Coupons, daily deals and happy hours are appetizing options for dining out on a budget
For people watching their waste-line in this stagnant economy, home cooked meals have taken precedence over dining out. But that can get stale fast, and restaurants want you back at the table. Some of their come-ons can be self-serving. A recent post on the National Restaurant Association website cited figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that chart a jump in grocery store prices this year. Conversely, menu prices in the last year and half have edged up either 0.1 percent or have remained unchanged.
“Consumers now have the ability to obtain greater value by dining out at restaurants,” said Hudson Riehle, National Restaurant Association senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group, in a statement. "For example, a consumer who goes to the grocery store to buy a steak for $8-$10 a pound can get that same steak at a restaurant and not have to do all of the allied preparatory work and cleanup required. That is a value-added food solution from the consumer's perspective."
But dining out doesn’t have to break the budget, nor does it need to be limited to fast-food. Frugal foodies have several money-saving options at their disposal. Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., serves up tips on dining out frugally:
“Millions of members check-in to various locations on their mobile phones using this service, but did you know you can also receive offers for dining out discounts simply by letting Four Square know where you are?”
∙Track Daily Deals
Restaurants are one of the most common frequenters of daily deal offerings, so it pays to keep an eye out for vouchers that can greatly reduce the cost of dining at a new or favorite restaurant. “Just make sure you read the small print and are aware of expiration dates and exclusions,” Woroch recommends. “For example, most restaurant vouchers don't include drinks.”
Dining out early is not just for seniors anymore. An increasing number of restaurants have Happy Hour or Early Bird specials to fill in slow-traffic times. For example, Applebee's Neighborhood Grill offers full-size appetizers for under $5 before 6 p.m., plus $3 drink specials.
∙Split It Up
This may not be a viable first-date option, but two can eat for the price of one by sharing an appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
There are countless sites now devoted to dispensing coupons, gift certificates and e-cards. Restaurant.com may be the most well-known, but there are also many coupon-driven blogs such as CouponCabin.com, CouponMom.com, and DineOutCheap.com, that do the work locating the best dining out deals for you.
Now offered in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and San Jose/Silicon Valley, the MatchPin.app, available for a free download, offers, rewards, contests and announcements from a variety of local restaurants.