Even the most frugal of us occasionally enjoys an evening out of the house. A dinner out is a great reward for hitting one of your financial milestones, but be sure to implement the following frugal [tag]dining tips[/tag] to avoid overpaying when eating out.
Ask for a “to-go” box up front. As soon as your meal arrives ask for a to-go box and separate about half of your meal. Restaurant meals have grown to enormous proportions over the years, and they are usually enough to feed two people. Save the other half of your entree for lunch the next day. Most importantly, don’t walk out and forget the to-go box (as I’ve done on many occasions).
Split a drink, or just go with water. At most restaurants a glass of tea or a soft drink can run as much as $1.50 a glass. That’s $6.00 for a family of four. I recommend Mom and Dad share a drink, but splurge on small drinks for the kids. Kids are notorious for passing germs back and forth, so best to keep their drinks separate. Water is usually offered for free, but skip the lemons. Lemons are often sitting out around uncooked meats and are handled with bare hands, both conduscive for passing harmful bacterias.
Order an appetizer as an entree. Appetizers are usually cheaper than entrees. Look for appetizers that offer a variety of food groups, such as nachos or quesidillas (meat, cheese, greens, sour cream, etc.). It’s tough to make an entire meal out of fried cheese sticks.
Stick to the dollar menu, and hold the fries. At fast food restaurants the dollar menus offer pretty good deals if ordered properly. McDonalds double cheeseburgers were a welcomed addition to the dollar menu, though Trent at the Simple Dollar has proven you can cook a tastier, more nutritional burger at home. Still, if you are on the go and must stop for lunch, stick to the dollar menu and skip the fries. French fries are probably the worst possible choice based on nutritional content. As an alternative look for a side salad, chili or baked potato.
Ask for as many “extras” as you can get, for free. When we make our weekly stop at Subway I load up on as many condiments and sandwich components as they will give me (for free). Ask for extra lettuce to bulk up the sandwich a bit. Try your sub with “the works” which includes all vegetables. If you are like me and split the footlong into two meals, hold the mayo, oil and vinegar as it makes the next day’s lunch a little soggy. You can add these yourself at home.
Don’t order from the kids menu. Some kids practically live on Happy Meals (we’ve bought our share). At larger restaurants we’ve found it pays to skip ordering meals for the kids and simply sharing a few bites from our entrees. This doesn’t work too well if you order backfire spicy buffalo wings, so stick to something kid-friendly like plain chicken fingers and a baked potato.
Skip dessert. Even a couple scoops of ice cream can cost three or four dollars at most restaurants. If you really are in the mood for dessert, pay your bill and head over to a local fast food restaurant for an ice cream cone. McDonalds offers an excellent, low-fat, soft-serve ice cream for less than a $1.00.
Don’t be a cheapskate when tipping. You might think the Frugal Dad would advocate cutting costs wherever possible. Well, that is typically true. However, [tag]tipping[/tag] is an area where I am generous. If your server has been exceptional calculate 10% of the bill in your head and then double it, rounding up to the nearest dollar. On that same subject, don’t forget to tip the pizza delivery person. They braved traffic to drive to your home in the elements and walked your dinner all the way to your door. Who knows, they may even be trying to get out of debt, too.