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Dining Out For Less – Try These 5 Tips

In these days of high energy prices and higher grocery costs, you may wonder if there are any ways to make the cost of dining out a bit more affordable.

Some Good News

A more affordable dinner seems to be getting more prohibitive  — by the minute – in terms of price.  Well, there is some good news for you. If perhaps you are willing to work just a bit to accomplish a less expensive meal when you head out to a restaurant.

It’s not really work per se, but getting anything done more cheaply today requires that you spend some time doing a bit of research.  Believe me, it can pay off!!

Tip #1: Dine When Others Don’t

This is almost a no-brainer, but Fridays and Saturdays have always been the nights to dine out.  If you have ever tried to get a last-minute reservation or simply just go without one on one of these nights, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.  The results are no fun.

So why not go out on one of the nights that are typically slower at many restaurants?  There are venues that offer specials on both meals and beverages (Happy Hour) on typical off nights during the week.  A little snooping and these nights and specials are easily located.

By the way, for those diners with families, there are numerous places that offer discounted or – sometimes – even free meals for the kids on these nights as well.  And, if you can find a way to combine these nights with either an Entertainment Coupon or an OpenTable reservation – or both – you’re now working on a triple-whammy! (see Tips #4 and #5 below)

Tip #2: Check the Website

Person Using Android Smartphone
Photo by Tofros.com on Pexels

Before you blindly walk into a new restaurant for dinner, take a moment or two to look online and see if a menu is part of the website of your intended destination.  If so, see what is included with the price of the dinner.

Many restaurants have entree prices that seem expensive. That is, until you notice that the entree comes with soup, salad, main course, veggie, and potato – sometimes even dessert.  Others offer only the entrée, and the rest is a la carte. This leads to a much-inflated check at the end of the meal!

If a menu is not available, make a quick phone call to the restaurant to find out.  It just might save you enough to have that special dessert after all!

We’ve compiled a list of the Fox Valley restaurants that have websites and linked to them! You can view the restaurants of Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles all from our website!

Tip #3: Frequent Diner Rewards.

Many programs are available – Mileage Plus (United Airlines) for instance – that will reward the dining member with miles or points once a credit card is registered and then used at specific restaurants that are also registered in the program.  Just two of many examples: McDonald’s has a Rewards Program and Lettuce Entertain You has a Frequent Diner Club in which points are earned.  Rewards are earned in all of these programs.  Obviously, it takes time to build points…  But even if you are an infrequent diner, the points will build eventually, and the rewards are there.  So why not take advantage of them?

Tip #4: Use Coupons

This may in fact sound quite easy, and I suspect that many of you will say: “I already do that!”  However, the days when we used to comb the newspaper for coupons should be long gone… Or might be, that is, since more and more people are using their mouse or their fingers on a mobile device rather than doing the proverbial walk through a phone book.

Besides, newspapers and magazines cause a lot of clutter, and we often throw them – and the coupons they contain – out with the trash.  And it is also difficult to even remember just where we put the coupons after they have been clipped.  So, online things are easier, faster, cause no mess, and are available 24-7-365, especially when using a mobile device!  There are many places where coupons/certificates are available. All you have to do is take a moment to find them.

A few easy places to start: Entertainment.com, Groupon and Restaurant.com.  All can offer pretty deep discounts.  The only catch is you’re going to have to prepay to have access to these discounts or prepay for the coupon or certificate. Restaurant.com usually has discounts of 50% or more, and an Entertainment coupon can get you a complimentary $25 restaurant certificate! They offer more than 1200 dining venues in any given area, and hundreds more attractions (like movie theaters, bowling, museums, baseball and more…). The Entertainment membership will pay for itself after as few as a couple outings.  It’s important to browse their websites to see if they offer discounts at the restaurants you’d like to visit.

Tip #5: Get Paid to Make Online Reservations

When using the OpenTable service to make reservations and completing the service (i.e. actually going out to dinner at the place the reservation was made), the diner accumulates 100 points.  One thousand points are actually available when dining on a night when restaurants are less busy. By the way, it’s free to sign up for OpenTable and make a reservation.

(For instance, Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Naperville and Eddie Merlot’s in Warrenville offer 1,000 points on certain nights.)  And you can easily combine the effects of Tip #1 above with this one, to create the old “double dip” effect!

After accumulating 2,000 points, one earns a $10-25 restaurant discount, available to use at an OpenTable venue. 5,000 points will earn you a $25-60 discount!  Imagine buying a $25 gift certificate at Restaurant.com for $12.50 and making a reservation through OpenTable at your favorite restaurant. And then earning 1,000 points and paying for the remainder with your credit card that earns miles… all in the same night!!

Regardless of any discounts, always make sure, always make sure to appropriately tip your server based on the pre-tax total  before any coupons are applied. View an online tip calculator.


There are only two caveats that I would offer to accompany the above tips:

  • First, make certain to always read the fine print. If you read and are knowledgeable, the offers are incredibly good deals. Restaurant.com offers some great deals, but often drinks are not included in the deal. Gratuities are sometimes added automatically and there are set minimums required to get the deal. Also be Aware that many venues are now adding a “Platform Fee” (charge for using a credit card) at the end of the bill.
  • Second, do your homework before you head out. Knowledge is power.  And armed with some knowledge of how things work, you will be able to not only have great meals for better prices, but you can also save money. You will also get a handsome reward to boot.  Bon Appetite!


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