Love Dining Out? 3 Tips to Save Money

Customers sitting at tables and at the bar in a sunny restaurant.

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Here's how to enjoy restaurants without spending as much.

It's no secret that dining out is far more expensive than cooking meals in your own kitchen. Restaurants are notorious for charging huge markups on the items they serve, and often, it's possible to prepare a comparable meal at home for a fraction of the cost.

Still, there's something to be said for not having to buy groceries, cook, and deal with cleanup. And while dining out is probably something you shouldn't do every day, doing it occasionally or even weekly may be reasonable -- especially if your love of restaurants doesn't drive you into debt.

But if you're going to dine at restaurants, you might as well do so as inexpensively as possible. Here are a few ways to make restaurant meals less harsh on your wallet.

1. Look for deals

We're all familiar with the classic early bird special. Have dinner at 4:45, and a major discount could be yours. But if you're not retired, eating dinner that early may not be feasible. And those early bird specials are generally reserved for folks of a certain age.

Still, that doesn't mean there aren't other specials to capitalize on. Some restaurants, for example, offer discounts on Monday and Tuesday nights, which tend to be less popular times to dine out. Or a restaurant might offer a random special on Wednesdays that scores you a free appetizer with any entree.

Meanwhile, family-friendly restaurants often offer deals so kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal. It pays to research these types of discounts.

2. Skip the appetizers

Part of the fun of dining out is trying new foods. But restaurants commonly serve generous portions, so sometimes, ordering an entree is enough to leave you walking away full. When that's the case, it pays to skip the appetizers.

The same holds true for dessert. It's one thing if you're at a restaurant known for its homemade cakes and pies. But if the dessert is a slice of frozen pie you can pick up in your supermarket, it's not worth paying a premium for it at a restaurant -- even if it comes with a fancy dollop of chocolate sauce.

3. Use the right credit card

Some credit cards offer a generous amount of cash back for restaurant purchases. It pays to explore offers and find a card that will reward you for dining out.

Often, your best bet is to get a travel rewards card for maximum points or cash back at restaurants. Just be mindful that some travel cards also charge annual fees that may not be worth paying.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying restaurants from time to time. But you also wantto make those meals as affordable as possible, and these tips could be your ticket to indulging your palate while reaping some nice savings.

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