Saving Money At High-End Restaurants

by Libby Balke on April 16, 2014

I’d had it.

For months, I’d been frequenting the same handful of restaurants, knowing they offered budget-friendly fare that maximized our efforts at saving money while eating out. I’d grown so comfortable at these casual restaurants that the waiters and hostesses there had started to recognize me (although, it might have been that they recognized me as the mother of two very loud children). That’s when I decided that saving money had gone too far. I needed a change. And I needed it now.

It may sound like an oxymoron – something along the line of jumbo shrimp – but saving money is possible, even at fancy restaurants. How, you ask? It boils down to two factors: timing and location.

Timing

This is a two-pronged approach to saving money at high-end establishments. The first facet of good timing has to do with what day of the week you’re choosing to dine out. Want to eat at a restaurant, whether a casual locale or a fancy place downtown, on a Friday or Saturday night? Be prepared to pay a heavy price; same goes if you want to make reservations on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. These are times when tables are at a premium – meaning special dining options and promotions are rare. On some special occasions, you may even be faced with limited menu options. Instead, try eating out on weekdays instead. Many restaurants offer special promotions for mid-week diners, including two-for-one deals, or price fixe menus for two or even four diners.

The other element of good timing deals with the time of day you choose to dine out. I’m not talking about the differences between eating out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; at the great majority of restaurants out there, you’re going to find that dinner is the most expensive meal of the day, while breakfast and lunch are cheaper. Instead, I’m talking about eating dinner at a fancy restaurant. For example, one of my favorite places to dine out with my husband is a micro-brewery downtown. Were we to eat there at 7pm, we’d be paying $15-$20 for a dish of pasta, $20-$25 for seafood dishes, and $25+ for steaks and filets; we’d also be paying full price for appetizers, drinks, and desserts. But coming earlier – or later – alleviates much of the financial burden. The restaurant’s happy hour (usually between 3-7pm, depending on the establishment) offers half-price drinks and appetizers, meaning my husband and I can eat and drink our fill for less than $25 and avoid the pricy entrees entirely. The restaurant also has a late-night menu, which it starts to offer after 10pm; like the happy hour menu, it offers half-price appetizers as well as discounted desserts.

Location

You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Location, location, location!” as it applies to the real estate industry, but it also applies to fancy restaurants. Many high-end establishments include a variety of locations within the restaurant itself: the patio, the bar, the lounge, the main dining room, etc.

Sometimes, merely switching up the location can switch up the price tag as well. To take another example out of my eating out handbook, there’s a trendy infusion restaurant in my city’s business district that offers half-price drinks and a selection of $10 bottles of wine all summer long to customers who opt to dine on the patio. The reason? Down here in the South, the temperatures often remain over 80 or even 90 degrees well after sundown. These outdoor-only promotions are designed to lure diners to the patio, keeping the section full, even when weather conditions are less than ideal. There’s another high-end restaurant in my area that offers a special menu for diners who eat at the bar instead of the main dining room; sure, the location isn’t as posh, but the menu is nearly identical, and the prices are an average of $3-$5 less for the exact same plate.

And then there’s the extreme way to save money by switching up your dining location – by forgoing the “eating out” part entirely. Instead of dining at the restaurant, call in your order ahead of time and take it home with you. My husband and I have done this on multiple occasions (usually those on which we couldn’t find a babysitter!), and have been able to shave off the cost of drinks and gratuity, bringing our tab under budget. On top of that, we tend to skip appetizers and desserts when we take out; we also find that portion sizes are larger from the take out menu, meaning our dinners turn into next-day leftovers.

Reader, what are your strategies for saving money at fancy restaurants?

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Complain When Necessary

by Batai on April 2, 2014

When I was in college, I went with a few of my friends to a local restaurant. One of my friends ordered a chicken sandwich; after she had eaten a few bites, she discovered it was raw in the middle. I am not talking pink, but absolutely raw in the middle. Although she was not going to finish the sandwich, she refused to complain because she did not want to cause trouble.

When necessary, complaining at a restaurant is not causing trouble. You are paying your hard earned money to patronize their business; having a raw chicken sandwich is not acceptable.

This past weekend, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Famous Dave’s. I ordered, as I always do, their pulled BBQ sandwich. This time, however, I bit into two pieces of bone. I know not all people are like this, but if I bite into something like that in my sandwich, I can’t eat any more. It just turns my stomach.

When the waitress asked how we were enjoying our meals, I told her that while my sandwich had been good, I did not enjoy biting into two bones. She promptly had the manager come over, and he immediately took the sandwich off our bill.

I have been a waitress before, and I know what a hard job it is. I also know that some people look for any little problem to try to get free food. I am by no means advocating this. But if there is a legitimate concern with your food, please speak up.

In my case, I just expressed my displeasure to the waitress. I didn’t ask for a refund or ask to see a manager because it was not that terrible. My friend with the raw chicken sandwich should have insisted on a new meal or to have the order taken off her bill.

Be willing to complain when it is necessary; after all, it is your hard earned money you are spending.

I shared this post at Works for Me Wednesdays.

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Save or Make Money for Your Priorities

by Crystal Stemberger on March 14, 2014

Do you have a priority that is trumping all others right now?  Trying to think of quick ways to make or save some money?  Here are some quick ways to get some money together right now.

Make or Save Money Fast

  1. Eat out less – My husband and I eat out several times a week.  When we need to save an extra $250-$350 a month, we only eat from home and we choose cheaper food options.  There is nothing wrong with concentrating on sandwiches, pasta, and grilled chicken for a month or so to be able to save $250.
  2. Splurge less – Cutting cable can save you $100 a month or more depending on where you live.  Cutting out lawn care or house keeping is an easy way of putting another $300 a month to the side.  Do you have a daily habit like commercial coffee, smoking, or drinking?  Cutting that sort of stuff out for a month can save you anywhere between $150-$500 a month!
  3. Cash in an Annuity or Structured Settlement – You can look at sites like http://structuredsettlementcashnow.com to get an idea of what you could receive right now for your structured settlement as a whole.
  4. Side Jobs – I have made $500 – $1000  a month with side jobs like baby sitting, pet sitting, and working part-time in a local used book store.
  5. Sell Your Car – If your city has better public transportation than Houston, you could sell your car and use the public transpo instead.

No matter what your current issue is, there is a way to get the cash to tackle it.  Just think about every option you have and weight the pros and cons.  In the end, you can follow the path that makes to the most sense to you.  Good luck!

What other ways would you save or make money quickly?

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Tips for Dining Out with Kids – Part I

by Batai on March 3, 2014

My husband and I love eating out; we figured we would enjoy it less when we had children and eventually stop going, but that did not happen. So, we use a few techniques to enjoy our experience eating out even with kids.

If the restaurant has a web page, peruse the menu online before you go to decide what you may like to order. Knowing ahead of time what you will order can save up to 10 to 15 minutes at the restaurant of actually looking at the menu and having the waiter come check on you several times before you order.

Try to go out during off peak hours. My husband and I like to go out to eat with the kids in the early evening, say between 4 and 5 p.m. before the evening rush begins. Service is usually faster, and we get out of there before our waiter is bogged down in tables. Alternatively, on the weekend we sometimes go very early, say 11 a.m. or later in the afternoon, say 1 to 2 p.m. when there is a lull in business.

–If the restaurant does not offer free food at the beginning of the meal, consider ordering a small appetizer as soon as you sit down so hungry children do not have to wait for the real meal to arrive before they begin eating.

–Bring some entertainment for the kids. We routinely bring crayons and coloring books. Luckily, many restaurants also supply these for their littlest patrons.

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How to Maintain Your Figure While Dining Out

by Batai on January 27, 2014

One of life’s pleasures for us is dining out once a week and enjoying food that we typically cannot or do not make at home. However, if people dine out frequently and are not conscious of ingredients, calories or fat, their waist lines can expand more rapidly than they would like.

That is why I enjoyed the following article on Yahoo! entitled, “Restaurant Slim Down Best Bets for Italian, Mexican and Steakhouses”. Check it out. There are some good tips.

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Recently an upscale dining restaurant in Pennsylvania banned all children under 6 from eating there.  This announcement was met with both outrage and applause.  Of course, many parents are outraged, yet others are happy to have a safe haven from all of the noise and disruption of small children in dining establishments.

My husband and I dine out with our three children, who, although not perfect, do behave relatively well.  They stay at the table and stay seated most of the time.  Our one year old is still a bit of a messy eater, but we try to compensate with the tip we leave to make up for it.  There have been a few times when my husband or I have had to take one of the kids outside or to the car so as not to disrupt others.  We have been complimented more than a few times on our children’s behavior in restaurants.  We simply won’t put up with disruptive behavior.

While many parents also have children that have been taught how to behave in restaurants and enjoy civil meals as a family at restaurants, the same cannot be said for many others, unfortunately.  I have seen children running through the restaurant and very nearly causing a waiter to drop a heavy tray full of hot food, a dangerous situation for both child and waiter.  I have also seen children whining and crying while their parents pseudo-ignored them and continued to dine on their meal as if they heard nothing.

If you are going to take your kids out to eat, try some of these tips for a smoother trip:

-Bring along entertainment.  Have a stash of crayons and paper or coloring book.  If the restaurant is not used to children, they may not have crayons and paper available; bring your own.  For older children, bring along a few books that you can read to them or they can read to themselves.  Do you have portable video games?  Bring those.  It can be a long wait for your children, especially if they are hungry.  Keep them entertained.

-Try to order as quickly as possible.  When your waiter comes to take your drink order, order the food, or at least the kids’ food, at that time.  Doing this will dramatically reduce the time you must wait to eat.

-Pay attention to the kids.  Many adults go out to eat and want to talk to the adults while ignoring the children.  However, the kids are part of the dining party; keep them involved in the conversation as much as possible, or at the very least, give them attention before delving into adult conversation.

-Be prepared to leave if the children misbehave.  It is not fun to leave the restaurant early, but sometimes that is what you have to do.  It is one of the risks of taking young children out to eat.

-Choose a restaurant that welcomes children.  This tip is most obvious, but most important.  Why would you want to go to a restaurant like McDain’s in Pennsylvania if your children aren’t welcomed?  Choose a restaurant that welcomes all patrons, regardless of age.

Hopefully, if all parents work to teach their children what it means to eat out and dine with others, restaurants such as the one in Pennsylvania will not find the need to ban all children from their restaurants.

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Why having a dining out budget is important

by Batai on December 2, 2013

It’s no secret that my family likes to go out to eat. We know that we like to do it, so we make sure to include it in our budget. We try to employ various strategies (Groupons, sharing entrees, drinking water) to stretch our dining out budget and for the most part, it works. We’ve had to make some tweaks to the budget here and there but we’re content with where we stand.

However, my husband and I have had some discussions as to what’s going to happen if I no longer work full-time. Clearly, our dining out budget will have to be reduced but we refuse to eliminate it completely. This led to a discussion as to why it’s important for us to go out to eat. We have a few reasons:

  • I get a break from cooking. I cook. A lot. Of the 21 meals that are eaten in a week, I cook approximately 18 of them (some are leftovers and right now, my daughter does eat lunch at school. This will change when she starts kindergarten in the fall). My husband feels that I deserve a night off from cooking once a week and honestly, I agree with him.
  • It’s fun to eat foods I won’t or don’t cook. One of our family rules when we go out to eat is that we can’t eat something I can make at home (it’s a big reason why we do not go to Italian restaurants). Eating in restaurants allows us to try some new foods or indulge in some favorites that are cheaper to get in a restaurant.
  • It’s social. We don’t live in a big town and pretty often, when we go out, we’ll run into someone that we know. It’s fun to see people we wouldn’t ordinarily see. And, when you’re waiting for your table, it’s nice to catch up with some old friends.
  • It’s a good date night. We have a child. Who talks. A lot. It’s nice to be able to go have a meal in a restaurant that doesn’t give you crayons when you sit down and have a conversation that is not peppered with stories of Barbie mermaids and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
  • Sometimes, it’s nice not to have to do the dishes. Since I cook a lot, that involves washing dishes. Which I hate to do. Although the rule in our house is that whoever cooks is exempt from washing dishes, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are some nights where I want to eat and then leave the dirty dishes to someone else. Selfish? Perhaps. But it’s true.
  • It’s faster and more convenient. Not so much at night, but there are days where we’ll spend hours running errands. It’s easier and faster for us to stop at Panera or a local burger place than to run all the way home, eat, and then go back out. Yes, it’s probably lazy but when I’m torn between preventing a meltdown from my 5 year old and spending $20, I’m preventing the meltdown.

I don’t see us eliminating our dining out budget altogether unless we’re faced with some pretty egregious financial circumstances. To find that extra money in the budget is completely worth it.

What are your reasons for going out to eat? 

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How Lists Help Us

by Batai on November 14, 2013

“Make a list.”  That’s what I said to my wife recently when she was feeling a bit overwhelmed.  With my recent annual bonus, we had decided to give ourselves a bonus too.  We, as I am sure many people do, give ourselves a monthly allowance or fun money.  So, when the bonus satisfied all pressing financial concerns and we had saved some of it, we decided to enjoy ourselves.  My wife however, began to become overwhelmed by all of the things she was thinking of spending the money on. I found her researching everything from Disney vacations to slot machine myths.

A List

That is when I suggested that she make a list of the items she wanted.  This way, I suggested, she could prioritize the things she wanted to buy.  She would also be able to figure out if she had enough money to buy everything she wrote down.  If she did not, then she could then decide which items were the highest priorities.  I employ this tactic when it comes to the household finances.  I usually present the options to my wife and we decide together which items are the highest priorities.  With this approach, I also avoid unnecessary arguments, as we are both on the same page.

Time

The other thing a list can do is to make you wait.  By waiting, it eliminates impulse purchases that are not your top priority.  By having a clear vision of what you want to spend your money on, you can rearrange your list as new ideas or priorities come up.  I have often heard the trick of taking your credit cards and freezing them in a block of ice, so that you can only use them in an emergency.  The list works under the same principle.  It ensures that you spend your money on what you truly want.  There have been a few times, where I thought there were things that I truly had to have, right away.  However, just waiting 24 hours was enough for me to realize that I either did not need or did not truly want a given item.

Not Just for Stuff

A list does not just have to be for material items.  It can also be for goals as well. For example, many people desire to be completely debt free and have a list that corresponds to that goal.  Myself, I have more than one list, one list for the household and one list for myself.  My list consists of items that I want, but do not necessarily need.  Since they are wants, they do not fit within the household budget.  The household list consists of items for my kids, the house, and savings goals.

Stressed Relieved

After I mentioned the list idea to my wife, she began to write down the things she was thinking of getting with her bonus.  She estimated what each thing would cost and then began prioritizing the items she wanted the most.  By doing that, she realized there were items that she really did not need.  She became less stressed. It allowed her to eliminate items from her list and spend her money in such a way as to maximize its benefits.

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Hardware You Will Need for Your eCommerce Store

October 20, 2013

Post from the public. One of the best things about having an online store is the low initial costs associated with it. You don’t have to pay for a local, except for the storage space where you keep your merchandise; but you can easily have that neatly placed in your garage or basement. You also […]

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Counting Calories: On The Menu at McDonald’s

September 9, 2013

Cruise down the aisles of your nearest grocery store, and you’ll notice one similarity among all the boxed cereals, canned soups, and bottled juices: a nutrition label. In 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which required all food manufacturers to affix nutrition labels to their products. Ever since, you haven’t been able […]

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