Americans love to eat out — but the resulting damage to their budgets can cause a lot of indigestion.
There are plenty of ways to slash your restaurant spending, though — so many ways that there’s no reason to pay full price for a meal out.
The following tips can help you cut the cost of eating out by as much as half.
1. Use a discounted gift card or gift certificate
This is one of the easiest ways to take a big bite out of your bill.
Say you pay for a restaurant meal with a gift card or gift certificate that you got for 20% off its face value — like a $100 gift card that you bought for $80. You will effectively save 20% on that meal.
You can buy discounted gift cards and certificates from:
- Warehouse clubs: Costco and Sam’s Club are among those that sell restaurant gift cards at a discount.
- Gift card marketplaces: Websites such as Raise.com are basically exchanges through which folks with unwanted gift cards can sell them for less than their face value to savvy shoppers.
- Discount websites: Restaurant.com sells discounted gift certificates for local restaurants and small chains, boasting savings of up to 50%. The likes of Groupon.com are another option.
- Restaurants themselves: Many major chains offer free gift cards or vouchers with the purchase of a gift card during certain times of year — including right now, as we report in “13 Restaurant Chains Offering Gift Card Freebies This Spring.” These promotions are tied to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or graduation season, but there’s no reason you can’t use the gift card and freebie for yourself.
Here is an extra tip: Make any purchases from Raise.com, Restaurant.com or sites like Groupon via a cash-back portal such as Ebates. These websites effectively pay you to shop online by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back as a cash rebate.
2. Pay with a rewards credit card
Don’t want to bother looking for a discounted gift card or gift certificate? At least pay for your meals out with a rewards credit card — assuming you’re using credit responsibly by paying off the bill in full each month to avoid interest charges.
If you eat out often, you might look into rewards credit cards that give a greater percentage of cash back for such purchases.
An easy way to find the right card for you is to use a free online resource like Money Talks News’ credit card comparison tool. Select “Cash Back” or “Rewards Cards” from the menu on the left to limit search results to that type of card.
3. Ask for a senior discount
If you are 50 or older, you should ask whether a senior discount is available at pretty much any business you patronize — certainly including restaurants.
To get a taste of your options, check out “9 Restaurant Chains With Discounts for Diners Age 50 or Older.” For more options, consider joining an organization like AARP, which will give you access to discounts at more than a dozen chains.
4. Beware of menu mind tricks
Certain menu design tactics make customers inclined to spend more money. So be sure to read “8 Ways Restaurant Menus Trick You Into Spending More” before your next meal out.