No one wants to be the friend that stays home while the rest of the crew goes out to sample the new restaurant that opened downtown. Dining out is always hard to pass up: no dishes, no cooking, great food, and good times with friends. But what does the foodie on a budget do?


Here are 15 ways you can still dine out with your friends, and stay within the confines of your budget:

1. Utilize those online surveys

Before you throw those restaurant receipts away, take a look at the bottom. Many restaurants offer discounts or free meal items when you take their online surveys. You can get a free meal at Panda Express by completing the online survey on their website for a free entree before you head to dinner.

2. Rethink your order

If a philly cheese steak sub at Subway is your go-to sub, order a regular footlong with double steak and cheese. It’s exactly the same, but will cost you less!

3. Avoid ordering pasta when it is not the specialty

If you are dining on a budget, then avoid ordering inexpensive pasta dishes. It is almost always a better value to order a chicken or pork entree that has substantial ingredients. The only exception is if the restaurant specializes in pasta.

4. Order wine by the bottle

Always order wine by the bottle and not by the glass. Yes, you read that right. Ordering by the glass is usually much more expensive. An added bonus is that you can take whatever is left in the bottle home with you later.

5. Order Family-Style 

Why have one meal when you could eat bites of five different ones? Try a restaurant that offers large portions to share family-style. It’s usually less expensive than ordering individual entrees.

6. Opt for lunch instead of dinner

Are your friends wanting to get together for dinner? Try “linner” as an alternative to dinner. A late lunch will allow you to take advantage of the lunch specials. Everyone wins!

7. Say “bye-bye” to the burrito, “hello, burrito bowl”

Order a Burrito Bowl at Chipotle and ask for two extra tortillas. Voila! Two burritos for the price of one!

8. Don’t assume the “special” is a discounted meal

Many restaurants offer daily “specials” that they write on a chalkboard or some other form of posting near the front of the restaurant. These are often meals designed to use some sort of food excess in the kitchen. People often believe that these “specials” are available at a discounted price, but that’s often not true at all. They’re often priced on par with other items or sometimes even a bit higher.

9. Keep your bar tab down

It’s no secret that restaurants mark up their alcoholic beverages a lot. Like 300-400% a lot. Consider having a drink at home, after dinner. Your wallet will thank you.

10. Pregame your meal

Starting to feel “hangry” and your willpower beginning to fade? Eat a snack before you head to dinner. Eating a snack before you head to dinner will reduce your appetite and you’ll be more likely to order a meal that’s within your budget.

11. Take advantage of technology

The Spotluck app helps you save money and is a fun way to answer the question of where to eat. This app helps you discover new restaurants in your local area. Spin the wheel every day to win a bonus discount at a randomly selected restaurant and share the results with the restaurant as you check out. None of the discounts end up being chain restaurants, so you can venture off to a new local restaurant each time you play. This can be a fun way to find some new favorite dining hot spots around town while saving some money on your food bill.

12. Monitor social media for special deals

Many restaurants provide special deals for their social media community. Definitely make sure you are following your favorite eateries on their social media channels, and rake in the good eats.

13. Don’t shy away from hole-in-the-wall locations

Dining at hole-in-the-wall locations, strip malls, or even food trucks lets you benefit from their minimal overhead.

14. Dine early in the week

Restaurants often have deals on slow days, like Mondays through Wednesdays, to try and drive business. They’ll usually post those deals on their websites or social media pages, so head online before deciding when and where to eat. (Refer back to #12)

15. Know your steaks

Knowing the different steak cuts and how they’re prepared will save you money. It’s tempting to get the filet mignon just because it’s well known and tender, but it’s also one of the most expensive cuts you can order. Instead, ask about the hanger or flank steak. It’s the cheapest steak on the menu, but it’s also flavorful and tender – if marinated. Sirloin, flank, skirt, and hanger steaks
are really underrated, give them a chance.