The Busted Sister’s Guide To Dining Out

June 22, 2010  |  

Gourmet food, fine wine and an elegant atmosphere — Madames are made for dining out. But if you’re on a tight budget, you might think you have to abandon little luxuries like an outing to a chichi restaurant. Not so. Frugulistas can enjoy the experience and still keep an eye on their pocketbook.

Here are some tips for thrifty foodies:

Be A Lady Who Lunches: Fine dining establishments offer the same quality food at lunch, but the menu prices are lower. You can also usually get a good deal on Sunday brunch. Go on nights when there’s live entertainment and you’re getting more for your money.

Get To Know Them: Being a regular at a restaurant has it’s advantages. If you had a great time, ask to speak to the manager introduce yourself, lay on the charm, then go back. Don’t be surprised if a complimentary glass of wine, amuse-bouche or dessert turns up at your table. Be a generous tipper, too and you’ll get the royal treatment.

Ditch The Dining Room: The best joints usually have posh bar areas. Instead of a full-on dinner, go for drinks and ask to see the bar menu.

Eschew The Entrée: Make it a habit to go out for cocktails and appetizers or coffee and desserts. If you do this, make sure to let the restaurant host or hostess know before you’re seated that you aren’t there for dinner. Also go at a time when the restaurant is less busy. They are saving their prime seating for guests ordering dinner.

Keep It Real: When you’re making plans to go out for dinner, speak up in advance and let your dining companions know that you’re keeping an eye on spending. Better to tell them up front than to wait until you’re at the table to announce that you’re just having an espresso. If it’s a group, make it clear in advance that everyone is paying for what they ordered and not just dividing the check equally.

Split Up: Wine enthusiasts can save money by splitting a bottle instead of ordering individual glasses, especially if you expect to have a couple of rounds. There’s also no shame in ordering one main course and splitting it with one other person, just be aware that the restaurant may have a plate-sharing charge.

Make Your Order Worth It: Going with the pasta or simple chicken dish may seem like the most economical choice, but you can make pasta for pennies at home. By ordering something that you wouldn’t normally get to eat or have no idea how to prepare, you’re getting more for your money.

Don’t Be Shy: There is no shame in asking about the prices of the daily specials that aren’t printed on the menu, ordering the house wine (if it’s good enough for them to serve, it should be good enough to drink) or requesting a doggie bag to take home. If you can stretch that fancy meal into the next day’s lunch and get another dinner out of it, you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Get Rewards: Upscale publications in metropolitan areas may offer special member discounts. The services are usually free and just a matter of registering for e-mail announcements. See if the your favorite restaurants have a mailing list and join it. Make reservations through OpenTable, where you can earn points toward discounted meals.

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