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Thrifty Llama: 21 Money-Saving Tips on Eating Out (No slideshows--they're all on one page. You're welcome.)

I LOVE FOOD. I love going online and looking up reviews for different restaurants and reading their menus. It's like a recreational sport for me. It makes me giddy. However, eating out can be spendy as I'm sure you're aware. Here are 21 tips to help you save money when you do eat out and get the most bang for your buck. 

Disclaimer: Some of these I learned about in two of my college classes*, some are from friends**, and some are my own ideas. A lot of these won't be revolutionary ideas for you, but sometimes it's nice to have a reminder.

  • Don't eat out often. When you do eat out, make sure it's somewhere that you enjoy or that has good reviews online.
  • If you have to pay for parking, don't eat there, fancy pants.
  • When you do eat out, make sure you budget for it and pay in cash. That way you'll be forced to stay within your budget. Once the money is gone, you're done spending (don't forget to calculate your tip into your budget).
  • Order water. It's good for you and it won't cost you anything unless it's arctic vegan bird-safe water from a sustainable glacier.
  • Split an entree with someone (sometimes this doesn't save money if they charge a split fee, but if they don't, and you don't mind sharing, go for it). If you don't want to split because you don't think sharing is caring or you're eating alone, you can ask for a box when they bring out your meal and you can package up half right away. That way you get two meals out of it.
  • Don't order appetizers, entrees, and dessert. Pick one and do the others at home.
  • If you go somewhere that includes tipping the waitstaff, don't be a jerk about it. Tip well, because being nice is just as important as saving money. If you're not going to tip at least 12%, go somewhere else that you don't have to tip at all (Waiters and waitress friends, notice that I italicized, bolded, and underlined "least" in your behalf. Love you.)
  • Pick something that will make good leftovers so you don't waste it if you don't finish. (This one's from my aunt V.)
  • If you don't enjoy your meal, tell the waiter right away (but don't be snooty about it) and get something that you will enjoy. It shouldn't cost extra unless you decide to upgrade.
  • Speaking of upgrades, try to avoid them. If it's $3 to add bacon onto it, think about how you could go to the store and buy a POUND of bacon for $3.
  • Go for lunch instead of dinner, and take advantage of early bird specials and/or special events (A word about special events: if it's a holiday, look into whether the restaurant will charge MORE or LESS for their meal. I've made the mistake of expecting a discount for eating on a holiday and I ended up being charged more than if I'd gone on a different day).
  • Use coupons! Buy one get one half off is better than paying full price for two meals.
  • If you can make it at home for less money, don't order it (unless it's time intensive, because time is money).
  • If you're not very hungry, order a la carte or see if they have a smaller portions menu. It'll typically cost less.
  • If the bread, salad, etc. is free, horde it like a chipmunk storing nuts for winter!!!
  • Go for your birthday (did somebody say free dessert?) 
  • There are websites out there that allow you to purchase gift cards for less than the amount on them. Check those out. Just make sure they're legit.
  • Check for discounts for students, military, senior citizens, children, etc.
  • If your child isn't going to eat a whole kid's meal by themselves, split it with another kid. The alternative is this: Don't buy them one. Share your meal with them. Remember: sharing is caring!
  • This one is obvious, but don't go for the most expensive thing on the menu. 
  • If you're only going because everyone else is and you're not actually hungry, don't order anything. Just go for the company and save your dollars.

Obviously these are ways that my family chooses to save money. I'm not going to diss you if you don't abide by my suggestions. If you've got to have your arctic vegan bird-safe sustainable glacier water fix, go for it. If you're celebrating the end of your college career or celebrating the end of a terrible relationship, pay for parking! Eating out is supposed to be fun, just do it responsibly. :)

What are some ways that you like to save money eating out? Comment below! Also, let me know how you save money eating IN! Your comment may be featured in a future post about it, so look for that. 

Thanks for reading. Hasta la pasta, ya'll!

*Balancing Work and Family and Family Finance, both taught by Professor Alena Johnson at USU
**If you see one of these tips and recognize it as your idea, let me know so I can give you proper credit.


  1. Sharing is actually a hungry husband who then orders another meal when you're all done anyway ;)
    Also, Texas Roadhouse Roll-n-butter Hoarder Champion, 4 years running right here, right here! ;)

  2. That's how we feel about sharing sometimes, too. Especially when we split a plate among us and our toddler and she ends up not getting any. Oops, too slow. Also, I'm craving the rolls now.


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