Menus & Entertaining

10 ways to eat out on a dime

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

10 ways to eat out on a dime

Times are tough, but must we give up all our little luxuries? Sure, now is definitely the time to leave the Hummer parked in the driveway, but grabbing a meal out with friends or family is one tiny indulgence we don’t want to give up altogether. Every now and then we need to dine out, celebrate, and live it up a little. Here are a few ways to break loose without breaking the bank.

1. Discover before you dine
Use the Internet to do some reconnaissance before making dinner plans. Browse the web and find out what restaurants in your town offer deals, steals, family- and wallet-friendly offers and specials. Check out foodie web sites such as www.restaurant.ca for Canada-wide listings, or www.chowhound.chow.com and see what information you can glean from that community of insatiable eaters. You might even find some advertisers coupons right on these sites.

2. Print and clip coupons
Check out restaurant web sites. You can often find coupons, such as two-for-one or even free entrées, ready to be downloaded and printed.

3. Don’t be shy
Before deciding where to eat, call and ask about a discounted kiddie’s menu. Some family-friendly places even have kids-eat-for-free specials. And look into their policy regarding free drink re-fills, bread baskets, or even endless ice cream.

4. Dine out on less-busy nights
Some restaurants, eager to increase traffic on traditionally slow nights, like Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, may offer terrific specials. Likewise at slower times of the day, between 4 and 6, you may find an Early Bird special or Happy Hour where certain appetizers are discounted or even complementary with your drink.

5. All you can eat
Choose a place featuring an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Take your time and get your fill of all those good-for-you veggies, then go easy on the menu. But the classic steakhouse isn’t the only place you’ll find fabulous all-you-can-eat deals. Most Indian restaurants offer buffets, often for both lunch and dinner. The variety is usually incredible and the food is generally really tasty and super filling. Just don’t make the mistake of stuffing up on rice - go for the butter chicken! Some Asian places such as Chinese, Thai, and even sushi offer all-you-can-eat bargains. Once again, don’t be afraid to call and ask. 

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6. Hara Hachi Bu
This is the Japanese practice of eating only until 80% full. We in North America are fixated on filling up to bursting, super-sizing, and ordering massive portions. Well, that kind of thinking also leads to super-sized pant sizes and credit card statements. When dining out with just one other, try ordering an appy each and split an entrée. Beware, some places might tack on a splitting fee, but it shouldn’t be more than a couple of bucks. You’ll feel better for it and wait till you see the bill!

7. The latest thing
Keep your eyes open for newly opened places. These folks are motivated to get your business and may well be offering once in a lifetime deals for the first couple of weeks.

8. Let’s do lunch
Sometimes the biggest difference between a lunch and dinner menu is the pricing. At lunch, that porcini risotto you’ve been dying to try is $7, and at dinner, $12. There are a few factors that make evening dining more expensive for both the diner and the restaurateur, such as, candle light, linens, extra staff, perhaps even live music, and believe me, all those costs end up in that risotto!

9. Keep the party going at home
Wine and other alcoholic beverages are marked up at least two, if not three or four times in restaurants. At dinner, stick to one drink and water, and don’t be afraid to ask for tap with a wedge of lemon or lime. Don’t let a server shame you into ordering a bottle of expensive, imported water if that’s not what you want. Remember, a server is a salesperson for the kitchen, and it is his or her job to sell you as much food and drink as possible. So before you leave for the restaurant, put a bottle on ice, and when you get home, party on!

10. Don’t forget the doggie bag

Speaking of massive portions, what’s often left on the plate and sent to the composter can be enough for at least one more dinner or perhaps tomorrow’s brown bag lunch. Don’t feel silly about asking for a doggie bag, even in elegant, fine dining establishments. A classy place will package it up nicely and keep it aside for you until you are ready to leave.

Finally…take a walk
After dinner, resist the urge to splurge on dessert. Instead, take the gang or your date for a walk, it’s a good way to digest, spend some quality time together and hey, you just might amble past an ice cream truck or pastry shop!

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10 ways to eat out on a dime

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