Most people enjoy eating out, but with the economy sluggish, it can be an expense that many families just can not afford on a regular basis. While it would be nice to have a home cooked meal every day, the fact is that in today's fast-paced society, there are many days where dinner comes at a restaurant table. So, how can you still work in the growing expense of eating out with kids? We do not eat out as much as we have in the past, but I have tried to stick to some "restaurant rules" to keep costs down while still enjoying a meal out. Of course, there are special occasions, but for the routine restaurant trip, I really attempt to stick to a budget.
Here are a few tips I try to follow:
Check out the kids' eat free deals and/or
coupons/Groupons/Entertainment books first before deciding where to go.
Unless it is someone's birthday meal and they have carte blanche in the
decision about where they want to eat, try to go for one of the places
where you know there is going to be a savings. Case in point, we
recently had dinner at Steak-N-Shake for $12 for a family of four. The
kids got a free meal since it was kids' eat free on the weekends and we
had a coupon for the hamburger and fries meal that I usually get. Plus,
we had a coupon for buy one, get one free milkshakes so my husband and I
were both able to get full-size milkshakes. That is a huge savings! There are several websites dedicated to helping you find the best deals for eating out with kids.
Drink water. It's great for you and your digestion and it's free. Think
about how much that glass of soda is going to cost you, especially when
half of it is filled with ice. And, I love soda pop, but when eating
out it is very rare that I would actually purchase one. Anymore, a
beverage in most restaurants will cost at least $2-$3, multiply that
times every person in your family, each time you eat out and it can
seriously add up.
3) Stay clear of desserts and
appetizers in addition to a full meal. If you are ordering a meal,
cutting out a $5-$8 add-on like an appetizer and/or dessert will save a
lot of money. I know so many people that order the appetizer in
addition to their meal and then barely eat a bite of the actual entree
since they filled up on the first course. Obviously, there are
exceptions, but we do not routinely go out as a family and order a bunch
of additional things besides our main meal.
4) In the
same breath, embrace the appetizer. Many times, appetizers are fairly
large and can actually be the preferred choice to the entrees. In that
case, why not order an appetizer as your meal. It will no doubt be
cheaper. My daughter and I will sometimes split a larger appetizer and
we still can not eat it all, but it saved us from purchasing two
5) This is completely dependent on the
place you are eating and the ages of your kids, but when at all
feasible, have them split a meal. With my children's ages, there are
still restaurants where the kids' portions are fairly large. After I
realized that neither of them were able to eat more than half of their
own meals, I started having them share. There were certain places where
the kids' meal consisted of 3-4 large chicken tenders and a whole plate
of fries and cup of fruit and my toddler/preschooler was in no way able
to eat the whole meal.