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Tips for eating out with your family on a budget

Suzi Milovanovic has been a mother of all kinds: stay at home mom, work from home mom, and go-the-office working mom. She blends all these perspectives in her contributions to various local and national print and online publications, tel...

Not so fast, fast food

Between soccer, baseball, ballet, piano, homework, housework and the lawn, preparing dinner at home isn't always possible. Even if you're watching your expenses, you and your family can eat out while keeping the bill in check -- and we don't mean by grabbing the quickest $1 burger. Eat out with the family and save money by implementing these strategies and adjustments to your ordering style.

Mom and daughter eating outFamily style restaurants

When taking the family out to eat, look for a place that's family friendly. Plan ahead and look for one that offers a "kids eat free" night during the week. The restaurant probably has dishes large enough to share among a few family members.

Don't dine in prime time

Go for a late lunch and avoid the higher dinner prices. In addition, many restaurants offer early-bird menus for diners between 4-6 pm.

Coupons and email specials

Sign up for your favorite family-friendly restaurant's email list. Many national restaurants offer special savings and reward programs just for those who do.

Sample the appetizers

Indecisive? Not a big eater? Not a problem! Try the appetizers before digging into the main course menu, or eat them as your main dish. You should be able to find a great appetizer and a house salad with water and lemon for less than $8.

Use the buddy system

You wouldn't pass up a "buy one get one free" deal on shoes, so why pass up any when dining out? Check out the menu and see if such an offer is available, or find out ahead of time by scanning restaurant websites, looking for ads or calling.

Prix fixe or a la carte?

Prix fixe is a current trend among many restaurants. With this type of offering, you get a complete meal of several courses, sometimes with choices permitted, at a fixed price -- for instance, the "two for $20" specials that places such as Chilis, Applebees and TGIFridays are offering. If you want to sample only one or two items, then a la carte is the way to go instead.

Order water

Soda, coffee and alcoholic drinks represent restaurants' biggest markups. Instead, order water with lemon (for the kids, too!). Later, make a pot of coffee at home and give the kids a chocolate milk nightcap treat.

Reward points

If you use a credit or debit card on a regular basis, check if it offers a rewards program. Some offer items such as restaurant gift certificates in exchange for your reward points. Cash your points in for these so you have them at the ready for famiy nights out.

Doggie-bag it

Bring home the leftovers and have them for lunch the next day. It's a great way to turn a $20 restaurant bill into two $10 meals.

Eating out with the family doesn't have to equal a big splurge. Instead, indulge in the fact that someone is doing the cooking, serving and dishes for you without breaking the bank!


More good info about family meals

Live large... but spend small. Read more!

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