Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Out to Eat On a Budget

We love going out to eat.  Not only do we enjoy the food, but finding just the right restaurant for whatever the occasion or craving comes dangerously close to falling into the category of "hobby"for us. That, and let's  face it Wisconsinites.  This winter has been rough. (and that is coming from someone who claims to love the winter season) With more than 50 days below zero and counting- the options on the 'What to do for Fun List' are running a little low.  Sure, we could go see another movie or walk the mall again but hey- we could go grab a bite to eat instead.... and so it begins. 

 So how do you go out-to-eat without running out-of-money?  Restaurants are expensive.  Just two meals out to eat in a 7 day week often exceeds the amount of money we budget  to feed a family of 5 breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between for an entire week.  That doesn't sound right when you stop to think about it.  I dare you- for an entire month- to write down every single penny you spend on anything out-to-eat (that Starbucks drink included).  The number may surprise you, especially when you put a x12 behind it.

We have always been conscience of the amount of "out to eat" money we allow ourselves to spend.  At first it was out of necessity since we were young newlyweds still in college and barely making it.  Now it has just become a lifestyle for us and many of the "tricks" we have used along the way have stuck.  It is really coming in handy now that we have 5 mouths to feed when we decide to go out and honestly, makes it possible.

Here we go, in no particular order these are our general rules of thumb when it comes to eating out on a budget:

1.  Beverages-  Water only!  That $2 soda....or $5 to $10 specialty from the bar can really add up.  Every little bit counts.  For our family if we got all 3 kids soda and Paul and I enjoyed our favorite drink from the bar- we are in essence adding a $20 meal to our bill.

2.  Appetizers and Desserts- No thanks!  Again, you can end up adding the price of another meal to the bill.

3.  Entrees-  OK, this is the part you have to stick with me on.  Split it.  Yes, you hear me right, I said split it.  It took my husband years to come to terms with this one so you aren't alone if you just started freaking out a little.  First of all, in general, most places give you a portion size that is gigantic.  You either finish the entire thing and leave feeling like someone needs to roll you out or you end up taking (or in my case leaving on the table) a take-out box full of well intended leftovers.  Really, the trickiest part about splitting a meal isn't trying to find one that will be enough but it's agreeing on one to share! We usually tell the server we will be sharing when we order and ask for an extra empty plate and we divide it up when it arrives. On a side note, every once in a while you will find a restaurant who will charge you X amount of dollars to share.  They call it a "plate charge" because of course it is such a huge inconvenience for them to have to throw one more plate in the dishwasher at the end of the night.  (Don't get me started).

4.  Sides- Add them!! This is the golden ticket to sharing a meal..... side salads, an extra baked potato, order of fries, side of veggies, rice, you name it.  Most places don't necessarily list their sides on the menu but will happily throw them on for a few dollars a piece.  Think of what the price of an extra side or two costs as your second meal cost.  (Our favorite place for this one is at Red Lobster where we add a salad and baked potato for right around $5)

5.  Free-bees-  Pick restaurants where you can fill up on the free stuff! This is especially helpful if you are trying to feed more than 2 mouths... Mexican restaurant chips and salsa... Texas Roadhouse cinnamon butter rolls and peanuts.... Red Lobster's cheddar bay biscuits... Italian restaurant's bread sticks or garlic breads.... Red Robbins endless fries..... You get the picture! 

6.  Coupons-  Keep an eye out for them.  Buy one Entree Get one Free are the best!  Also, sign up for Birthday clubs.  Many places will give you a free Meal or a BOGO on or around your Birthday.  Some of the coupons are even good for the entire month.  (Some good Birthday sign ups are Red Robbin, Culvers, Picanna, Hu-Hot, Coldstone, and Dairy Queen off the top of my head)

7.  Kids Meals-   Some places have certain nights where kid's eat free.  That is obviously a great way to feed the kids if they are tagging along.  We have decided to think outside of the box on the whole kid's meal thing though.  We rarely order kid's meals for our kids.  We find that we are almost always better off portion wise to order an adult meal and split it between our 3 kids.  (I know we will only be able to get away with this for so long but I will take it for now.)  When I place the order, I let them know the kids will be sharing it and ask for 3 small extra plates.  It almost always ends up costing less than ordering the individual kid's meals. 

Example/Picture time: Last weekend we were bored, cold, and having trouble finding a last minute babysitter, so we went on a little adventure as a family to Texas Roadhouse.  To feed all 5 of us (and have I mentioned yet that the kids eat just as much as I do?).... No, let me re-phrase that.  To STUFF all 5 of us, our total bill came to $21.08 plus tip.  It was a fun night!

Paul couldn't crack the peanuts fast enough for this kid!

Boy loves peanuts! 

The ladies side of the table

"What!?  I can throw food on the floor here??"

2 Pulled pork meals.  We used the extra rolls that come in the beginning to make sandwiches for the kids and ended up having more fries than we were able to eat!

Of course I pull apart my food before I eat it. 


A little after-meal coloring for our little artist.

Yee-haw!  What a night! 

Side Note- We don't ALWAYS follow these guidelines.... Every once in a while we splurge for a drink or dessert on a special occasion. Where is your favorite place to eat or find a great deal?

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your frugal finds especially so now that you have three kiddos! Great idea!!! :-) We're huge on coupons and birthday deals out to eat... Or just enjoying the outing of things like 49 cent ice cream cones at mcdonalds :-) we sound very similar as we love to go out to eat but our strict with our budget. keep the ideas coming!