6 Ways to Save Money At Restaurants

The average American household spends about $2,736 a year on eating out, but folks in Austin ($6,301), Nashville ($5,068), San Francisco ($4,950) and New York City ($3,376) spend a whole lot more, according to Bundle.com, a company that uses data to help consumers make smart decisions.

Americans certainly do love to eat out, but it is expensive, so waiters and others in the restaurant business have six tips to help you trim your restaurant bill:  

Become a regular. Regulars are the teachers’ pets at any restaurant, especially if they are nice to the employees. They not only get the best tables, but they also are more likely to get free appetizers, desserts and beverages. All of this is less likely to apply to regulars who also happen to be lousy tippers.

Ask questions. It pays to be inquisitive at restaurants. If you’re ordering a bottle of wine, for example, ask your waiter or waitress for a good bottle that is reasonably priced. A good server will be able to steer you away from pricey bottles or, for that matter, entrées that the chef is in love with that may be over-rated and over-priced.

Eat out on Tuesdays. There are a few good reasons why Tuesday is the best day of the week to eat out. One is that restaurants rarely receive food deliveries on Sundays, so the food you eat on Tuesdays probably was delivered on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it is fresh. Tuesdays happen to be one of the least popular days of the week to eat out, so restaurants are less crowded, it is easier to get a table, and you are more likely to receive good service. Because restaurants typically are slow on Tuesdays, many restaurant managers often entice diners with discounts and even let kids eat free on that day.

Order water. A family of four that orders water can save $10 or more. A $2 soda costs the restaurant 20 cents or less, even considering the cost to pay the busboy to clear the table and the dishwasher to wash the glass. The profit margin is at least as high for draft beer or coffee.  Waiters or waitresses grumble to themselves when a family orders water because that will keep the bill down and reduce the size of their tips.

Avoid chicken and pasta. Restaurants pay less for chicken and pasta, making the markup for those dishes higher than for seafood, beef and pork dishes. The profit margin on pizza is also sky high, and some restaurants are stingy with cheese, which is the most expensive pizza ingredient.

Read the bill. Servers sometimes make mistakes when they write the bill, and those mistakes often end up costing you money. Some restaurants add a gratuity to the bill, often without telling you. Diners who don’t examine their bills may not notice the gratuity and end up tipping double.    

 (Photo by Sam Howzit