4 tricks for food-lovers on a budget

It's nice to have someone else cook every once in awhile, but it's also pricey. But foodies have discovered some easy ways to eat out on the cheap. Here's how:

4 tricks for food-lovers on a budget

Cash in on offers

  • Keep an eye out for special offers that will make your meal a real steal — such as two for the price of one.
  • Watch local newspapers for special offers and coupons, especially early in the year when business is slow. You may have to choose from a set menu and drinks will be extra, but you could find yourself enjoying a two-course meal at a good restaurant for just $10 or $15 a head.
  • Regularly check local city websites for inexpensive but delicious dining options. They may offer printable coupons and special deals as well.

Avoid high wine prices

  • One of the major expenses when eating out is the wine, so you can make a substantial saving by bringing your own bottle to establishments that allow this. However, do be aware that most BYO restaurants levy a "corkage charge" — a charge decided by the management for serving wine brought by customers.
  • Check before you dine to avoid paying more than you bargained for.
  • Instead of taking two bottles, perhaps take one large one.

Timing is everything

  • Save up to half the cost of a meal by visiting a restaurant for lunch instead of dinner. The average cost of a meal at a well-known restaurant is $30, but the two-course lunchtime menu is just $15 a head.
  • Go in the evening during the week, when cut-price set menus may be on offer, instead of on the weekend when prices are often higher.

The early bird gets the deal

Go for the early-bird special, served in the early evening when restaurants are traditionally slow. You'll get the same food that will be served later on, but sometimes at special prices, especially if you're a senior.

Be a pioneer diner

You can often pay less for a gourmet meal by visiting new restaurants soon after they open. Prices are naturally lower before a new venue develops its reputation. This can be a bit of a gamble, but if you watch the reviews in the dining sections of the local and national papers, you can get some idea of what to expect and a price guide.

Take the set menu

To reduce the bill, it's worth giving the restaurant's prix fixe menu a try instead of choosing your own dishes. Set menus are designed to charge a little less and still give you a delicious culinary experience.

How much to tip?

  • Make sure that service isn't already included in your bill and don't be embarrassed to ask if it's not clear. It often is, especially if you're a group of more than six people.
  • Give tips to reward good service: 15 percent to 20 percent before tax is the usual amount, or 25 percent or more if the service has been exceptional.

Eating out is often a luxury, but that doesn't mean it should drain your wallet. By doing a little research and knowing when to go, you could enjoy top quality dining experience at a fraction of the price.

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