Eating out can be tough on anyone's budget, and in general it's best to shop for yourself and eat at home. You can save half or more by cooking for yourself instead of eating out. However, it's always nice to relax, treat yourself (and your family), and eat a meal at a restaurant. Here are some ways to do that without breaking your budget.
1. Don't order two dinners. If you go to a restaurant with your partner, order one dinner and an appetizer and split it. Restaurants typically serve way too much, which is costly and unhealthy (if you try to finish it).
2. Make a second dinner on leftovers. Start by eating the veggies and fries or bread, then eat the actual meat item last. You might be so full from the warmup stuff that you don't eat much meat. Then take the meat home and use it for a second dinner the next night. Two dinners for the price of one!
3. Go for lunch specials. Lunch specials will be cheaper than dinners, and breakfasts are even cheaper, generally. Always ask about the daily special, as it can often be a good deal.
4. Get a discount. There are lots of ways to find discount coupons for restaurants online. Try Restaurant.com: enter your zip code and see what restaurants offer coupons or discounted gift certificates.
5. Just order side items. A salad and an appetizer can often make for a delicious but affordable meal for one.
6. Special days. Many restaurants will offer special family days, or will allow kids to eat for free, or have special discount days. Call ahead and take advantage of them.
7. Choose an affordable restaurant. While fast food is invariably bad for you, there are medium-priced restaurants that can offer a decent meal without breaking your budget. While there are many ways to save on eating out, one of the best is to start with a restaurant that doesn't charge an arm or a leg.
8. New restaurants. Often a restaurant that has just opened for business will want to attract new customers with discounts and specials. These are often advertised in the newspaper or in advertising mailings. Keep an eye out and take advantage.
9. Drink water. You go to a restaurant for the good food, not the soda or alcohol. You can get those for much cheaper at a grocery store. Drink water, perhaps adding a slice of lemon for taste.
10. Fast food. The cheapest options, of course, are fast food restaurants, and you can find some fairly healthy options at some of them. Subway, Wendy's salads or new healthier sandwiches, vegetarian options at many restaurants these days. Go to a burrito place and order a vegetarian burrito — cheap, fairly healthy, and delicious.
11. Skip dessert. If you're eating at a sit-down restaurant, dessert is often a rip-off. Pick up a carton of ice cream on the way home, and save a bunch.