Let’s face it.  Eating out is a “luxury” that we in the United States view more as a need.  Socializing often revolves around eating out.  After a hard week, what do we want to do to relax?  Leave the kitchen behind and relax with a fun meal out.  The problem with this plan is that eating out can quickly empty the pocketbook!
Here are some of the tips that we follow to allow us to continue eating out while maintaining our budget.

1. Look for discounts:
~Often restaurants will offer discounts through employers or organizations.  We have found this to be particularly true of locally run businesses.  For example, a local pizza place offers large pizzas for $10 (a savings of over 50%) when I show my work ID.
~Use daily deal sites (Groupon, LivingSocial, etc) to try something new or hunt for great deals on your favorite spots!  I recently bought a $20 gift certificate to a newly opened pizza place for only $10.
~Sometimes the Sunday newspaper will have restaurant coupons, too.  Common ones I’ve found include Logans Steakhouse, IHOP, McDonald’s, and Perkins.
~Sign up for loyalty programs.  By going to your favorite restaurant’s website and entering your email address, you can often receive coupons for free items and a lot of places will send you coupons for your birthday or anniversary!
~Be aware of daily specials.  Do you really love the cheeseburger at your local diner?  See if they have it on special one day of the week.  Our local pub has $3 burgers on Wednesday nights.  The regular price of the burger is $6.95, so we save almost $12 by going there on Wednesdays!
2. Make it 2 meals for the price of one:
~Restaurant portions are hugely oversized.  No wonder we have an obesity epidemic!  We think that we are required to “clean our plate!”  I always “clean my plate,” but I clean half of it into a to-go box! 🙂
~At many restaurants, entrees are served with a salad and bread.  Fill up on those items (to further fill up, drink that glass of water they bring you while you’re waiting for your “real” beverage) and then when you get your entree immediately split it in half.  Voila!  Lunch or dinner for the next day!  This will save your pocketbook AND your waistline!
3.  Opt out of alcohol
~Beverages at restaurants are one of their biggest money-makers and one of the biggest drains on the pocketbook.  A bottle of beer at a restaurant can easily be $3-5 depending on the brand.  Considering that a 12-pack of the same beer is often around $12 ($1/bottle), saving the booze drinking for home or at least limiting yourself to one drink is a HUGE cost-saver.
4. Order appetizers
~This comes back to the portion size again.  Consider having each person order an appetizer rather than an entree and then share them around the table.  Prices on appetizers are often less than half what you would pay for an entree.

So, with a little planning and strategizing, you can continue to enjoy your night out.  In fact, you’ll enjoy it more if you know you’re not breaking the bank while you do it!!