1. Order cheaply. Stick to sensibly-priced entrees and skip the drinks, appetizers and desserts.
2. If you are eating with one other person, split an appetizer and an entree instead of each ordering an entree. Restaurant portions are big enough you will still have plenty to eat.
3. Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. The prices are almost always lower but the portions still as big.
4. Have dinner at home and go out for dessert. Add a glass of wine and your tab will still be lower than eating a full meal out.
5. Buy discounted gift certificates from Restaurant.com, but watch out for tight restrictions on redeeming the certs. The usual deal is $10 for a $25 certificate, but sign up for their email updates and you will get coupons for 50% to 80% off that $10 rate.
6. Halfoffdeals.com sells gift certificates to restaurants (and a few spas and golf courses) for half price and has many fewer restrictions than Restaurant.com.
7. Buy the Entertainment Book, which is stocked with 2-for-1 offers and 50% off deals at many fast casual restaurants. Check that you enjoy eating at the restaurants that are included. Many chains participate, but the coupons are not good at every single location.
8. Become a member of AAA. The cards will get you 10% to 20% off at select restaurants.
9. Take advantage of senior discounts. If you don’t see a sign, ask!
10. Eat at places that serve kids for free.
11. When you eat in a group, instead of splitting the bill evenly and subsidizing your buddies drinks (assuming you ordered cheaply), have cash ready to generously cover your share plus tax and tip. Give it directly to whoever is handling the bill and say “This generously covers my share with tax and tip. I hope you don’t mind taking it into account before splitting the bill.” Yes, your friends will call you cheap. But do it enough times and they will get used to it.
12. At Mexican restaurants, order sides of rice and beans. It will be a filling meal, albeit a vegetarian one.
13. Pick cheap places to eat. It’s an obvious one that can make a big difference. If you live in Los Angeles, each week I write about one place where you can get a $5 Lincoln Lunch.