to satisfy.
  4. Servers are always appalled by the amount of food they throw away, and never do we see so much waste as we do with children's meals. Young children can share from an adult's plate. A few children can share an adult-size entree. Servers really don't mind. We hate cleaning up after macaroni and cheese anyway.
  5. Share a meal. Some places charge for this, but others just require you to buy a salad. It's a good option if you're with someone who likes the same thing.
  6. My boyfriend and I never like the same thing. He almost always orders a burger, and I avoid red meat. In any case, look into lunch portions. Some places allow you to order from the lunch menu even at dinnertime. Just ask your server. They will be happy to help.
  7. Take home leftovers. Do you know that feeling that you've eaten too much? Don't. Save it for lunch tomorrow. (And anyone saving money knows to pack your lunch every day!)
  8. Save money on your favorite restaurants.
    Buy $25 Certificates for $10!

  9. Skip dessert, or share it. Have you ever finished a meal and thought, "Wow, I'm hungry for more?" Probably not. If it's just something sweet you're craving, pick up a can of whip cream on the way home. Enjoy with the wine from Tip #1.
  10. Check out the restaurant's website before you go out. You can usually check out the menu and any specials they may have. You can also look at prices and plan ahead. Many places have coupons for you to print out as well. Take advantage of these.
  11. Don't go out to eat! And don't think that you are saving money by getting fast food instead. That really adds up. If you love eating at places that require a fork, then save your money for this. When you say yes to fast food, you are saying no to fork-eating places.

Please remember to tip your servers and words don't count. Don't tell us we did a great job and then leave 10%. Servers cringe when you gush about the great service. We call that a "verbal tip." We know that you plan to leave a small tip and feel guilty. Tip well, and tip on the amount before discounts and coupons. I could say more, but that would be a whole new post about the difference between thrifty and stingy. By the way, you want to be thrifty.

Updated December 2013

Kayla Kramer grew up in a frugal family and learned a lot of penny-pinching tips from her parents. After she got to college, she realized that this is not the norm! Kayla cringes when she imagines the credit card debt of classmates while they live their extravagant (for student) lifestyles. You can read more at Kayla's blog about her thrifty life.

Take the Next Step:

  • Learn more money-saving tricks for dining out for less by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Save money on your favorite restaurants. Buy $25 Certificates for $10!
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