10 Tips To Save Money At Restaurants

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I love to eat out, who doesn’t? The experience and the taste is just something I can’t get at home. The problem is, eating out tends to be the biggest expenses in our budgets when it comes to disposable income.

It’s definitely worth enjoy a meal out now and it doesn’t have to break the bank.

Save money at restaurants with these tips

Daily specials – Many restaurants now offer daily specials and they can offer incredible value. Half price wing nights, kids eat free, whatever; get in the habit of knowing what deals are available at your favourite restaurant. Some restaurants even put out a daily special with a reduced price to test potential new menu items, so pay attention to those chalk boards.

Individual bills – Unless someone is paying or everyone ordered the exact same meal, separate bills should be asked for every time. Entrées have different prices, some people ordered extra food and others have drinks. Why should I have to subsidize the cost of your meal by splitting the bill evenly? That makes no sense.

Eat ethnic food – Canadian food is incredibly expensive, well it’s expensive by my standards. I’m Chinese so growing up I ate a lot of dim sum which is incredibly cheap– you can feed a family of four under $35. It’s not just Chinese food that’s cheap, most ethic food in general is much cheaper than family restaurants.

Save money at restaurants by eating ethnic food

Drink Water – Not bottled, not sparkling, not vitamin, drink plain tap water since it’s free. Drinks are where restaurants make their money. Even the cheapest drink is marked up by at least 300%; heck bottom shelf liquor gets marked up by over 1000% This is the easiest way to save money at restaurants. Stick to water, the free kind.

No extras – Forget upgrading to a caesar salad, or adding bacon or cheese to your burger. Gravy? No ketchup’s fine. Upgrades are a big thing for restaurants since it increases their profit margins. Of course, it’ll also decrease the size of your wallet. I have to admit though I’m a pretty big sucker when it comes to poutine at Harvey’s– I’ll upgrade every time.

Skip appetizers and dessert – It’s not just the savings that matters, it’s the portion control. Meal sizes are getting bigger so is there really a need to order an appetizer? Dessert might be tempting but if you’re already full what’s the point? The worst is when you order a dessert and it’s not what you expected– it ruins the whole experience. If you want dessert just have some when you go home.

Go for lunch – Lunch is almost always cheaper than going out for dinner so why not take advantage of it? Heck most places even offer special during the mid-afternoon so going anytime before the normal supper hour will help you save you money at restaurants.

save money by going for lunch instead of dinner

Tip accordingly – Unless you had the worst service ever, you should always tip. That being said pay attention to how tips are calculated when paying by debit of credit. When the terminals prompt you to tip by %, it’s calculating it on the total price of your meal e.g. after tax. Tips should be calculated before tax.

Use coupons – Coupons are awesome and you should use them if you have them. Seriously, why pay full price when you don’t have to? Using coupons is probably the easiest way to save money at restaurants. Exceptions do apply. If you’re on a first date, don’t use coupons. Better yet don’t use them for the first 10 dates.

Buy gift cards – Many restaurants will throw in some extra credit or offer you something free when purchasing a gift card, so be on the lookout for any promotions. If you’re a Costco also offers some restaurant gift cards at a reduced price e.g. $100 worth of gift cards for only $80.

Gift cards are only good if you actually plan on using them. If you’ve been given a gift card you probably won’t use, try CardSwap.ca to trade for one that you will use.

Final word
It’s easy to save money at restaurants without cutting into the experience– just don’t let your cheapness ruin it. Unlimited salad and bread is fantastic, but don’t abuse it.

Do you have any other tips to save money at restaurants? Leave a comment below.

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Image courtesy: KellyB / Flickr

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi


  1. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on May 25, 2015 at 9:33 PM

    Some restaurants put out salty appetizers so you’ll order drinks (and spend more) which I try to avoid. Another easy way to save is to split the main dish; when I was in New York I was blown away by how big the portion sizes were and we would order a main dish and then split it since it was double what most people could eat

  2. Barry Choi on May 26, 2015 at 7:42 AM


    American sizes are not to be messed with! Definitely share mains down south, but no one touches my dessert.

  3. Christine on May 29, 2015 at 1:23 PM

    I hate it when people suggest splitting the bill evenly. I don’t eat meat and veggie options are usually cheaper but I end up paying more when this happens. Also when I order a pint of something domestic and someone else gets a $12 cocktail. I bring it up when it’s appropriate but most times people look at me like I’m splitting hairs.

    • Barry Choi on May 30, 2015 at 10:36 AM


      Splitting bills evenly should happen if meals were actually similar in price. You shouldn’t have to subsidize other people’s meals

  4. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist on May 30, 2015 at 10:48 PM

    You’re totally right about the drinks! I went to the Mandarin and they charged $4 for milk. Talk about mark up! I could buy 4 liters of milk for that much instead of just a glass!

    • Barry Choi on May 31, 2015 at 3:21 AM


      Okay that’s expensive even for a restaurant. Of and there are much better places to get Chinese food than The Mandarin.

  5. Cristina ✈ (@travelingjourno) on May 30, 2015 at 10:52 PM

    I often ask for water at restaurants when I travel. In Europe, the waiters seem to frown on it and decide they “don’t have any”. It should be illegal to bottle a natural resource that comes from the ground.

    • Barry Choi on May 31, 2015 at 3:23 AM


      Yes this is a big problem when traveling. In some countries I’ve been to, alcohol is cheaper than water or pop.

  6. andrew on June 10, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    i get a bit peeved when the waiter doesn’t tell you that gratuity is charged..and you don’t look over the bill..and you tip them on top of gratuity. I guess, i should have checked my bill.

    • Barry Choi on June 10, 2015 at 5:42 PM


      That is the worst! I always double check my bill before paying anything.

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