Restaurant dining for the price of a tip

(Note: This is a very old post.  I posted this in 2004, before Mighty Bargain Hunter had moved to the WordPress platform.  So now, a blast from the past, gently rebooted …)

Restaurant dining for the price of a tip!

I hope that the title caught your attention. Conventional frugal practice does wonders with the food budget:

  • Make your own bread
  • Cook Geheimnisfleisch (a German dish, roughly translated as “mystery meat”)
  • Buy the big containers of snacks and send them a bit at a time in reusable containers

Culinary heaven for the thrifty!

We practice these techniques all the time, and we do pretty well at not breaking the bank with our food budget. But, darn it, we’re human — we like restaurant dining, too!

The steak house doesn’t mean the poor house

Dining out can be a budget-buster. It can cost in the neighborhood of three times as much as fixing meals yourself.  And that’s if your eyes don’t get bigger than your stomach when you eat out in a restaurant and you order more than you can eat.

You can get out of the restaurant without totally draining your accounts. And no, you don’t have to cheat the person waiting on you out of a tip! Some of the tricks below will help you spend a lot less dining at some restaurants, and others will work at any restaurant:

  • Drink water. Some restaurants will add a lemon wedge for you. On a dinner for two, this will knock off $3 worth of sodas or $10 or more worth of alcoholic drinks. Drinks are high-markup items, and generally big profit centers, for restaurants.
  • Beware of the upsell.  I even had one waiter want to “upgrade my entree” with a salad. He used those words exactly. That one was obvious, but subtle things like “Would you like feta cheese on your salad?” may carry an extra charge. Ask if it’s free or not if you smell an upsell.
  • Take more free munchies like rolls, tortilla chips and salsa, bread, whatever, if offered. Why not? At some restaurants this stuff is really good. My daughter likes going to Red Lobster almost as much for the buttery biscuits as she does for the crab.
  • You can split a meal if you know the person well. One thing is that most restaurants do not want you to go away hungry, so they usually give you a lot more food than is needed anyway. Even a small “sharing fee” is probably a good deal if you can get just one entree.
  • Buy heavily discounted dining vouchers from if your favorite restaurant participates.  There are some restrictions, which you should read before purchasing. Having said that, you buy the dining certificate, print it out, and use it.  If the coupon codes are really good, sometimes you can get your voucher for 90% off, and your meal will be about the price of the tip.
  • Buy slightly discounted gift cards from places like These don’t have the same restrictions that the vouchers do; they’re basically just like cash at the restaurant.
  • If you can score a mystery shopping gig at a restaurant, you can get paid to eat there!

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize the good deals in life.

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  1. My mom loves to eat out, but she also likes to save money when doing so and almost always splits a meal with the friend she is eating out with. Doing this, she only pays $5 to $8 for the entire meal and tip.

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