10 Ways to Eat Out for Less

Eating out can be a real treat, but the bill? Not so much. So,let's do something about that. Here are eight simple strategies that you can use to eat out for less:

Share a Meal

Couple Sharring a Dessert.
Frank Gaglione/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

Restaurant portions are often huge, so consider splitting a dish with someone at your table. If you ask, many establishments will even split your order between two plates before they bring them out to you  (some will even put full-size sides on both plates).

And a nice bonus: Sharing a meal means fewer calories and fat grams hitting your waistline.

Drink for Free

Drinks can really add to your tab, particularly if you're drinking something that is billed by the glass. To keep your check as lean as possible, order water (almost always free), or opt for a beverage that comes with free refills – soda, coffee, ice tea, etc. Can't do without that alcoholic beverage? Order one glass. Then, stick to water for the rest of the meal.

Clip and Save

Coupons aren't just for groceries. Flip through your local newspaper and junk mailers, and you're likely to find lots of restaurant coupons. Buy-one-get-one-free offers can make a big dent in the price of eating out, so they're worth the search time. For even more savings, consider investing in a school coupon book, if they're available in your area.

Go Kid-Friendly

Lots of establishments feature special nights where kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entrée. Do a little research to find restaurants in your area that do this, and you could slash the cost of your meal by half (or more)– now that's sure to make you and the kids happy.

Skip Dinner

No, I'm not suggesting that you skip dinner entirely, but I am suggesting that you consider skipping dinner out. Eating out at dinnertime is often much more expensive than eating out at lunchtime – even if the same foods are on the menu. Make the switch to mid-day meals, and you'll avoid the higher price tags and probably the crowd as well.

Order By Phone

If it's the restaurant food that you crave and not the restaurant experience, you can cut your costs by ordering your food to go. Many restaurant chains now offer car-side service, making it easy for you to get your favorite meals to go. How does this save you money? By taking the sit-down experience out of the equation, you can skip the drink order entirely and also avoid having to pay a tip – a savings of 15% by itself.

Buy Discounted Gift Certificates

Purchase discounted gift certificates to your favorite restaurants through restaurant.com, where $10 certificates sell for $3 and $25 certificates sell for $10.

Also Try: Groupon, Living Social or one of the other top daily deal websites. They frequently run half off deals for local restaurants.

Buy an Entertainment Book

Pick up an Entertainment Book for your city It's loaded with 2-for-1 restaurant coupons and 50% off deals. You'll find deals for local restaurants, as well as national chains.

Tip: Going on vacation? Buy an Entertainment Book for the city you'll be visiting to cut the most of your vacation meals.

Be a Fan Girl or Boy

Sign up for the fan clubs at your favorite restaurants, and you'll often score a coupon for a free appetizer or dessert at sign up, plus a free meal on your birthday and on the anniversary of your sign up date. Plus, you'll score plenty of coupons throughout the year.

Sign Up for Birthday Clubs

Some restaurants automatically give you a free meal on your birthday when you sign up for their fan club or newsletter, others have a separate birthday club that you need to sign up for. Either way, make sure you sign up for all the birthday food freebies that you're entitled to.

See how other readers cut the cost of eating out.