Earlier this year, Americans started spending more money eating out than they spend on groceries. It was the first time that has happened since the U.S. Department of Commerce started collecting such data.
By this summer, the price of a restaurant meal had jumped 3% compared with one year prior.
But rising restaurant costs don’t mean you have to give up the occasional meal out. These tips can help you cut the cost of eating out by more than half.
1. Buy a Discount Gift Certificate
You might not hear about them as much because their novelty has worn off, but websites like Restaurants.com are still around. They sell discounted restaurant gift certificates that can drastically cut the cost of dining out.
Buy the gift certificates online, and then print them out at home. Or, simply display them on your mobile device.
Discount websites like Groupon and LivingSocial also sell similar dining deals.
Here is an extra tip: Make any purchases from Restaurants.com or sites like Groupon and LivingSocial via a cash-back portal. They pay you to shop online by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back — for example, via a check or PayPal deposit.
Such portals include Ebates, Extrabux, QuickRewards and FatWallet.
2. Join AAA or AARP
AAA membership benefits include discounts at some restaurants. By eating at those restaurants, you can also earn AAA dollars, which help pay for your membership renewal.
AARP member benefits include discounts at certain national restaurant chains and on Restaurant.com certificates.
3. Join Email Lists
Many eateries — from sit-down restaurants to fast-food joints and ice-cream chains — have an email list they use to notify subscribers of deals.
Look for a sign-up option on the websites of your favorite restaurants and other restaurants you would like to try.
4. Use Social Media to Get Discounts
Some eateries share discounts via social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Other places offer discounts or freebies to customers who “check in” via location-based social media networks such as Foursquare (which calls them check-in specials) and Yelp (which calls them check-in offers).
5. Take Advantage of Your Birthday
Some eateries with email lists ask for your birthday upon sign-up and send you a freebie to celebrate each year. Others toss in a freebie like dessert if you ask.
6. Dine During Off-Hours
Pick a restaurant with lunch or early bird specials. Some restaurants also offer specials on certain weekdays.
7. Don’t Walk in Starving
Yes, hunger is what brings us to restaurants. But just as you’re liable to spend more on groceries when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’re likely to order too much if you walk into a restaurant famished.
8. Beware of Menu Mind Tricks
Studies show that certain menu characteristics make customers more likely to spend more, according to Mental Floss magazine.
Examples include putting photos next to menu items, using fancy language and omitting dollar signs from prices.
9. Rethink Your Drink
Over the past 30 years, the price of alcohol in stores has gone down when adjusted for inflation, while the price of alcohol at restaurants and bars has gone up, NPR reports.
Even if a restaurant allows you to bring your own booze, you might still end up paying more than you expect.
Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University, explains in his economics blog that one reason some restaurants adopt BYOB policies is that many customers who bring alcohol drink coffee to sober up before leaving the restaurant:
Letting people bring their own bottle boosts coffee sales. Coffee has a very high markup and this increases profits. Plus, coffee drinkers sometimes order dessert, which has a higher markup than main courses.
Zagorsky says coffee markups can be 300% and soda markups can be up to 90%, so consider asking for water first.
10. Eat Dessert at Home
This is especially smart if you plan to eat a simple dessert like ice cream. The carton you bought at the grocery store can be just as tasty for a fraction of the price.
Even if you’re in the mood for a slice of cake, single servings generally can be found in a grocery store’s bakery department or frozen-dessert aisle for less than the cost of a slice at a restaurant.
11. Shop Online for a Discounted Gift Card
You can buy gift cards for less than their face value on websites devoted to helping people sell unwanted cards. Examples of these online marketplaces cited by Consumer Reports include Cardpool, GiftCardRescue andMonsterGiftCard.
Just watch out for deals that are too good to be true.
12. Pay With a Rewards Credit Card
If you eat out often, look into rewards credit cards that give a greater percentage of cash back for such purchases. You can figure out if a cash-back rewards credit card is right for you with this guide. You can see all the winners of the Best Cash Rewards Credit Cards in America here.
This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.
More from Money Talks News:
- Price of Average Restaurant Meal Jumps
- Full-Service Restaurants Can Be Worse for Health Than Fast Food
- America’s Best Loved — and Most Loathed — Fast-Food Chains