As much as I try to limit our restaurant eating, there are three events that seem to increase the number of times we eat out: birthdays, traveling, and moving. With four kids and two adults, eating in restaurants gets expensive pretty quickly. There are a couple of strategies that we use to make sure that our final bill doesn't exceed our budget. Check them out:
Photo by: markhillary
- Choose your restaurants wisely. Ask around, search the internet, or check the local family magazine for good choices. Our family is fond of Friendly's (mostly because the kids get ice cream with their meals.) Look for special nights such as half price burgers or all-you-can-eat pasta.
- Drink water. We do let the kids get drinks if they are included in the kids' meal, but the grownups usually stick to water, with the occasional splurge on iced tea or coffee (free refills!).
- Check for deals. Resort towns usually have a lot of newspaper offers, especially in the freebie mags in the hotel foyers. You might find early birds or similar promotions in regular newspapers. Many restaurants, especially chains, offer printable on-line coupons at their websites.
- Keep an eye out for "kids eat free" offers. I usually google the name of the town plus "kids eat free." There are a couple of websites that are trying to put together a comprehensive list of kids eat free offers: Kids Eat 4 Free, MyKidsEatFree, and Coupon Diva's Kids Eat Free page are the best country-wide sites I've found so far. Always call ahead to verify that they're still offering the deal. Most end at age 10 or 12, and they usually have a limit of one or two free kids' meals with each adult entree purchased.
- Join restaurant birthday clubs. Many restaurants offer birthday deals, and you can sign up for the chain restaurant's lists online. Freebies4Mom has a comprehensive list on their Birthday Freebies page. Some offers will have short expiration dates, but others will be good for a long time. I sign up each member of my family, and keep the offers in my glove box when we travel or move. Sometimes we are only able to use one or two coupons on a visit, but I've been known to get lucky and use four at a time! (I always ask to use all that I have – the worst they can do is say "no."
- Consider purchasing an Entertainment book, which offers 2-for-1 dining and a variety of other substantial discounts. The books are good from their publishing in August through the following November, for a total of 15 months. They are a little pricey, at a regular price of $25-$40 per book, but the price starts to go down before Christmas and continues to drop through the summer. Check this list to see if books are available for the area in which you live, travel or move to! From this page, you can look at the offers available in each individual book and see if it would work for you. I have heard people say that they would never get their money's worth out of an Entertainment book, but I can't imagine how that is true. My local book retails for $30 (but I can get it for $20 if I wait a couple of months) and includes $20 in local grocery store coupons on the front page. Add in one nice restaurant meal and I've paid for the book already. In addition, I find that the Entertainment book offers for hotels and rental cars are often the best deals I can find.
- Order wisely. Even if you're just getting pizza or driving through a fast food place, take a moment to consider your options. Would three medium pizzas be cheaper than two large? Can you split an entree, or order an appetizer for your meal?
- Hit the buffet line. Chinese buffets are a favorite in my family, but other kinds of buffets can also work well. While you won't find the most elegant food on your average buffet, they do usually include a nice variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus enough variety to please even your pickiest eater. Lunch buffets are less expensive than dinner buffets, and children's prices are almost always based upon age.
As you can see, there are many ways to keep restaurant dining affordable. Combine a couple of strategies to make sure that your next trip, celebration or move doesn't break the bank.