Take it from a successful chef
Chef Enzo Febbraro, well-respected executive chef at the politically acclaimed Washington DC-based restaurant D'Acqua Ristorante, knows what it takes to stay afloat even in the tightest of economies.
The European-trained 39-year old native of Naples, Italy, says that people still want to dine out even in a poor economy, but they may change their expectations somewhat to suit their budgets. He explains, "Diners are more cautious about spending their money, right now. [As a chef],you need to show them that what you can offer is worth it, and that they can't easily duplicate the dish at home. It's really just a matter of giving them a great experience at a fair price."
D'Acqua is one of those restaurants that has managed to maintain a successful position while so many others in the nation continue to struggle in the current economic state. As Chef Febbraro is quick to point out, it's not by luck, but instead because they have taken steps to meet and exceed their goals along the way.
He says, "There's no one particular thing that keeps a restaurant thriving during economic turmoil. Rather, it's a combination of steps that the restaurant takes to remain on top. In this economy, you really have to be proactive, rather than reactive."
The same goes for the hungry patrons who don't want to give up restaurant meals as part of their cost-cutting agendas. Chef Febbraro offers the following 10 proactive tips to dine out and strategically save money.
10 Tips to save money dining out
1. Have lunch
Do your dining out at lunch, if at all possible, or ask if you can order a lunch portion. According to Chef Febbraro, the lunch portion at restaurants is usually plenty of food and will save a couple of dollars per entree.
2. Skip the drinks
If each member of a family of four purchases a non-alcoholic drink, it can quickly add an additional $10 to $15 to the restaurant tab. Instead of milkshakes, soft drinks or gourmet tea and coffee drinks, Chef Febbraro suggests ordering a round of waters with lemon to address thirst issues and, consequently, save a lot of money.
3. Split your meal
Not only is sharing food an effective way to eat deliciously and ward off the temptation to overeat, splitting a meal is also great way to save money. Most restaurants serve large portion sizes to begin with, making it possible for people to share an entree and still be quite satisfied. This is especially true for the younger and older diners that may have smaller appetites.
4. Watch for specials
Restaurants usually have one or more specials of the day, which can mean saving a few dollars off the regular dish price. When choosing your specials, opt for a dish that will make your dining experience special; instead of choosing the baked chicken entree, which you can cook at home, try a dish that isn't so easy to duplicate, such as monkfish wrapped in pancetta or roasted lamb rack with olive crust served with potato rosti (both signature dishes at D'Acqua).
5. Scan for coupons
In addition to clipping coupons for grocery shopping, clip coupons for dining out. Coupons for local restaurants can be found in most community newspapers as well as special coupon books and mailings. Additionally, you can often get special discounts by signing up for offers at a restaurant's website.
6. Request restaurant gift certificates
If fitting a nice restaurant meal into your budget simply isn't possible, Chef Febbraro suggests asking for restaurant gift certificates from friends and family, when it comes to gift-buying occasions.
7. Watch for "kids eat free" restaurants
Most kids' meals today cost anywhere from $3 to $6, which can add up quickly, especially if you have more than one child. Some restaurants offer one night a week when kids eat free. For a family of four or more, the savings can add up quickly.
8. Get it to go
If you love pasta from the neighborhood Italian restaurant, but are trying to cut back, get your meal to go. Though the entree and accompanying dishes will cost the same, you will avert the impulse ordering of pricey drinks and desserts.
9. Skip the dessert – or not
Chef Febbraro says buying desserts after your meal can really inflate your total dining bill. He suggests skipping dessert or, if you simply have to have a particular restaurant's tiramisu or homemade ice cream, go out only for dessert. Another option is to eat out but get one single dessert for everyone at the table to share. This makes dessert a fun family experience and it is also a healthier option.
10. Take advantage of weekly deals
In response to customers tightening their budgets, many restaurants are establishing special discounts on certain days of the week. For example, D'Acqua offers Wine Wednesdays, when diners can enjoy a variety of wines for half-price. Similarly, some restaurants have "Two for Tuesday" specials, when two diners can eat for the price of one. Check with your local dining establishments to take advantage of these weekly money-saving deals.
More ways to eat well and save money
To learn more about Chef Enzo Febbraro and to drool over the menu at D'Acqua, visit DAcquaDC.com.