Is eating out draining your hard-earned money? If so, then you have come to the right place, as we are going to show you how to locate cheap eats in your area, while also outlining some easy ways to save money during your next restaurant visit.
While we love purchasing groceries from our local supermarket, there’s also nothing wrong with going out to a restaurant from time to time. However, this does not mean that eating out is always fun, especially when it comes to paying the check.
Now, we understand that most restaurants are pricey, but that doesn’t excuse spending extortionate prices on simple meals like breakfast and lunch. Meals that we can easily make ourselves from the comfort of our homes.
For example, if you come from a large family, then you could be spending up to $100 on starters, entrées and beverages. And that’s without the addition of side dishes, desserts or a tip for your waiter.
So if you want to know how you can save money the next time you eat out, then this article has everything you need to get started.
Table of Contents
Why Is Eating Out So Expensive?
Well, the answer to this question comes down to how most restaurants operate. In most cases, restaurants will charge almost 3 times the amount of money they spend on purchasing the supplies, which means big money for them and an empty wallet for you and your friends.
When you go out to a restaurant, your bill not only covers the food and drinks but also the use of the chef’s culinary skills, the wait staff’s assistance, the rent of the building, the atmosphere and so much more.
Because of this, bills in restaurants can total to shocking prices, and you will be the one expected to pay it.
How Much Do Americans Spend On Eating Out?
Recent studies have shown that the average American will eat out around 5.9 times a week, at an average cost of $36.40 per person.
In total, that rounds out to over $800 per month, which is a shocking amount of money to spend on eating out.
But it gets worse, as this data was first released in 2018, which means the total cost has most likely increased in recent years.
In fact, a study from 2019 concluded that the average American household spends $3,526 a year on eating out.
But what is the real answer? Is it true that Americans spend $290 per month on food, or do they spend $800 per month on eating out? If we had to guess, we’d say the real answer falls somewhere between these two numbers.
How To Find Cheap Eats In Your Area (By Zip Code)
If you want to find the cheapest eats in your local area, then there are various methods that you can use.
Of course, one of the best methods is to search the internet for restaurants in your local area and either sort them by their prices or read reviews to learn more about their menu and wait staff.
You can even use your zip code to find some of the best restaurants in your area, which make delicious food for reasonable prices.
The method you decided to use comes down to your personal preference and technical skills, but we promise you will be able to find cheap eats in no time.
How To Save Money When Eating Out
While it is much cheaper to make your own food from scratch, this does not mean that you are always in the mood to get into the kitchen.
Sometimes, you could be away from home or simply don’t want to spend your evening slaving over a hot stove, which leads to eating out and ordering fast food.
And you’re not alone, many people prefer to eat out, as meals made by professional chefs are usually much nicer than what we make at home. However, there are some other reasons why people resort to visiting restaurants.
Why Do People Eat Out?
- The need to see friends and family
- It’s easier
- To celebrate a special occasion
- To taste new foods
- They can’t be bothered
No matter what reason you have for eating out, we know how you can make the overall experience much cheaper.
In the following section, we have outlined some methods that can be used to save money during your next restaurant visit.
Method One: Don’t Order Drinks
When we order food at restaurants we often want a refreshing drink to accompany our meal, such as soda or juice. But did you know that restaurants charge more for soda, juice and coffee than they do for cocktails and beer?
Well, it’s true – which is why we recommend skipping the drinks to bring down the total of your bill.
Instead, we advise ordering a glass of tap water, as this is free in most commercial restaurants. However, you must make sure that you are asking for tap water, as some restaurants will try to sell you bottled water for double the price…
Method Two: Avoid The Add-ons
When it comes to ordering food, we are regularly asked if we want our fries loaded or plain, or if we want to add a side dish to our meal, which is a common practice found in most restaurants.
And while some families view this as the waitstaff being helpful, you need to remember that these people are trained professionals, which means they know exactly what can be done to increase the total of your bill.
So the next time your waiter asks you if you want to add a side salad to your meal, just say no and eat the meal as it comes.
Method Three: Make Your Own Side Dishes
This method is a little scandalous, but it is also a great way to save money on your next restaurant meal.
Just pop into your favorite restaurant and order a main meal to go, then add your own homemade sides when you get back to the house.
It’s extremely easy to heat up some vegetables or make a side salad, especially when the main meal is cooked and ready to go. Not only is this method simple to implement, but it also delivers a delicious meal without any of the hard work.
Method Four: Order Food During Happy Hour
Even if you don’t drink alcohol, happy hour can be the best time to order your food and drinks, as many restaurants will often put discounts on things like house specials, starters and inexpensive buffets.
So the next time you decide to eat out, skip the alcohol, order a glass of tap water and spend your hard-earned cash on something cheap and delicious.
Method Five: Order Your Food Early
We’ve all heard of the early bird special, but what is it, and why has it become so popular among retirees?
Well, despite the popular belief that older folks are rich, early-bird specials are usually cheaper than your standard meal, which means retirees can eat their food and get out of the restaurant before the evening rush.
However, it is important to note that early bird specials are typically smaller than normal dishes, so they are not suitable for big appetites. But they do come with the bonus of saving you money and slimming your waistline.
Method Six: Go On A Diet
On that note, another way you can save money is by going on a diet, which helps to reduce the cost of food while maintaining your ideal shape.
Restaurants are infamous for overfeeding their customers, which means you can easily order a single dish and transform it into two meals. This can be done by ordering your food and asking the waitstaff for a to-go box.
When you have the box and the food, place half of the meal into the box and set it aside for the next day.
Method Seven: Don’t Order Main Meal
If you want to save money the next time you eat out, then we recommend avoiding the main meal and ordering a starter in its place. In most cases, starters are cheaper than main courses and can reduce the total cost of your bill.
Because starters are usually shared between people before the main course, a starter on its own is enough for a single person to order as their main meal.
Method Eight: Share Food With Friends
This method is pretty self-explanatory, as it involves ordering a main meal and sharing it with a friend or family member. Just ask for another plate and then divide the food between you until you have had enough.
We would recommend using this method if you are a parent and have a large family, as most children will be fine with most food that you give them.
However, it is natural to feel a little scandalous when using this method, which is why we advise leaving a tip on your way out.
Method Nine: Watch Out For Deals & Specials
If you have children or come from a large family, then one of the best ways to save money eating out is by watching out for deals and specials.
Nowadays, most restaurants will offer deals and specials on certain days, which means the food will be cheaper and readily available. In some cases, children will even be allowed to eat for free, although this is not universal across the country.
Other notable deals include half-price Wednesdays and special offers on certain dishes and drinks.
Method Ten: Don’t Tip The Staff
Now when we say don’t tip, we really mean don’t waste your money paying for service when you can order the food and take it home…
Not only is this method great for saving money, but it can also get you more food than if you had sat down in the restaurant. This is because styrofoam boxes are usually larger than dinner plates and can therefore contain more food.
We have found this method to be particularly useful when it comes to ordering food from our local Chinese and Indian restaurants.
However, we do advise leaving a little something in the tip bowl on your way out, as working in the service industry is not easy and the staff still need to make an income.
Other Notable Methods You Can Use…
Of course, there are other methods you can use to save money while eating out, which we have decided to showcase in the section below:
- Promo codes
- Money-saving apps
- Delivery service
- Eating out on special occasions
- Online menus
- Eating brunch
- Restaurant rewards card
- Pack snacks
- Order off the children’s menu
What Is The Cheapest Restaurant For Eating Out?
If you implement the methods we listed above, any restaurant can become a reasonable place to eat.
However, if you want some recommendations, then we have compiled a list of our favorite cheap eats in the section below:
- Strip mall restaurants
- Village Inn
- Red Robin
- El Torero
- Mom & Pop Cafes
- Texas Roadhouse
- Olive Garden
- Chinese – Thai Restaurants (private)
What Restaurants Have Budget Menus?
Nowadays, it is common for fast-food restaurants to have budget menus, which offer the same food but at a lower price.
Burger King is currently one of the few restaurants to offer such a scheme, with the chain announcing its $1 menu back in 2020.
This menu currently includes notable dishes such as…
- 16 oz soft drink
- Ice cream cone (or cup)
- Cookies (x2)
- French toast sticks (x3)
- Breakfast biscuit
- Spicy chicken sandwich
- Crispy chicken sandwich
- Rodeo burger
- Bacon cheeseburger
- Hamburger or cheeseburger
Unfortunately, McDonald’s discontinued their $1 menu in 2013, so there is little chance that you will save money in its restaurants.
However, there are other notable food chains that boast their own budget menus, such as Taco Bell and Wendy’s.
Taco Bell also has its own $1 menu, which is known as their Cravings Menu. This menu currently includes…
- Layered nachos
- Chicken quesadilla (mini)
- Cheese roll-up
- Cheese bean & rice burrito
- Spicy tostada
- Potato soft taco
- Beef quesadilla (mini)
- Beef burrito
Wendy’s also offers its own budget menu, however, it is not the same as the previous menus we have discussed. Instead, their menu (otherwise known as the Right Price Right Size menu) includes 6 items for a dollar each…
- Frosty (small)
- Value soft drink
- Chicken nuggets (x4)
- Chicken sandwich
- Spicy chicken nuggets (x4)
Arby’s is another restaurant that offers a $1 menu, but it is only active between the hours of 2-5 pm. This deal covers their sliders, small fries and small drinks.
Where Can You Purchase The Most Food For $5?
If you have $5 burning a hole in your pocket, then there are countless restaurants that you can visit to get your money’s worth.
In the section below, we have compiled a list of some of our favorite options to demonstrate how much $5 can buy…
- Chick-fil-A: children’s nugget meal (x6) = $4.05
- Subway: 6-inch meatball sub = $3.99
- Burger King: double bacon cheeseburger, fries and drink = $4.97
- McDonald’s: cheeseburgers (x2), fries (or salad) and drink = $4.89
- Arby’s: any slider (between the hours of 2-5 pm) = $1
- Wendy’s: sour cream and chive baked potato, small chili = $4.88
- Dairy Queen: chili cheese dog = $4.69
- Smashburger: smashburger children’s meal = $4.99
- Taco Bell: chicken grilled burrito (XXL) = $4.99
- Little Caesars: pepperoni cheese bread (x10) = $4.99
So, is eating out a waste of time and money? While some people might say yes, we are still debating our answer. On the one hand, eating out a lot can definitely drain your bank account, especially if your tastes are more luxurious.
While on the other hand, if there is nothing stopping you from eating out, then why not treat yourself while you still can?
As the age-old saying goes, ‘life is short,’ so why not live it to the full and enjoy yourself while you have the resources to do so.