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4 Secrets to save money at restaurants

Eat out for cheap

If these crummy economic times have taught us anything, it’s that the days of paying full price for something are over. The same goes for dining out. Here are 4 secrets to save money at restaurants, from fancy bistros to grab-and-go delis.

Woman eating at restaurant

If you know where to look, you can even snag deals that are better than advertised, says couponing expert Mike Allen, the founder of Shopping-Bargains.com and other coupon and discount-code web sites. Allen reveals how to get a $25 restaurant gift certificate for $2 (really!) and other money-saving ideas for dining out.

1. Shop for discounted gift certificates online

You might be familiar with money-saving sites like Restaurant.com, which offers $25 gift certificates for $10 to select restaurants in your city, but did you know that there are even deeper discounts out there?

Allen's site, Shopping-bargains.com, occasionally offers coupon codes for Restaurant.com that take an additional 50 percent to 80 percent off the discounted price. With the extra discount, that $25 gift certificate will cost you just $2 to $5 dollars. Shopping-bargains.com offers limited time coupon codes for Restaurant.com about four times a month.

2. Visit the restaurant's web site before you go

Many restaurants offer printable coupons and freebies for joining loyalty clubs online. Houlihan's, T.G.I. Friday's, and Boston Market are just a few national chains that offer immediate deals for signing up for their loyalty clubs.

Also, follow restaurants on Twitter and become a fan of them on Facebook—many eateries offer spur-of-the-moment deals this way.

3. Pick up coupon books at your city's visitors' center

Sure, they're intended for out-of-towners, but residents can take advantage of the dining coupons that are found in visitor guides. You'll find two-for-one meal deals, free appetizers, and more for great local spots.

4. Make a few phone calls

Not every restaurant is great at getting the word out about the deals it offers. So, do a little research before you head out: Call and ask about happy hour, early bird specials, and discounts for seniors and kids.

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