The Frugal Guide To Eating Out

This guide was written in an attempt to help my wife & I save money when dining out. Over the last 6 months we have adhered to its principles allowing us to save ourselves a lot of money while still enjoying time away from home every once in awhile. I wanted to share our guide with you in order to help you cut back on your restaurant spending without having to completely cut it out.

When used, the techniques listed below often yield unexpected benefits in addition to simply saving a dollar here & there. Several of these benefits include:

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  • An excitement for frugality – Anyone employing similar methods can vouch for the fact that once you begin practicing frugality in any way, it becomes exciting to see how much money you were blowing but now are able to save. Try incorporating frugality into your life when eating out. It may sound silly at first, but when you get that first restaurant bill after using the following methods you’ll understand just how exciting it can become.
  • A renewed sense of excitement about dining out – Before attempting to cut back on the frequency of dining out, my wife & I found that we just were not enjoying it like we used to. Once we stopped going out to eat three to five times per week, we rekindled our love with the restaurant experience.
  • Less of a “nit pick” – When you go out to eat a lot, and you spend a lot, you expect a lot. Thinking back to our experiences prior to our newly adopted frugal lifestyle, my wife & I spent most of our time complaining about what was wrong with this & that instead of focusing on the benefits of the experience itself. Now that we dine out less often, and are very conscious of the entire process, we are more appreciative and patient patrons.

These benefits did not take a long time to be realized. We noticed the first time we began using these techniques we had a much greater joy & improved attitude regarding our restaurant experience. I am absolutely sure you will have the same opinion, so let’s move on and get into the meat of this article. Some of these tips are written to help you eat out less; while most of them will help you cut down on your costs when you do dine out.

Reconsider – Shouldn’t You Just Eat At Home?

This should be your first line of defense when tempted to eat out. My wife & I used this advice just last Friday and saved ourselves between $20 – 40. We decided to stay home and ended up cooking up a nice sized portion of chicken pasta that lasted us for 3 days! We try to limit our dining out to special occasions, and maybe one “just because” night out per month.

Use Coupons To Decide Destination

Having trouble deciding where to go? Visit and see if they offer any discounts in your area. A lot of times you can buy gift certificates worth $25 for only $10. Keep in mind that most times you cannot use the coupons for alcohol, tip, or in combination with other offers. Also check out if there is an Entertainment Book put together for your area. These books cost a minimal amount, and if used properly can yield savings many times their cost. Let your coupons determine where you will eat. This can actually make it more exciting as you may get to try a place you have never been before, and may have never visited if it were not for your coupon!

Set Spending Limits

Use a ceiling amount you allow yourself to spend and do not surpass it. This can also make the experience more fun as you try all kinds of new menu combinations to try & stay within your budget. It can become a competition to see who can get the best meal yet spend the least.

Order “To Go” If Possible

When ordering “to go” you will not have to buy drinks or desserts, you will not have to face the dreaded “upsell” (see below), and you will not be expected to pay gratuity. All of this will work together to keep your money where it belongs…in your pocket. Although this scenario does not give you the whole “dining out” experience it will offer you a break from cooking & cleaning up at home.

No Upsells!

In restaurant lingo, an “upsell” is anything the server or restaurant staff will offer you in addition to your meal. Normally as soon as you sit down they will not only ask what you would like to drink, they will suggest some expensive mixed drinks, or something of the like. Instead of ordering a soda, coffee, tea, juice, milk, bottled water, or any other type of drink…simply order a glass of tap water. Betsy & I notice that most restaurants are charging between $1.75 and $2.25 for these beverages.

After drinks, they will most likely try to upsell you with an appetizer. While ordering they will want you to get extra “add-on” items like mushrooms and onions on your steak. After your meal you will be asked if you would like any dessert…and maybe even some coffee to go with it! Although these things sound good, you can imagine how much it will end up costing over the course of one meal. Aside from staying home to eat, this may be the single best way to avoid high dining bills. Just stick to the entrees and whatever comes with them that is included in the price. Not only will this save your wallet, it will also save your waistline!

Order Frugally

Instead of the Alaskan king crab & 1lb Maine lobster tail meal, order a nice healthy stir fry or a chicken pasta dish. Remember that you have a spending limit that you set for yourself in step 3 that you must adhere to. If you do order an expensive meal, try to wait for a special occasion, use a coupon, or wait until the restaurant is running a special on the dish.

Split Extras – If You MUST Have Extras…

If you just have to have an appetizer or a dessert, try to split with the other diners in your party. Better yet, why don’t you just wait until you have a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert? Also, keep in mind that a lot of restaurants have free appetizers at different times during the day, so if you must have that Bloomin’ Onion, go during happy hour!

Order Off Kids Menu

My wife has been known to order off the kids menu at different times. Although she does not do this often, some may find that a child’s portion is more than enough for them. The child meals are always much cheaper than the adult size meals.

Order Off Senior Menu

Similar to the children’s menu, many restaurants have a seniors menu. Although all may not let you order off it unless you are indeed a senior, it never hurts to ask. A lot of times in life we miss opportunities because we simply fail to ask! Also like the children’s menu, the seniors menu has prices that are reduced with smaller portions. If both of these options fail attempt to ask the waitperson if you can order a half portion or a lunch sized portion. Again, it never hurts to ask.

Split Meals

This is one of my all time favorites! I always feel like I’m pulling one over on the restaurant when my wife & I order one meal to share. We ALWAYS end up well fed, satisfied, and happy with the fact that we just cut our dining bill in half! For Valentine’s Day this past year we visited one of our favorite restaurants, ordered & split their monthly international five course meal, and got out of there for just over $20…on Valentine’s Day!

Eat Half – Save Half

This is a phrase I coined that simply means to purposely eat only half your meal with the full intention of taking the other half home. My wife & I use this trick when we cannot decide on a meal to split. We simply order separate meals, eat half, and then take the other half home to have as leftovers for the next day. This way we get 4 meals for the price of two. It also helps us to not overeat when we have a huge portion of restaurant food in front of our faces…once again helping the waistline & the pocketbook!

Using these tips, tricks, & money saving methods my wife & I have been able to reduce our monthly budget for dining out from $450/month down to less than $100/month. That is a savings of over $4,000 annually, and is now being direct deposited into our savings account.

If we submit ourselves to God, and are faithful in the little things, according to His Word God will in turn bless us with much.  Let me bring to your attention the parable of the noblemen and his servants in Luke chapter 19:

“He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.  And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.  But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this [man] to reign over us.  And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.  And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.  And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.  And another came, saying, Lord, behold, [here is] thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:  For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.  And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, [thou] wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:  Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?  And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give [it] to him that hath ten pounds.  (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)  For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.  But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay [them] before me.”  Luke 19:12-27

Though it may seem silly, we need to be faithful in all areas of our lives, even going out to eat.  The Lord will see your efforts and will bless them according to His Will.  Praise the Lord!

I am including both a .pdf & .png version of my Frugal Dining Reference Card with this post. Please download this card, shrink it to whatever size you would like, and store it in your purse or wallet for quick reference use when dining out.



Frugal Dining Reference Card (407)

This post was written by Matt Jabs.  Check out his sites Debt Free Adventure or DIY Natural for more frugality and healthy eating tips.

Last Edited: 15th March 2012

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  1. says

    Great post! I think all of these ideas are great! I used to love ordering off the kids menu but at some point they stopped allowing me to since I wasn’t under the age of 12…but like you said it doesn’t hurt to ask! I personally find the “act” of eating out more satisfying then what I actually eat and even love a trip to Friendly’s or Fridays. Alot of places such as Friday’s give coupons out if you have their points card.

    Jens last blog post..Grown Up Things

  2. says

    To try to save going out I never order soft drinks. I always just get water, not just cause free, but I like it and it’s healthy. I never get dessert either, because usually never really need it, or could just go out for ice cream after which would be cheaper.

    • says

      Soft drinks are the most tremendous waste of money because it’s just sugar and water. If you really like your soda, it’s better to pop into a grocery store for a 2-liter bottle.

      Same with ice cream. You can get a half gallon on sale (because it seems there is always some brand of ice cream on sale at the grocery stores) for $2.50 or $3.00, and take it home to eat for days or feed 7-8 people at once.

      You can try ask for spoons and maybe small cups at the grocery store deli if you want to eat your ice cream while you’re out; they sometimes give them to you for free if you ask.

      Penelope @ Pecuniaritiess last blog post..Carnival of Pecuniary Delights Giveaways: Cute Piggy Bank Magnet Prizes for Hosting and Submissions

    • says

      Totally agree with you Craig, and I can’t believe this wasn’t mentioned. Most places charge between $1.50 and $2.00 for a soft drink. If you ate out twice a week, and ordered water instead of soft drinks you could save yourself around $200 a year. Double that for you and your wife. I don’t even like water, but I find it very refreshing with my meals. I don’t know maybe I just love the taste of free.

  3. says

    Hi everyone…

    I am the guest author of this post. Thank you for commenting, and especially for bringing up the point of ordering water! This is a very big part of the plan and I apologize for failing to mention it specifically. This tip falls under the heading of “No Upsells!”. On my blog I actually have an entire post dedicated to this tip! Check that tip out here

    Thank you all!


    DebtFREEks last blog post..Free Eggs! – DFA Tip of the Week – 3/9/2009

  4. says


    While I think the spirit of this entry is admirable, I think going out to eat is always a waste of money. To understand my point, I guess it makes sense to give you a little bit of background about me: I’m first generation Italian American and my family has always placed great importance on homemade food. My family, including my mother, grandmother, aunts, etc. are all great cooks and my Italian aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. produce their own food products (cheese, meat, vegetables, wine, olive oil, etc.) – this is the case in most rural parts of Europe. In sum , the food that I prepare at home is always better and cheaper than the food I can find at restaurants (including the metro area where I currently reside). Preparing food at home is almost always healthier, as well. And don’t forget the ability to control portion size via home cooking.

    I wrote about why folks should not eat out a few months ago:


    • says

      I completely understand Scordo & appreciate your views very much!

      I’m in the process of trying to get my wife to agree to a year long fast from eating out…check for updates on that…

      That being said, this post is written to help people who do still enjoy eating out save money in the process, hopefully it does just that!


      DebtFREEks last blog post..My New Twitter Background – What do you think?

  5. says

    So glad I discovered your blog and these comments. It’s fun to read everyone’s input.

    One solution that’s cool is the $5 Dining one in San Antonio. They are saying they’re moving to other cities soon.

    Cyndys last blog post..$5Dining moves into Austin

  6. says

    I love periodically coming back and reading this post. I still employ all these strategies when me & the wife go out to eat.

    The truth of the matter though… we VERY RARELY go out to eat anymore. We are just happier eating at home now-a-days… much happier… which looks like falls perfectly in line with point number one! Good to know I’m still on the right track! ;-)
    Matt Jabs´s last blog ..Pay off Credit Cards VS Build Emergency Fund Savings – Me VS Suze Orman

  7. says

    That’s it, I’m printing this graphic out to give to my waiters. :)
    We usually skip drinks and we don’t go out that much. Our target is 1/week, but lately it’s been less than that because it’s harder with our baby.

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