Eating out is a wonderful example of this. Eating out is one of the things that remains in my budget. I've learned that I can still eat out at a nice restaurant about once a month. You may choose to eat out more or less, or eat entirely at home. Either way, there are some easy ways to fit good restaurant meals into your budget. Some of these tips will make your meal more affordable, some will just enable you to have a better meal.
- Going out to eat should be a conscious decision, not a last minute choice. Even if we are working in retirement, we should have enough flexibility to have things available at home for easy and healthy dinners. We no longer have to come up with food for a family. Techniques such as cooking and freezing, having basic ingredients like chicken breasts on hand, even the use of deli items will allow you to save the eating out for when you choose to not when you need to.
- Along the same vein, running down to the local Olive Garden should not be used as a "get out of the house" excuse. If you feel the need to get out of the house daily, there are way to many free ways to do that. Take a walk or jog, go to the park, run to the library and get a coffee. Using your dining experience when you can fully enjoy and appreciate what you have spent your money on.
- When possible, save your restaurant pennies for those things you cannot easily replicate yourself. To me, steak on the grill is a no brainer, and I can get it every so often and loss leader prices. Because of this I'm unlikely to choose a steak restaurant, even a good one. On the other hand, I have little skill at seafood or french food beyond beef bourginon, so my restaurant dollars go in that area.
- Consider eliminating chain restaurants, unless there is one whose food you absolutely love. The food is generally just so so, and the quality is generally the same. With apologies to chain restaurant manages and executives, a stand alone restaurant may be a better choice. The success rests on the food and the service of a single restaurant, and they work to keep you happy.
- Visit restaurant.com. They regularly have $25 gift certificates for $10. Wait though, because every month or so they have a code for 90 percent off the gift certificates. This most recently enabled me to get a $100 gift certificate to Wylands Ocean (admittedly not a stand alone) for about ten dollars. Individual restaurants do have requirements. Some times it is a minimum ticket and sometimes there are time constraints, but the gift certificates are for good local restaurants.
- Make perusing Groupon in your area a habit (as well as places you may go on vacation). It takes a couple seconds a day and reaps all kinds of rewards (not just for restaurants). There may be days when nothing is valuable and you click away. I recently bought a $40.00 coupon to the Bavarian grill for $20.00. A German meal with schnitzel for my son and I will be $20.00 plus tips and drinks. We'll let you know how it compares to the real thing. I also have one for my local French bistro
- Consider making a meal out of two appetizers, or an appetizer, salad and dessert if you are a small eater. Most good restaurants will allow you to do this, but check and make sure the fixed price menu us not cheaper. Sharing may also be an option, especially when it comes to the salad and desserts.
- Most posts and articles like this would tell you to drink the water. While it's good advise, I'm too much of a wino. Water's healthier though, and wine at home is cheaper!
- Lastly, consider saving your pennies for what my grandmother would have called "white tablecloth" restaurants. Even if it means I can only go out every six weeks, a meal like that at Lavendou, mentioned above, is simply incomparable. Really good gourmet restaurants also often have chef's specials, fixed price three course menus and the like. Take advantage of them!