Yes, we all know it’s cheaper to cook at home.
That’s not the point though, is it? There are a million reasons why you’d choose to eat out, including but not limited to
- You can’t cook (/won’t)
- You’re celebrating something and want to make it special
- You’re on holiday and your teeny tiny luggage allowance didn’t allow for an oven
- Your kitchen is being refitted
- You want to try a new authentic tasting cuisine
- You need to use free wifi and they won’t let you sit there without ordering
- You’re tired and don’t want to cook/wash up
- You just fancy it
Unfortunately, as noted with my first sentence, eating out can be extortionately priced. Pasta Pomodoro for £12? Cost you less than a pound at home. Probably cost the restaurant less. Sitting there grimacing at the bill makes for an unpleasant experience, turning a relaxing meal into another regret.
The price of eating out means the majority of the population quite correctly see it as an enormous luxury. Most students I know rarely eat out. I know my own family will only eat out if it’s a birthday.
And then there’s me. I love to cook – and I also love to eat out. I love the entire experience. I love chatting with the waiter, I love poring over the menu for a ridiculously long time, concocting the perfect combination of dishes. I love going with friends and family and by myself. And I also often love getting the bill.
You often love getting the bill? Are you mad? Why??
Alright, so the bit where I have to spend money, less so. But I do enjoy the bit where I look at my bill and go damn, that’s a good deal. Which happens probably 9/10 times that I eat out. Since I realise that most people don’t get this feeling, I’ve decided to try and help you get there, with my top tips for eating out on a budget!
- Chain Restaurant? Don’t even think about going without checking online for deals.
If you’re going to Zizzi’s or Pizza Express without scanning the web for discounts, what the hell are you doing. There’s a big list of restaurants that I won’t step inside without a deal, because they constantly have them going on. Zizzi’s, Prezzo, Pizza Express, Bella Italia, Frankie and Benny’s, GBK, Ed’s Diner, the list goes on. Most restaurants like these offer hefty student discounts (up to 40%), monday-thursday discounts (again, up to 40%), discounts on kids (Kids eat free/ for £1) and mailing lists where they send out discounts every. single. week. If you have 3 mobile, check your wuntu app and never eat at a Cafe Rouge or Bella Italia for more than a fiver again. Yes it might be a hassle signing up to their mailing list, but you can always unsubscribe – it’s not that hard, and yes it is worth saving £10 +.
2. Go for Breakfast.
If there’s a high end restaurant that’s caught your eye, it probably won’t send out freebies in the mail, let’s be real. Whilst it’s firmly in your ‘maybe one day…’ list, with mains averaging £30+, why don’t you consider checking if they have a breakfast menu? A starter at Duck and Waffle in London is about £10-13 alone. Mains are £40+. But their most expensive breakfast item is £16. You can get a huge whole waffle with a tonne of trimmings for £15. If you’re a little less wild and your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach, the other breakfast items run from £6-13. You’d pay that for a couple pints in London, so I’d say that’s a great deal.
3. Skip drinks.
Look, you’ve come here to eat, so eat. I think drinks are the biggest money waster at restaurants. If you’re not super fussy about it, just get tap water. Do you ever really think back to the drinks you had at restaurants? ‘Ah yes, last week I went to the most fabulous restaurant. And you know the best part – my £4 sprite.’ No. Not if you’re truly budgeting! Most nice places will do tap water with ice and lemon anyway, and my favourite locations are those where they supply you with water as you sit down anyway. Go out later and have drinks if you want, but if you’re eating out on a budget, you’ll want to skip them with the meal. Besides, it’s better for you!
4. Think wisely about how hungry you are.
Okay, that rack of ribs that just flew past your table smells amazing… but are you actually that hungry? Would a couple starters or even a starter and a side fill you up instead? Sometimes I think the starters sound even better than the main courses, and often make for more reasonable portion sizes. Remember, what is served to you on a plate at a restaurant, can often be double or even triple the actual portion you need. A starter and a side will often be significantly cheaper than a meal, so if you aren’t actually that hungry, consider it. Another thing to watch out for is set menus. If you planned on getting multiple courses, go for it. But don’t just do it because it’s a good deal, if it works out to be more expensive than the single course you were going to get in the first place!
5. So you ordered the ribs… and you can’t finish it.
Great! Get it in a doggy bag and eat it tomorrow. Most non pretentious restaurants will do this happily for you if you’re all full up. Don’t be shy about it. If you can stretch one meal to two, you’re getting more bang for your buck.
6. Another way to get multiple meals.
There are some places where you can be super sneaky about getting multiple meals for the price of one. Pizza hut for example offers unlimited salad, so something I’ve done a couple times is had an entire meal of salad (and pasta, and nachos, and all the ‘salad’ items), and taken the entire pizza home in a box, which I’ve then had the next day. Bargain! Take advantage of 2 for 1 meals too, who cares if someone isn’t coming with you? Snaffle both the meals and have one later! (Check Ts&Cs for this, but also… sometimes you can break these rules too if you’re sneaky – and very polite)
7. Check out the menu beforehand.
This is really a no-brainer. Just check it out so you don’t feel rushed into ordering something pricey, and so you aren’t surprised at the prices when you walk in. Be prepared!
8. Look out for restaurant openings.
Often when a restaurant is just opening up, or opening up a second store, they will offer huge discounts to customers on the first day/week. Being present on social media and being aware of this is a great way to try out brand new places before anyone else, at the cheapest prices possible.
Sometimes, you just have to be a bit cheeky. Ask if they have any discounts they can do you in store! I’ve done this many times. Most the time, if there are no universal deals, they will say no. Sometimes however, they’ve said yes! I’ve gotten drinks for free, small discounts, and free nibbles, just by asking. Businesses need to make money, but at the same time if you’re friendly enough, they’ll appreciate it and might just show some kindness back.
I hope this has given you some ideas, happy eating!