As much as I like cooking (and being fiscally responsible), I love trying new restaurants. When it comes to new restaurants, NYC is the place to be! There are so many places to try and frankly, the idea of eating at home every night is dull, dull, dull. But in a city where a frittata can cost up to $1000 (Norma’s – Zillion Dollar Frittata featuring caviar, gold and lobster), there has to be another way to both pay rent and try new restaurants.
These Ways to Save tips and tricks apply to any big or little city – go forth and dine!
Restaurant Week / Other Local Events
One of the best ways to save money on dining out is through local events, like Restaurant Week or food festivals. There are so many different events around the country where new, upcoming and established restaurants showcase their best dishes at a discount or in a small plates/tapas format.
Restaurant week (weeks – two weeks x two times a year… restaurant month) in NYC is always so much fun. The three course lunch menu is capped at $29 and the three course dinner menu at $42 – this may seem expensive but trust me, for NYC, it is not. Particularly when you see the types of restaurants available ($$$$) – Cipriani, SushiSamba, Tao, Bar Boulud, Stanton Social – the list goes on and on. When the standard dinner entrée at any of these places is well over $35, a three course dinner at $42 is a steal – plus most restaurants feature their most popular dishes on the restaurant week menu. There are even a few select restaurants that offer weekend lunch/brunch menus… the dream. Get googling, kumquats!
Skip the Booze
This is one of the easiest ways to save money when going out for meals – skip the booze or, if you are feeling super fiscally responsible, skip drinks of any kind altogether. The mark-up on alcohol, soft drinks and bottled water is obscene (particularly in certain cities). If you really want to drink, try to find a restaurant that allows you to BYOB, or bring your own bottle and ask what the corking fee is… all ways around the huge mark-up. In NYC, not drinking at dinner usually saves us at least $20 per round of drinks… sometimes more!
Daily Specials – Eat Locally and In Season
Eating local produce or seasonal specials usually mean paying a lower price because of the availability of such products. Always check daily specials at restaurants – you may be surprised at the types of options available. Keep in mind that ordering things that are not found locally may cost you a pretty penny (think seafood in a landlocked area).
If you’re feeling hungry, check to see if the restaurant has a fixed price menu – this is usually two or three courses, giving you a discount for having multiple courses. The choice of options available on a fixed price menu is usually limited but can still be well worth it. Also look for brunch/lunch specials that include other perks – for example, at brunch this weekend at the Writing Room on the Upper East Side, they had a three course menu available for $29 OR a main course entrée and up to five cocktails for $35. Excellent options, well worth the money if you are extra hungry (or extra thirsty)!
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Make sure you are well informed of all of the technological possibilities available to you. First and foremost, see if OpenTable is available in your area – I have used this in London, New York, DC, Boston, Chicago and Miami – just to name a few. OpenTable is a restaurant reservation app/website, but for every reservation you make (and keep), you accumulate points. Those points add up to get you Amazon giftcards or restaurant vouchers. To give you an idea, I have earned over $50 in restaurant vouchers in 18 months. Every little bit helps.
Another great option is an app called Spotluck – every day you can spin a virtual wheel to get great discounts on restaurants in your neighborhood. The discounts can be free drinks, free appetizer, free dessert or up to 40% off your meal! All you have to do is download the app, spin the wheel every day and get your discounts!
Take a Long Lunch
If you want to explore new restaurants, try going for lunch – the lunch menu is usually much cheaper (whether à la carte or a fixed price menu). This also is a great approach on weekends – either lunch or brunch is a good way around a pricier restaurant. Many brunch menus contain smaller portions of the dinner options in any case so you can try new things without over paying!
Get it to go!
Another way to save is getting your meal to go – this saves you from both buying drinks AND tipping, which is at least 15%. This is a major perk and allows you to lessen the blow of what could have been a very pricey night out!
Exploit any perks
This last one may or may not apply to you, but do keep in mind any perks you have either through work, school or other organizations. If your company is part of the Perks at Work program, you may have access to discounted restaurant vouchers or other similar discounts!
Happy dining and saving!