Many people consider dining out to be a luxury, but it needn't be. Since we love fine cuisine as much as the next person, we came up with ten dining tips to help you substantially reduce your check:
Put the Drinks on Hold
Alcohol can double the bill for a two-person dinner, so say no to that $30 bottle of wine and stick to water. If you must indulge, pick a restaurant with a happy hour special, or order a bottle of wine for a group instead of a bunch of separate glasses. BYOB is always an option, but corkage fees make ambivalent. For more tips on how to nab decent wine on the cheap, stay tuned for our Daily on that topic!
Opt for Appetizers
Entree prices are on the rise, as entrees averaging $10 rose 2.2% at mid-market U.S. dining chains from 2009 to 2009. Meanwhile, appetizer prices fell 2%. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2010 Restaurant Industry Forecast, diners will keep trying to reduce costs by seeking value and expanded menu options in 2010. According to the report, restaurants are expected to deliver.
Don't Tip Over
You can download a useful iPhone tipping application, called Check Please to help with otherwise-uncomfortable tipping situations. It's a useful way to combat the tipping tantrums that sometimes arise when groups dine together.
Buy Restaurant Gift Certificates
We like Restaurant.com, where $10 gets you a $25 voucher to a restaurant, and $40 gets you one worth $100. Many restaurants set a minimum tab to use these vouchers, though, so read the fine print.
Have Your Steak and Eat It Too
Steak can be pricey: Tender, succulent prime cuts such as rib eye can sell for upwards of $45 per plate at some of the top end national chains such as Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse. Hangar steak, however, is often cheaper at independent dining establishments. For example, at Marseille in New York, hanger steak is roughly $10 cheaper than a strip steak. Although hangar steak is tougher, it is extremely flavorful; marinades can also make it more tender. According to specialty food magazine The Nibble, another cheaper option includes boneless blade steak, which runs roughly 57% less than New York strip steak. If you want to learn more, read up with this guide to different kinds of steak.
Brunch or Lunch In Lieu of Dinner
Go for a sumptuous brunch, which often includes drink specials (throw in a free mimosa or two, and you'll be feeling great!). A report by market research firm NPD Group said that brunch traffic was up 8% during the first eight months of 2009, compared to the same period the year before. Because of the recession, restaurants will continue to refine their lunch menus. According to industry magazine Restaurants and Institutions, value-minded lunch menu options will be a major trend to watch in 2010.
Come Out for Restaurant Week
Roughly 24 cities host a Restaurant Week, so get in on the act. During Restaurant Week, diners enjoy steep discounts from local restaurants, usually in the form of fixed price menus at otherwise top-scale venues.
Fix Your Prices
Is a prix fixe menu worth it outside of Restaurant Week? Often. For example, the $24 three-course prix fixe lunch at Tocqueville in New York costs roughly the same amount as a lunch entree (or less).
Eat Like a Local
Try WhereTheLocalsEat to find coupons for local eateries. These coupons range from 50% off bottles of wine--savings of $10 to $15--to free dessert vouchers and other daily specials, which generally slice another $5 to $6 off the check.
Say hello again to pot roast and brisket. According to industry magazine Restaurants and Institutions’ Menu Trends for 2010, old-fashioned comfort foods are making a comeback for value-minded customers, as some restaurants use lower-priced cuts of meat to save money.