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How To Save On Dining Out (10 tips so you never have to skip date night)

We love going out to eat, but it is getting so expensive. Don’t sacrifice your date night. Just be creative and find out How To Save On Dining Out with the 10 tips in this post.

For more ways to save, check out all of our frugal posts.

A man and a woman in a booth at a crab boil restaurant with food on the table in front of them and the words "How To Save On Dining Out (So you don't have to skip date night)" digitally written above them.

I love going out to eat. It’s usually my go to idea when we are trying to figure out what to do for date night. And when we go on vacation, the first thing I plan is where we’re going to eat. I start scouring Instagram using that city’s hashtags to plan our menu.

But the truth is, dining out can get really expensive if you do it often. Food costs are up and restaurant owners are passing along the costs to consumers.

Oh sure, there are fast food joints and dollar menus. But even those dollar menus don’t have anything for a dollar anymore.

And, if you are finally heading out to eat, you don’t want to look the menu up and down so you can order the cheapest item. You want to enjoy whatever you’re having and not worry about prying a lock off your wallet when the restaurant bill comes.

You can make a few conscious decisions before you go out to eat so you can save when you are there. And if you thought about these beforehand, you won’t have to worry about them when you’re looking at the menu.

A plate of barbecue from Voyager's Smokehouse in SeaWorld with the words "Everything You Need To Know About SeaWorld Orlando All Day Dining" digitally written on top.

When we went to SeaWorld a few years ago, we bought the all day dining pass. That really helped when dining at the park because we paid one flat rate and then ate all day. Find out more about that in our SeaWorld: All Day Dining post.

How To Save On Dining Out

Affiliate links are included in this sponsored post and Drugstore Divas may make a small commission if you use them.

Fried gyoza and sauce in a to go container from Fusion Express in Abbeville, SC.

Look for restaurant coupons.

If you’re heading to chain restaurants, you can easily check a restaurant’s social media pages or website to see if there are any special offers available. The deals are usually advertised there, and they’ll tell you the details of the promotion.

A quick example: Outback Steakhouse posted on its Facebook page that it’s celebrating National Onion Day by giving away a free Bloomin’ Onion per table. All you have to do is purchase an adult entree and say, “National Onion Day” to your server. The hostess isn’t going to mention that when you’re getting seated, so it is something you want to know ahead of time.

If you aren’t sure where you want to go eat and you’re letting a coupon dictate for you, you can head over to MySavings, a savings website that has a section designated for restaurant coupons. You can scroll through there quickly, find the best coupon, print it, and save a bunch.

A Domino's pizza gift card.

Buy restaurant gift cards.

Restaurants all compete for your business. That’s the reality of it. So, they often try to lure you in by offering bonus gift cards when you buy a gift card. This happens a lot around Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduation. Restaurants, like Carrabba’s Italian Grill, will offer two bonus $10 gift cards when you purchase a $50 gift card. So that’s $20 in free food.

The only catch with those is that the bonus cards can only be used during a specific time period, so you need to make sure you’re able to get to the restaurant during that time frame.

Another option is to buy a gift card through a cash-back apps, like Ibotta. Right now, Ibotta is having a deal where you can get up to 15% cash back on gift cards. The cash-back app sells gift cards for both stores and restaurants. So, just scroll to find the restaurant you want to dine at and purchase the gift card through the app. If you get 15% cash back, that’s basically like saving 15% on your final bill.

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Buy discounted gift certificates.

Have you ever tried It’s a way to easily buy discounts at restaurants.

You search by zip code and find participating restaurants in your area. Pick the one you want, then buy a discounted voucher. You can purchase ones like a $25 certificate for $5. That’s a huge savings. Each restaurant has its own stipulations for the voucher (some have a minimum purchase requirement, others won’t let you use the voucher on alcoholic beverages, etc.), so you want to read the fine print before you purchase.

Wait for a discount code before you purchase, so you can get the vouchers at even lower prices. Then, use them any time you feel like going out to eat.

Using when you’re traveling is really helpful too. When you’re on vacation, there are usually so many restaurants to choose from. So choosing one where you can save over one where you can’t is an easy way to narrow it down.

Two men sitting at a table with beer at an Outback Steakhouse.

Go during happy hour.

One of our favorite restaurants to bring guests to has a tapas hour. If you sit in the bar area, you can get discounted tapas during specific hours. And the tapas (small plates) are exactly the same as when they’re full price or discounted.

The restaurant we went to for our anniversary last week does half priced oysters from 5 pm to 6 pm, the first hour the restaurant is open. The oysters have to be ordered by 6 pm, but you don’t have to be paying your tab at 6 pm. If you can time your meal to be while the happy hour specials are happening, you’ll save a bunch of money.

Some restaurants will offer daily specials, like Outback Steakhouse and its Walkabout Wednesday promotion. Each Wednesday, you can get a steak or piece of chicken, a side, and a beer (or soda) for only $13.99. That’s so much cheaper than what it is all the other days of the week. So, if you can go out to eat on that day, you can save a lot of money.

A pint glass of beer on the bar at Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham, NC.

Skip the drinks.

I only ever drink water, so I never have to worry about paying for drinks when I go out to eat. If you like water too, just order tap water with your meal. You can order bottled water, if you prefer, but you’ll usually have to pay for that (and it’s sometimes the cost of a fountain drink). You can always drink your soda at home, where it is much less money.

But if you do want a cocktail or glass of wine with your meal, go somewhere that has deals. “It’s always happy hour at Chili’s,” we were told once, meaning drinks are always 2-for-1 there. So you’re only paying for half your drinks that way. That’s a lot better than full price.

A prize of free chicken nuggets showing on a phone via the Chick-fil-A mobile app.

​Download the restaurant’s app.

It’s a good idea to download a restaurant’s app if you like saving.

Most fast food restaurants will have constant deals in the app. Not all of the deals are really that good, but there are often perks for having the app and those are really good.

This month, Burger King celebrated its 70th birthday. And, if you have the BK app, you can play the Bubble Burst Game. Beat all 7 levels and you can get 400 Crowns, which is Burger Kings rewards points. You can turn those in for free items, like burgers, coffee, fries, and more.

And, also this month, to celebrate its new menu item, Hardee’s gave out three piece chicken tenders for free to app users. Three times this month. That’s nine chicken tenders for free just because you had and ordered through the app. I say this a lot, but whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch doesn’t follow Drugstore Divas.

Chick-fil-A has a similar game in its app last summer. If you played, you earned a reward for free chicken nuggets, a chicken sandwich, and more. The reward was added to your account via your app, so you needed the app to play and redeem your prize.

A Starbucks cold brew with cold foam on a counter.

Join the loyalty program.

Many fast food restaurants and coffee shops have loyalty programs tied to their apps. Programs like Dunkin’ Rewards will reward you for your purchases, and that’s a great way to get free items in the future.

When you pay with a gift card or credit card that’s in your app, you earn points that earn you free coffee and food items. If you’re already going to that coffee shop or fast food restaurant anyway, you might as well earn points for your purchases so you can get free food or drinks next time you go. 

There are often rewards that are available for members as well. This month, Starbucks rewards members can get BOGO handcrafted drinks every Friday from noon to 6 pm. You might not need two drinks on a Friday, but you can save one for Saturday. Or, you can take your spouse or a friend with you and treat them with the free drink.

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​Tell them when your birthday is.

There are so many restaurants that want to celebrate your special day. We actually have a really long list of birthday freebies, filled with free meals and other treats, so you should check that out before your birthday.

Starbucks gives you a free drink on your birthday. Panera Bread gives you a free pastry that’s good during your birthday week. Wendy’s gives you a free Frosty or Frosty Cold Brew during your birthday month.

Different restaurants have different offers available, so you need to sit down with the list and do a little planning to figure out the most effective way to get all your birthday freebies. But hey, it’s free food, and that’s the best.

A Bojangles to go bag in front of a Bojangles restaurant.

Pick it up yourself.

If you’re ordering from a restaurant but eating at home, it feels easy enough to choose a restaurant to deliver to you. That way, you don’t have to get dressed or go out into the world.

But, before you hit “complete” on your Grubhub order, take a look at the final price. There are convenience and service fees added on top of your order.

Plus, most items that you order via a third-party app, or just for delivery via meal delivery services, are marked up compared to the price you’d get if you picked it up. We did a comparison to see the prices between ordering McDonald’s for pickup and for delivery and, I kid you not, it was triple the price to have the food delivered. 

Even with pizza delivery. We’re all used to ordering pizza on a Friday night when you’re exhausted from the work week, but there’s an additional fee on to go orders. That adds up quickly and can really sabotage your food budget.

So, one of the easiest ways to save is to just go to the restaurant and pick up your order and bring it home. Yes, it’s a minor inconvenience because you have to leave the house, but you end up saving so much money, so it’s worth it.

A small bag of fries from McDonald's on a napkin.

Go on National Days.

A trend we’ve been seeing lately is chain and local restaurants offering promotions on National Day. National Doughnut Day used to be the biggest one. You could get free doughnuts, just as a good way to celebrate — and for restaurants to get you into the doughnut shop, hoping you’d spend some extra money on a drink or more treats.

Now, there are so many, from National Smoothie Day (June 21) to National French Fry Day (coming up on the second Friday in July) to International Talk Like A Pirate Day (where you can get free fish or chicken at Long John Silver’s).

If you check out our list of the Top 20+ National Days For Freebies And Deals to mark your calendar for all the free food. Just try your best to head over for the free item and leave without purchasing anything else. If you let the restaurant upsell you, you ruin your savings.

What are your best tips to save on dining out? Let us know in the comments.