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Chandler at a pizza shop

7 Essential Tips for Dining out on a Budget

This is a sponsored post from guest blogger Chandler Baird of www.spokaneeats.net

We all deserve a nice splurge that won't break the bank. After eating my way around Spokane for almost five years now, I've learned a thing or two about how to eat out and support local, while still maintaining my budget.  I put together a list of 7 ways you can do just that:

#1: Research to Find Daily Deals at Restaurants Around Town

To save a few bucks, I have taken advantage of the great deals and specials that restaurants offer throughout the week. Become a “deals detective” and ask family, friends, co-workers, the grocery store clerk and everyone in-between about their favorite daily deals. In no time, you will have all the details you need to take advantage of Taco Tuesday specials, all-day happy hour for ladies, kids eat free day, and half-price pizzas.

One way I find special offers around town is with member programs like Passport offered by BECU. Signing up is free to all BECU members and streamlines special deals and discounts. Passport gives you access to thousands of online discounts on travel, entertainment, wellness, vehicles, electronics, childcare, pet supplies, and my favorite, dining. Enjoy offers like a second complimentary entrée and other special upgrades at restaurants in your area and across the nation (when you pay for the dining upgrade--$7/mo or $75/year).

Bonus tip: if you are a student, be on the lookout for student discounts. Many places offer a flat discount or free items to students, making dining out on that tight college budget easier than ever.

#2: Be Flexible About When You Eat

Lunch menus are my vice. Most restaurants have a version of their dinner menu but for half the price! If you're on a budget but still want to dine out, think about lunch instead of dinner. Happy hour is your best friend. I love going out for early dinners to take advantage of happy hour pricing. In addition to better prices, restaurants are often less crowded so you have faster service, better lighting for when you want to snap pictures of your dish, and an early dinner means you have an excuse for something sweet a couple hours later. Win, win and win.

If you are interested in setting up a food budget and sticking to it, I love the free online tool from BECU, Money Manager. Your spending is automatically categorized so all you have to do is log in to see how, when, and where you are spending your money. You can even set up timely alerts to notify you when you are close to reaching your set budget for the month.

#3: Stretch Your Meal Further and Save Your Leftovers for Lunch

We've all sat down at a restaurant, ordered a dish and received a family-sized portion. Instead of leaving feeling stuffed, save half your meal for tomorrow's lunch! Going out with this mindset allows you to get the most bang for your buck. A pricey $20+ dish can easily be split into an affordable dinner and lunch. 

Not only will you save some dough, you will also save time preparing for a future meal. Sometimes, this is all easier said than done. I learned to ask for a to-go box right away and box half my meal immediately so I'm not tempted. Out of sight, out of mind.

Chandler hosting dinner
Tip: Box before you dine

#4: Sign up for Loyalty Programs to Earn Points and Rewards

I know some loyalty programs get a lot of bad press, but if you know the good ones, they are worth it! A lot of restaurants will offer you a free dessert during your birthday month and coffee shops will offer a free drink. Also, sign up for your favorite restaurants' newsletters to take advantage of special offers and mailer coupons. Restaurants will send special offers or discounts and if you're a newsletter subscriber or social media follower, you're the first to be in-the-know!

#5: When Ordering Food To-Go, Pick It up Yourself

Now, I know that this is somewhat controversial, as having a meal delivered from your favorite restaurant to your front door without ever having to change out of your PJ's and slippers, is very appealing. But the truth is you're often paying far more than if you were to pick up the food yourself. Remember, we are talking about dining out on a budget, not dining out for pure convenience.

#6: Split Your Entrée with a Friend or Go Family Style

I love dining out with a big group where we each order something then everyone shares so you get to try a variety. Since most restaurant portions are large, you can order fewer entrées and split the costs while still enjoying a filling meal. For example, if you're dining with a group of seven, you can often get away with splitting five entrees then splitting the bill, instead of each of you ordering your own and paying for the whole dish. Not only does this allow you to enjoy more of the restaurant offerings while saving money, but it also feels more like a nice evening out and not just a meal. And thanks BECU's partnership with Zelle®, it's easy to split the check and pay friends, too.

#7: Make Dining out Worth Your While

When dining out, I always try to order something I can't make myself at home. Why pay $20 for spaghetti and meatballs when you can make that for a couple dollars at home? Make your dining out experience special and try something new. You don't want to have a mediocre meal or spend a lot of money on something you don't love.

My town's Spokane food scene is spectacular. We have so much variety and unique dining experiences on every corner. There are options for each unique preference, culture, taste and budget. Visit www.spokaneeats.net to ensure that when dining out in Spokane, you are choosing the best.Do your research, find your favorites, share your tips with us and bon appetit!

Chandler enjoying dinner with friends

About Chandler

Chandler is a Spokane food and lifestyle blogger, and founder of SpokaneEats.net. When she moved to Spokane in 2014, she had two questions: “What is there to do in Spokane, Washington?” and “Where can I buy a raincoat?”. Years later, she can say she both found a raincoat and fell in love with the city she now calls home.