On numerous occasions it’s been suggested that I keep the take-out menu drawer organized and within reach…you accidentally forget to take the giblet bag out of the turkey one Thanksgiving, and it sticks with you for the rest of your life! Well, there was also the great cinnamon overload of 2011, which sent my co-workers running for the water fountain, but I still blame that one on the recipe. Either way, it’s obvious that cooking isn’t for me, and so I generally prefer to eat out. However, dining out can get expensive if not handled with care. So, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years for my fellow cooking challenged friends living on a tight budget:
- Plan your dinner time around a happy hour. Restaurants often have specials like free appetizers with a purchase of an entrée or $5 off coupons/groupons. The free appetizer deal is my personal favorite because it means I’ll be too full to eat my entire meal, which means I just paid for tomorrow night’s dinner, too! Another bonus of the scheduling around Happy Hour…there’s alcohol.
- If late night dinners are more your speed, you’re not totally out of luck. Bars and restaurants often offer specials for the late night crowd- $2 slices, discounted chef creations and in some cases, a specific late night menu. If you bat your eyelashes, you may even wind up with a few extras on the house so be sure and ask for a doggie bag.
- Although buffets aren’t exactly my idea of a good time, there is no denying that you get a lot for your money. While there is typically a pretty good variety, it’s mostly fried and loaded with calories. Still, it’s not a bad occasional option number three. And let’s not forget the most exciting part of the buffet dinner- the all-you-can-eat dessert bar. Enjoy yourself today, and hit the gym hard tomorrow!
- For option number four, I suggest signing up to attend a gallery opening, business mixer, or open house because there is ALWAYS free food. The price of admission can be anywhere from free to $50+, but if you’re smart about it, you’ll never spend more than a few bucks. For example, if you know the host or hostess you can probably finagle yourself some free passes. This option is particularly nice because not only will you get dinner, but you have the opportunity to socialize, which if you play your cards right, could lead to more free dinners in the future, if you know what I mean.
The occasional hallmark holiday can help a wise budgeter out, too. For example, September 18th is National Cheese Burger Day, which means that there’s all sorts of delicious burger deals. Last year, many restaurants and bars offered bargains like free mini cheese burgers with dine in service or one free cheese burger with every alcoholic beverage. February 22nd is National Margarita Day and in addition to drink specials, many restaurants also offer dinner deals. I personally celebrated this wonderful holiday at On the Border, where I enjoyed a few tasty $3 margaritas and all you can eat tacos for $9. It’s not something I’m proud of, but they were delicious, and I hit the gym extra hard the next morning. Google your favorite food to find out if it has a holiday and see what deals you can find.