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What’s not to love about restaurants? Someone else cooks, brings it to your table, and cleans up afterwards.
The only con? Paying the bill.
If you love dining out but don’t love the paying part, you’re in luck: The Star reached out to Stephen Weyman, founder of HowToSaveMoney.ca and creditcardGenius, sites dedicated to helping Canadians maximize their money.
Here are his top tips on how to save money when you’re eating out.
• Plan ahead: While it’s fun to spontaneously dine out, planning ahead can help you take advantage of discounts, specials, coupons and rewards that might be out there.
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“There are so many places you can look for discounts, ranging from paid premium coupon books like The Entertainment Book, to group buy sites like Groupon, to apps like Yelp Deals and FourSquare specials,” notes Weyman. “Even restaurant receipts can have coupons for a future visit.”
• Don’t drink and dine: Sticking to water is one of the biggest things you can do to save money when eating out, Weyman adds, and skipping other extras can cut down the bill even more.
“A great way to reduce your overall bill but still get 90 per cent of the experience is to skip the paid drinks, appetizers, and deserts – your bill will be at least half,” he says. “Those things are easy to do it yourself or buy ready-made at the grocery store, so consider doing that at home before or after you go out without much extra hassle.”
• Think about your credit card: If you eat out regularly, you might want to consider a credit card that offers bonuses for the money you spend.
“The new American Express Cobalt card gives five times the points on groceries and restaurants,” says Weyman, noting some credit cards also offer you specials, discounts, and bonuses at certain restaurants. Watch the annual fees, though, which can add up to the price of a decent meal.
• Timing is a factor: Thinking about the time of the week – and the day – you eat out can also cut down on your bill. For example, some restaurants offer early-bird specials and happy hours during slower hours.
“Most people like to eat out later in the week and later in the day, and supper is the most popular — and expensive — meal,” says Weyman, noting Tuesday and Wednesday tend to be the cheapest days of the week to eat out. “Buck the trend by going out for breakfast or eating out earlier in the week when most restaurants offer specials to bring in more customers.”
• Take advantage of technology: Using an app like Yelp, UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor to filter restaurants by price point and reviews can save you money, Weyman notes, and give you better quality and value.
• Share your food: If you know portions are going to be huge, why not ask for a second plate and share your meal – or take leftovers home for lunch the next day.
“This can be a decent money saving strategy: order something large enough that you’ll have enough for lunch or supper the next day,” Weyman says. “Plus paying for food you can’t possible eat or feeling queasy from over filling yourself just aren’t very attractive options.”
• Tips and tipping: Order something you can’t easily make yourself at home to maximize your dining out experience.
While it’s important to tip your server adequately, if you pick up food at the counter or are serving yourself 15 to 20 per cent is typically not necessary.