Even though cooking at home is always cheaper (and usually healthier!) eating out doesn't have to be un-frugal! Who doesn't enjoy a nice dinner date or meeting up with friends at your favorite restaurant!
Here's a "HOW TO" for eating out and maximizing your dollar!
1) Sign up for the Restaurants.com email list to receive email updates to buy restaurant gift-certificates to your favorite local restaurants for a fraction of the menu price.
Just type in your zip code and search the dozens of participating restaurants that pop up on your screen. Restaurants.com does have a minimum purchase; for example at LePeep (in Evanston), a $25 certificate could be used only with a minimum of $35 purchase.
2) Only buy when it's 80% off - this happens once a month, wait for that sale and then stock up!
3) ALWAYS purchase through a cash-back program like EBATES.COM or FatWallet.com. Compare both cash-back percentages and go with the higher percent. Compare cash back % here!
4) Pay for your online purchase with a rewards credit card such Chase Rewards or Discover Card. We'll discuss the best rewards cards in a post...coming soon!
My husband and I bought a gift certificate to LePeep ($3 for $25 off), and we order $35.00 of food, paying only $10.00 to LePeep. (add $6 for tip)...here's how it breaks down into dollars and cents:
Regular eating out price: (35 for food, 6 for tip) + tax = $41.00 + tax
Restaurants.com price: $10 (to LePeep) + $6 (for tip) + $3 (to Restaurants.com) = $19.00 + tax
(Let's say I also purchased the gift card for $3 through Fat Wallet Cash-back (24%) and received back .72 cents.)
So buying ahead of time not only saves more than 50%, but it also earns accumulated cash back from online cash-back programs and of course you would pay the restaurant bill with a rewards credit card to earn extra bonus credit-card points!
For non "Restaurant.com" restaurants - Use Groupons!!
Other options for frugal eating can be purchased through Groupon.com. This site features a daily deal in your area, for 30-90% off their normal prices. Groupon.com is a new great way to try new restaurants, bars, cafes and more in your area and you can also purchase your Groupons through Ebates.com/FatWallet or other cash-back programs (you should always be making the most of your dollar!).
Recently we snagged a couple Groupons for Sushi places near us and of course one of our favorites, The Little Mexican Cafe. These were listed as $10.00 for $25.00 worth of food. Eating out for more than 50% off always sounds like a good idea to me! For fun and experienced Groupon advice, follow the 'Live-off Groupon Blog' for Chicago Native Josh's Groupon adventures!
Always look for coupons in your mailbox....or look the "Entertainment Book" that has exclusive local coupons for dining, movies and businesses in your area. You can buy this online, usually free shipping with extensive cash-back. These books usually feature coupons for 'buy one get one entrée free' for restaurants - It's a great way to save. They also make great gifts! Currently you can buy the 2011 book with $7 off normal price, free shipping and 35% cash back through Ebates.
Take advantage of Holiday offers:
Bravo Cucina Italiana in Evanston is a favorite of mine,...and it's less than a block from my living room, so I love it that much more! For the holidays they are encouraging folks to buy gift cards as gifts and giving you an extra $20 for every $100 you spend on gift cards. This would be the time to stock up!
Let's say you eat at Bravo 5 times a year....(estimate about $50 each meal) so thus $250.00 would be your normal Bravo annual spending. So, take this opportunity and purchase $200 of gift cards, (of course on your rewards credit card) get $40 in bonus Bravo Gift Cards.
And then when you dine at Bravo, always bring their coupons from their e-club called "CLUB BRAVO!" Join and right away receive a free appetizer! Mmmmmm! Be sure to enter in your special dates on their e-club like your Birthday and Anniversary for free entrée/dessert coupons!
Many restaurants have free e-clubs that mail you free coupons for desserts and appetizers. Go ahead and do some re-con....Google your favorite restaurants to find their e-clubs. Other holiday deals that come to mind are listed below:
California Pizza Kitchen: Buy $100 in gift cards, and get a free gift card for $20.
Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants (in Chicago, Minneapolis, DC, Vegas and Atlanta): From November 1 through December 30, 2010, you will be rewarded with a $25 Holiday Bonus Certificate for every $100 in gift cards you buy. You can buy these online too! (Includes restaurants listed here)
The point is, living frugally doesn't mean you can't go out and live it up on the town! Be smart and use those frugal resources that are available to you online and around the town!
Use your student I.D.
Are you a student or do you work for a school, college, or university? Whip out that Student ID and get your well-deserved discounts!
Northwestern University: Many restaurants in Evanston offer 10% off your total bill for showing your Northwestern University WildCard (even for faculty and staff)! Here's a list of restaurants that give discounts for Wildcards! Check with your college or university to make the most of your faculty or student status!
Have a question or idea? Email me or leave a comment! Thanks!