An expertly prepared meal at a restaurant is one of life’s great pleasures. When it’s delivered in a great atmosphere with attentive service, the experience is elevated even further. But fine dining establishments can be prohibitively expensive.
If you love fancy restaurants but hate getting the check, here are twelve tips to help you save on your next meal out.
1. Research Restaurant Weeks
Many cities host an annual Restaurant Week, where participating restaurants offer deals, prix fixe (fixed price) meals, and other incentives to get customers in the door. Find out when the next Restaurant Week is happening near you, as it could be the perfect time to visit that new restaurant you’ve been dying to try.
2. Attend Soft Opens
New restaurants often launch with a soft open, a dry run in which the kitchen and wait staff practice food prep and service before they officially open for business. Friends and family who snag an invite can often dine at these events for free. If you’ve got your nose to the local culinary scene, you can try to secure invites to the next hot restaurant’s soft open.
3. Ask for Gift Cards
Expecting some birthday or holiday gifts soon? Now might be the time to start dropping hints about gift cards to your favorite eatery. They may not seem very personal, but gift cards are a great way to get exactly what you want. Keep in mind that gift cards are not as secure as credit cards, so make sure you take steps to protect your gift cards if you do receive some.
4. Visit Deal Websites
Deal websites like Groupon and Restaurant.com hunt down dining discounts for you. Just go to the website and search for deals in your area, or sign up for a newsletter to get offers delivered right to your inbox. Even fancy restaurants offer deals through these sites sometimes, so keep an eye out for your favorites.
5. Go for Lunch
At many fine dining restaurants, lunch menus are more affordable than the dinner menu. While you may not get access to everything on the dinner menu, you will be able to score a quality meal at a lower price.
6. Skip the Alcohol
Alcoholic beverages can drastically add to the cost of your meal. Skipping the alcohol means you can focus on the unique food that the restaurant offers instead—and your stomach and your wallet will thank you.
7. Ask the Sommelier for Deals
If you plan on having wine, you can ask the sommelier for a deal. “If you want to get a better value on wine, ask them for the ‘bin end list,’” says Jamie Logie, owner of Regainedwellness.com. “These are wines with ripped labels or damaged tops, and past-their-prime vintages. . . . You can end up getting a wine that’s double the value or more.”
8. Avoid Specials
Specials offer meals that aren’t on the everyday menu, but they may not be a good value. “Specials are used a lot of the time as a way to make the most money on a plate of simple ingredients or . . . items that need to be cleared out,” said Logie. Choosing from a restaurant’s regular menu can help you save money while still providing you with a quality dining experience.
9. Split Meals
Restaurants often overload plates with more food than you need for a full meal. If the restaurant’s portions are big enough, you can split your appetizers, entrées, and dessert with a companion. And if you split the bill as well, you’ll automatically cut the check in half. Some restaurants do charge an extra fee for splitting menu items, so keep that in mind.
10. Skip Apps and Dessert
Appetizers and dessert don’t come cheap at fine dining establishments. If you eat a light snack before going out and have a dessert waiting at home, you’ll only have to spring for an entrée. While you may feel a little deprived, remember that entrées are the star of the show at restaurants. Focusing on those dishes will give you the most bang for your buck.
11. Make It a Business Expense
If you’re a business owner, the IRS will let you deduct meals purchased during work travel or meals conducted for business purposes. Next time you want to visit a nice restaurant, consider taking an employee or client out with you. You can deduct 50% of meals purchased on business trips or to entertain clients and 100% of some meals purchased for employees. This can help you save big when you file your taxes.
There are limitations, so check IRS guidelines to make sure your meal is covered.
12. Get a Rewards Credit Card
Many credit cards earn cash back or points rewards on your purchases, with some cards specifically designed to reward dining purchases. These cards will add value every time you dine out. If eating out is a priority for you, look for a credit card that rewards those purchases.
Next time you’re in the mood for a fancy night out, implement some of these tips to save some cash. And if you need more tips for saving money, check out our Personal Finance Learning Center.