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Dining on a Dime in 2013: One Secret to Dining for Less

By Edited Jun 28, 2016 2 9

Are You Looking for a Way to Lower the Cost of Eating Out?

In this economy, any way to dine out for less is great. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy going out to eat? There is just something fun and relaxing, not to mention convenient, about it. But it can add up. Americans spend a significant amount eating out. The average cost is about $3372 a year. That’s about $281 per month[1] or about $64.85 each week. If that includes restaurant dining, a couple who goes out to a mainstream restaurant (think of favorites such as the Cheesecake factory and the like) once a week, can easily spend $40-$60 per visit or about $2980-$3120 a year. My husband and I are among those who like to dine out regularly. Ninety percent of the time we spend no more than $20, including drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic). That’s still a lot of eating out, but by holding to a budget of $20 per meal, we save $520 – $1560 per year.

What’s the “secret” to dining on a dime (Okay - maybe more like 200 dimes)?

Well there are many tips for eating out for less … and they’re not a secret, really. The one I’m focusing on today is part of an eating out series which will offer a variety tips designed to save you money when eating out. If you’re not already taking advantage of this tip, you can potentially save money too at your fave eatery.

Today’s “secret” is, THINKING SMALL. Small plates. Tapas. Appetizers. Bar bites. Happy hours. Whatever you call it, they can be good for your wallet. Go this route and you can have a wonderful evening dining out without the buyer’s remorse once it’s over. Sure, sometimes (but not all!) the portions are smaller, but that means your waistline can stay smaller too and your wallet heavier! Besides, many times the portions are still big enough to share, which means yummy variety. So go ahead and make a multi-course meal out of small plates, or have them all come out at once. Good times!

Examples of Dining on Small Plates for Less:

Bravo Cucina Italiana: This is my husband’s and my current favorite. Our local Bravo offers “Bar Bites,” Monday-Friday from 4-7 pm during their happy hour. Yes, you must sit in

Dining for Less at Bravo Cucina Italiana(127952)
 the bar area, but many restaurant bars also have booths and tables blurring the line between the bar and the restaurant experience. Just walk in and seat yourself. During warm weather you can take advant

age of “Bar Bites,” while eating al fresco on the patio! The bites menu includes a variety of food offerings all priced at $3.95 each, as well as $5 alcoholic beverages. The food ranges from shrimp to flatbread pizzas, to a 6 oz. burger with fries, and the drinks include cosmopolitans, martinis, mojitos, sangria and wine. We split a couple of well-portioned bar bites and each have a drink, and voilà, it’s a little less than $20! We love it. We do this with many places.


Bravo Cucina Italiana Gift Card
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Perfect for your cheap eats.

 Ruby Tuesday: Their happy hour begins at 4pm (can vary by location). They offer $5 drinks and appetizers in their bar area. In addition to the happy hour, Ruby Tuesday offers $5 “premium cocktails” all day! So if you’d rather eat in the main dining area, that’s a way to have drinks (including beer) with dinner. Nothing on their regular appetizer menu (called “Shareables”), however, is less that $7 (6.99) so your small plates dinner will cost a little more, but when we’ve done this, two appetizers were PLENTY and it was still less expensive than ordering two entrees.

The Cheescake Factory: This always-busy-at-dinner-and-weekends restaurant offers $5 appetizers and beverages during their happy hour, limited to weekdays, usually 4-6 pm (and not at all locations).  It’s not advertised on their website, so if you’re not sure, call ahead. I have found this bar area to be very crowded, like the restaurant, so get there right when it starts to snag a table or a spot at the bar. If you miss the happy hour, you can always enjoy the abundance of “small plates” options from $3.95 - $7.95. Alas, have water outside of the happy hour because the drink prices are just too expensive for me. If the choice is water or soda or a standard lemonade or iced tea, I just go for water. I find the taste of the fountain drinks to always be off. That’s just me. 

Eating Out for Dinner at Bravo's
Melting Pot: This one we love too! Anyone who has eaten (indulged, gorged) at the MP KNOWS that even if you share one cheese fondue, a dessert fondue and two soft drinks, you’re looking at $40! If you want an alcoholic beverage instead, the cost of your meal goes up to about $55. Yikes! Go to happy hour instead! It’s almost like having a Melting Pot coupon! During happy hour (like all places varies by location), if you eat at the bar and order off of the bar menu, the cheese and dessert fondues are $14 ($7/pp) instead of $18. They also have $6 drink specials. Some locations have a drink of the day special, while others offer a variety. When we go we’re typically diggin’ the cheese and can do without the chocolate (we can do without the fondue… get it...? Anyway).  So we go to the bar – which is very cool due to it having a burner unit for the fondue - and enjoy our cheese fondue and drinks for $26. The cheapie in me goes “grrr” that I can’t get it closer to $20…but unless I just have water, which is no fun (ha! Another pun! Fondue is no fun… get it?), I enjoy the fact that it’s still a bargain! And yes, you can be satisfied sharing one cheese fondue and having a drink. My husband and I are not waifs. He’s 6’3’’ and I like to eat.

 P.F. Changs: This is another fun noshing joint when we have a chance. It’s not close to us, or available everywhere, but where it’s offered it’s an opportunity to have some dim sum (ha! Another pun…oh never mind)! Their small plates, called dim sum, are plentiful in number and range from about $3.25-$6. The cocktails, wine, and beer are also in the $3-$6 range. Coincidently enough, the time of the happy hour is 3-6 pm (can vary by location).  A couple of beers and numerous small plates for $20. Love it!

These are just a few of the many, many examples out there to be discovered. It’s become a game with me. There are so many restaurants out there wanting, needing our business. It can even work at “fine dining” establishments like one of my local faves, Grille 3501 in Allentown, PA. Sure, there can be limits, such as certain hours, or days of the week, but the trade-off is worth it to us to be able to enjoy dinner out and a reasonable price.  I have rarely, if ever felt as if I was missing out by not ordering from the full dinner menu by going the small plates route, as I enjoy the idea of small plates and the immediate opportunity for variety. Here’s to small plates. The more the merrier!

Tell me about your favorite small bites place!



Feb 1, 2013 11:04pm
I hardly ever eat out except when I'm traveling, but I travel a lot and eating out really adds up. These are good, sensible tips. I agree with you on water. I always prefer water with my meals.
Feb 2, 2013 5:03pm
Thank you for the comment aguy! I agree...water with meals is helpful in so man ways.
Feb 3, 2013 10:31am
My daughter and her boyfriend visited the states last year and found the portion sizes to be enormous- in some cases sickening- they compromised and shared a meal as there is no way either of them could eat a full American restaurant meal!
Feb 3, 2013 3:18pm
Feb 20, 2013 3:09pm
Eating out is by far the largest expense for my wife and I. We try to utilize coupons whenever possible, but hitting happy hour is great advice as well. We have a place here called Roy's that is normally way too pricey for us for dinner, but we recently discovered they have a great happy hour from 4:30-6:30pm every day, even on weekends. $6 appetizers and drinks/martinis and $3 draft beers. Great way to enjoy a great place on the cheap.
Feb 21, 2013 9:45am
Thanks for commenting SandyBeachGuy! My husband and I are right there with you with trying to keep our eating out habit in check by using coupons. When we get buy one get one coupons to our favorite restaurants and actually order entrees instead of small plates, we still eat at the bar area so that we can enjoy the happy hour wine or beer prices. We also have a place like you describe above (Roy's) and without their happy hour drink specials and full-sized appetizers for half price, we would never go!
Mar 15, 2013 1:50pm
WOW! Awesome tips! My husband and I typically do lunches since they are less expensive and smaller portions. Thumbs Up!
Mar 15, 2013 8:21pm
Thank you for reading and commenting southerngirl09. ::) I'm happy that some of the tips were helpful. Eating out is a guilty pleasure for me and my husband so anything that saves us some money and helps maintain our waist lines, we're all for!
Feb 28, 2014 2:27pm
We like to go to vietnamese and korean restaurants which are really really cheap.
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  1. "Cost of Dining Out for people in U.S.." http://www.bundle.com/. 4/03/2013 <Web >

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