[custom_frame_left][/custom_frame_left]According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $2,500 a year on eating out at restaurants. My family and I eat out quite a lot and that figure seemed kind of low to me, so I did some rough calculations. We eat out about once a week (mostly because I look forward to having one night a week I know I don’t have to cook!). We are a family of four and our bill is usually around $50. Then, my husband and I usually eat out for lunch once a week, so I figured on another $20 a week, for a total of $3,640.
This number also didn’t include any of our drink purchases – my husband’s daily energy drink and my stops for coffee. We try to keep this type of spending to a minimum, so I didn’t include it, but I know that millions of Americans have a severe Starbucks addiction. At about $5 a coffee, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, you’re looking at another $1,300 a year!
$3,640 seemed to be a more accurate estimate for my family, and it is an awful lot of money I could save – or use to go on a really nice vacation! But as I started thinking about it, I realized it was an expense I was willing to deal with. I really, really look forward to not having to cook one night a week!
If you find yourself trying to cut costs, eating out and buying $5 coffees might be some of the first things you cut back on. But with rising food costs at grocery stores, eating out might not be as expensive as we think.
An article on MSN Money earlier this year compared five meals from five restaurants (Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster) versus cooking the same meals at home. The results were surprising. Three of the meals were cheaper to buy at the restaurant. While eating out for every meal isn’t likely to be cheaper than eating at home, it may not be as expensive as we think.
So if you find yourself wanting to cut back on expenses, but would still like to enjoy dining out, there are ways to cut costs at restaurants. I’ve listed some suggestions below.
Coupons and Promotions
Sites like Groupon and Living Social frequently allow you to find discounts of up to 50-90% off meals at restaurants. Restaurants also offer promotions such as “Kids Eat Free” nights or Applebee’s “2 for $20” program. You can also follow restaurants on social media such as Twitter and Facebook and gain access to special deals.
Save on Drinks
Alcohol at restaurants is much more expensive than drinking at home. Soda and tea is also significantly marked up, so you might just want to stick to water.
Pay Attention to the Menu
By noticing things such as whether or not the entrée includes a side, if refills are free, or if you’re ordering a steak that is way out of your price range, you can save significant amounts of money.
Restaurant servings are notoriously bigger than the recommended portion size. If you can order an appetizer and then split a meal you’ll save the price of a whole entrée.