Last updated in July 2020
To eat out on a budget can be a real challenge, so much that many frugalists totally refrain from it. Personal finance blogger Valentina from BestDebtConsolidation shows us that it does not have to be this way. Valentina is out on a quest to help others improve their finances and knows how to get a good meal out for less.
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Ways to eat out on a budget
Do you follow your budget?
Great! Following a budget means most likely you have a proper spending plan and a habit of saving money. But your hard-earned money can take a hit if you can’t implement your budget in every sphere of your life!
And that includes eating out. You may be surprised to find out that there are several tactics to eat out on a budget and save more.
Below you will find some of the best possible ways of being budget-savvy while eating out.
Tip only if you want to
In the US, it’s customary to tip anything between 15% to 25% of your bill amount. But in the UK, tipping isn’t expected because the workers are paid at least the minimum wage.
I am not asking you not to tip after having a marvelous meal! That would be an utter disgrace to the restaurant and the steward.
However, if you aren’t satisfied with the hospitality, you shouldn’t feel obligated to reward. Even if you see a bill including service charge, you may ask to take it off if you didn’t have a quality time. The Consumer Rights Act clearly mentions to take proper care with skills while providing service.
Start writing reviews
Do you love to write? If yes, how about becoming a food critic? If you love to explore restaurants and eateries, you can introduce those to others. In fact, you can start writing your own blog about food.
If your reviews are appealing, many restaurants will be keen to contact you. The reason for them is to attract more customers through your reviews. In return, you might enjoy a free meal for a widely-read review!
Avoid eating out during weekends
Have you ever noticed a difference in the crowd during weekends and weekdays?
Obviously, people prefer to dine out at a restaurant during the weekend. Restaurants are busiest at that time and correspondingly, prices soar high. Also, you are less likely to find any special offers.
Therefore, I recommend visiting eateries during weekdays. You may come across special offers or discounts which is valid for weekdays only!
Avoid bottled water
Do you choose bottled water to quench your thirst in a restaurant? Do you review your bill before paying? If you do, you might have noticed the price of bottled water. The high-priced water bottles can burn a hole in your pocket in most of the eateries.
What if you ask for a cup of tap water instead? British tap water is among the best in the world. Several tests are conducted annually to ensure quality standards.
Make sure to specify that you would like water from the tap. It comes free of cost, making it a great option while you are eating out on a budget!
Pay your bill in cash
I know that the cashback offers and reward points of credit cards are enticing. However, paying off bills with credit cards may give you false security that you have more money than you actually do.
At the end of the day, you get shocked to see the incessantly high outstanding balance amount. And ultimately, you might become vulnerable to the debt trap.
One of the personal-finance ideas to avoid debts is to use cash whenever possible. Because when you’re paying with cash, you are limited to a certain amount.
Subscribe to newsletters
You can subscribe to the newsletter of a restaurant to know about their ongoing offers. Also, they may notify you about special-day offers like your birthday, anniversary, etc.
Another way is to follow restaurants on social media to find out about their offers. In some cases, restaurants may have a special offer for a given day.
Ask for group discounts
If you are eating out with your friends for having a meal, there is no harm in asking for a group discount. After all, you are bringing in business for them. Although you have to keep in mind, that this depends on the judgment of the specific restaurant.
Sign up for loyalty cards
Do you find yourself visiting the same restaurant on a regular basis?
To eat out on a budget, check with the restaurant whether they offer any loyalty program. If they do, immediately grab the opportunity to sign up for that program. Popular restaurant chains often have an app or a card to accumulate reward points. You can earn these reward points every time you visit a restaurant of that chain.
You can redeem these points for a freebie or a special discount (depending on the restaurant’s policy).
Look for discount websites
What can you do if your frequently visited restaurant(s) doesn’t offer a loyalty program?
In this case, you can check websites that offer discount vouchers for restaurants. In the UK, popular websites include Groupon, Money Saving Expert, etc., all of which offer discount vouchers for dining out at restaurants.
Before heading towards your next meal, always if there is a discount voucher available for your chosen restaurant.
eating out at a pub
Look for pubs that offer cheap and generous portions of traditional British meals like shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, ploughman’s lunch, baked potatoes with fillings, sandwiches, and snacks.
Pubs which offer traditional meals usually display that fact on a chalkboard outside. In fact, there are a lot of pubs which offer traditional Sunday lunch including a home-style meal of roast joint (beef, pork, lamb, poultry), roast and mashed potatoes, vegetables (carrots, cabbage, sprouts), Yorkshire pudding and gravy for £7 to £10 (depending on location)!
How about trying a meal of fish and chips from a local chippie?
Yes, it’s cheap, tasty and the portions are pretty good! In fact, you can even save money by sharing the meal. You may ask the staff to show you the difference between a large-sized and a small-sized cod or haddock. The large portion may be enough for two people and help you to eat out on a budget.
For about £6 (depending on location), you can share a sumptuous meal of fish, french fries and tea or soft drinks. And for a total British experience, you may add on a pickled egg or pickled onions for about 50p extra.
Try ethnic food
You can find good Indian food all over the UK. For example, you may try Punjab, an old-fashioned Indian restaurant near Covent Garden.
There is also a variety of Middle Eastern and other ethnic food. You will be impressed by how much flavour you can get for a very reasonable price.
Look for authentic Chinese food
There are various Chinese food joints in most parts of the UK. Here, you may be able to have a good-sized meal for £10 (depending on location), helping you to eat out on a budget.
Take a food container
Restaurant meal portions can be quite large and filling. You may have experienced and felt full after having only half of your meal.
In this case, don’t feel shy and waste your leftovers. You can take your leftovers home with you and have them later. After all, you have paid for it! It may not work if you go for a bottomless brunch though.
Be a mystery diner
Do you know about mystery shopping?
Mystery shopping is a method used by market research companies or watchdog organisations to keep tabs on the quality of service or compliance with regulations.
Likewise, you can sign up with an agency that sends you for free meals to different restaurants.
This way, you can enjoy a free meal at the restaurant. In return, you need to submit your feedback on the restaurant’s hospitality, cleanliness, and other parameters.
What if you have already paid your bill?
It is still not too late to save money! Before you shred your receipt, have a closer look at it. Does it mention an online survey?
If yes, you can fill up that form to give feedback on your meal. In return, the restaurant might give you a freebie like a drink or a special food item or a discount voucher which you can redeem on your next visit.
You can also save a ton of money when eating at home.
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I hope Valentina’s tips will help you saving money when eating out in the future.