12 Drinking and Dining Hacks From Restaurant Insiders

Jane Bianchi

save money restaurantA glass of wine here, an appetizer there … and before you know it, that fun night out can quickly turn into a not-so-fun night of stressing about the damage you’ve just done to your checking account.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can treat yourself at a bar or restaurant without breaking the bank.

In fact, here’s proof—straight from six industry experts who know a thing or two about cutting costs when it comes to drinking and dining out.

Ways to Save When Ordering Drinks

1. Buy a bottle of wine. If you knew what the average wine mark-up was in most restaurants, you might swear off ordering vino with dinner. It’s not uncommon for an establishment (especially a high-end one) to charge $8 to $15 for a glass of wine—which is what the place likely paid for the entire bottle!

There are about four six-ounce glasses in a bottle, so you’re paying about four times the actual price when you get a glass. One solution? “If you’re out with at least one other person, consider buying a bottle—the cost per glass is much lower,” says Madeline Puckette, a Seattle-based sommelier who runs the blog Wine Folly.

Bonus tip: Remember that if you don’t finish the bottle, in many places you’re allowed to take it home.

2. Look for special wine lists. You can sometimes snag a bargain if you ask the sommelier to point out the “pocket list” or “end of bin list.” According to Regina Arendt, general manager at Smith & Wollensky in Chicago, “it means that the restaurant has only one or two bottles left, so they sell it at a discount to move the product.”

3. Pick an unconventional pour. When picking out a bottle of wine, don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path, advises Puckette. “Well-known wine varieties, like cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, tend to cost more than lesser-known varieties,” she explains. “[And you can often] get the same bang for your buck with a cheaper option, like shiraz.”

4. BYOB. If the restaurant allows it, bring your own bottle and pay the corkage fee, suggests Sebastien Tribout, general manager of Meat Market in Miami. Depending on how upscale the place is, the corkage fee can be as low as $10.

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  • Dan

    Thanks for these tips! I’ve never been to a restaurant that has allowed me to take home an unfinished bottle of wine. How would you recommend that someone negotiate that with a server or restaurant manager?

    • blessyerheart

      We’ve just asked for the bottle to be re-corked and it’s never been an issue. Don’t know if it’s a state by state thing (if it can be considered an open container)? But in Virginia, they don’t even blink.

      • Alisa

        I believe it is state-by-state. You were not able to do this in AZ previously, but new law a couple years ago, and now you can.

  • Con

    I have worked in the Bar/Service industry for almost 10 years. The only thing I disagree with is the ordering house vodka. The better stuff costs more, but tastes way better, and you won’t feel quite as bad the next morning! Well worth the couple extra dollars in my opinion!

  • Christen Damler

    In Indiana you aren’t allowed to recork a bottle after it has already been open

  • McPiro

    Order an appetizer instead of a main course? I find appetizers to be the biggest rip off after alcohol…

  • mrohde

    “If you don’t finish the bottle…” This has never been an issue.