Cool Ideas

Save Money Eating Out

by Stephanie Nelson

I read recently that the average American eats out four times a week, and that we spend 40% of our food dollar on food eaten away from the home. As much as I enjoy eating out, I have to admit it can take a toll on my family's budget. I always try to find easy ways to save money so we can still enjoy our favorite restaurants.

Look for coupons. Believe it or not, many nice restaurants have coupons available. They can save as much as 50% if you find a "buy one, get one free" coupon. You can find local coupon sections on your city's newspaper website, in special mailers sent to your home, and at national coupon sites. You can also find coupons for local restaurants in the Sunday newspaper coupon circular. We always find "buy one, get one free" coupons for popular chains like Subway, Quiznos Subs and TCBY as well as local restaurants we like.

You can buy deeply discounted restaurant gift certificates at Enter your zip code to find participating restaurants in your area.You will pay $10 for a $25 certificate online, and you can print the certificate immediately. You will save even more by using a coupon code found on a coupon code website (like, paying only $5 for a certificate. The selection of restaurants varies from casual to upscale choices. I used one of these gift certificates for a casual lunch and paid $1.50 for a $10 certificate. We also used one at a favorite elegant restaurant for our anniversary, bringing our $100 dinner down to $75. also has a program that lets you redeem airline miles for $25 restaurant gift certificates, which can be a great way to use up an odd number of miles.

  • If you have favorite restaurants that are national chains, you can visit their websites and sign up for their email newsletters to be sent coupons, special offers, and even freebies on your birthday. Some examples of restaurants with attractive offers are Friday's, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Champs, and Houlihan's. Check out your favorite restaurants' sites to see what they offer.

  • Take advantage of birthday clubs. I may not like getting older, but I am always happy to accept a free meal! Sign up online or in person at your favorite restaurants and look forward to receiving a special offer in the mail around the time of your birthday.

  • If you have kids, ask your favorite restaurants if they have a designated day of the week that "kids eat free" with the purchase of an adult meal. Many do, but they may not advertise that they do, so you need to ask.

  • Invest in an Entertainment book to save on casual, family and upscale restaurants all year long. The book begins selling in August at its full price of $30 to $40, but the price of the book goes down over the course of the year, to its low of $10 per book in the late spring. Some restaurant coupons can save you as much as $20 at one meal, so it can be well worth buying one book, or even more than one book when they are at their lowest price.

  • Once you purchase an Entertainment book and have registered your book on their website, you can purchase discounted restaurant gift cards for popular restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. See for details.

  • If you belong to Upromise, you will earn free money in a college savings account when you eat at participating restaurants. Rebates average 10% of your restaurant bill. You can check out the program details at

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' Good Morning America. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at Copyright 2006 © Stephanie Nelson