Treat Yourself: Savvy Restaurant Tips To Dine Out for Less
Are you burned out on cooking post-holidays?
Experiencing ‘cooking fatigue’ after the holidays? We don’t blame you. Preparing three healthy, balanced meals at home per day can be exhausting — so, what better way to take a break and treat yourself than dining out? The food is freshly made by an expert chef; plus, someone is there to serve it to you. The only downside to restaurant meals is cost: Menu prices keep climbing and there’s always the tip to think about (not to mention the price of gas to get there). Good news: Whether you’re cozying up in a booth with your partner or picking up some grub and heading home to enjoy it on the couch, there are some easy ways you can enjoy your favorite eateries and dine out for a lot less. Keep reading to learn how.
Look for ‘barbell’ deals.
As the cost of food rises, restaurant owners feel pressure to increase prices, but they also fear losing customers by charging more. The solution: Many are adopting “barbell” pricing, where they offer higher-priced options to help cover expenses, but also offer lowerpriced deals for more budget-savvy patrons. For example, Papa John’s recently offered a Papa Pairings deal where you choose two or more items (like medium one-topping pizzas, papadias, chicken poppers, sides, desserts) for just $6.99 each, saving you up to 50 percent over ordering them solo. And Red Robin recently offered a $10 Gourmet Meal Deal for dine-in customers at participating locations that includes one of three burger types with bottomless steak fries and a choice of a soft drink, tea, or lemonade, saving you 50 percent.
Seek out ‘DIY’ discounts.
Many restaurants offer “DIY kits” that come with all the cooked items, toppings, and other essentials needed to create a meal, but that you assemble yourself at home. Because you’re saving the restaurant time, these kits cost less than when ordering the same meals preassembled. For example, Moe’s offers a build-your-own taco kit for $39.99 that makes 12 soft tacos with your choice of two proteins and includes toppings, a bowl of queso, salsa, and chips, saving you over $10. Find more take-out meal kits at national chains, as well as independently owned restaurants by searching online for “meal kit” and the names of your local eateries.
Some restaurants are also offering take-out “family bundles” deals, which include one or two large-size entrées, plus large servings of sides designed to share with four to eight people at home. For instance, Bob Evans offers a wide selection of to-go family bundles starting at just $4.99 per person. To find more family deals, visit ClarkDeals.com.
Tip: Have an Amazon Prime membership? Great news! Now included in your membership is a free 12-month subscription to food delivery service Grubhub+.
Zero in on chicken.
In 2022, the price of chicken was high due to availability and supply-chain issues. But in 2023, a shortage in beef is ratcheting up the price of burgers, steaks, stew, and other meat-based dishes. And there’s now plenty of chicken, so restaurants are offering great deals on fowl! For example, Wingstop lowered prices on wings, Noodles & Co. removed the $1 surcharge it added to chicken dishes when prices were soaring, and Bojangles recently gave away a free chicken sandwich just for downloading their app! To find more offers, type “chicken” into the search engine at EatDrinkDeals.com.
Check out loyalty programs.
Nearly six in 10 national and independent eateries now offer loyalty programs, and they’re giving you lots of ways to save in order to make you a repeat customer. So in addition to racking up rewards points that you can redeem for free food and beverages, many programs also give you freebies and bonuses just for enrolling. These include California Pizza Kitchen, which gives you a small plate (CPK.com), TGI Fridays, which gives you an appetizer (TGIFridays.com), and Village Inn (VillageInn.com), which credits your rewards account with $10 that you can redeem on any purchase of $11 or more. For more offers, visit the websites or download the apps for your favorite restaurants.
Time your meals.
Many restaurants are adopting the same surge-pricing model that rideshare companies use — which means they’re updating digital menus or swapping in paper menus with higher prices when they’re busiest. Some charging as much as 40 percent more at peak times! To save every time you eat out, simply visit your favorite restaurants during slow-traffic hours (10 a.m. for breakfast, 3 p.m. for lunch and 8 p.m. for dinner) or slow-traffic days (like Monday and Tuesday).
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.