These tough economic times present an interesting financial conundrum for our tum-tums.

During rocky periods it’s natural and healthy to want to seek out friends and companionship.  Breaking bread and having a good chat is a wonderful way to release work/life stress. But given our busy lives many of us end up spending time with others while eating out… which can really add up.  So here are 5 simple things you can do to eat out for less.

1.    Share an entree or make a meal out of appetizers: In modern America food portions have become so super-sized that the average meal can feed at least 2… and sometimes even 3 people.  To avoid any surprises when the check comes, be sure to see if the restaurant charges a split entree fee. On a related note, some appetizers are so large they could easily fill you up as an entree and they generally cost half as much as a main dish.

2.    Be sure to ask how much the specials cost before ordering: This a major hot button of mine.  How many times have you found yourself in a restaurant when the wait staff describes a succulent sounding dish?  You go for it, only to find yourself fighting the urge to hurl when you see the bill and find out the price.  Personally, I think it’s a sign of financial self-confidence to politely ask “and what do those specials run?” so you can make an informed decision. It can be awkward to do it at first – but trust me, the whole table will appreciate it, and you’ll be a trend setter.

3.    Soup, it does a body good: A nice bowl of hearty soup (think gumbo, beef stew, tortilla soup, or chili) often costs a lot less, contains healthier ingredients, and fills you up as much as a regular entree.


4.    Think before you drink: Beverages – alcoholic and even non – are very high margin products for restaurants.  At a minimum, think twice before doubling down.  If you can, savor one drink throughout the meal.  And if you’re really trying to cut back, go to nature’s best… a glass of tap water.  Doing this can easily shave 20% or 30% off your bill (not to mention pounds off your waist line!).

5.    Do lunch: If you have a really strong urge to meet friends at a fancy new restaurant, try doing it at lunchtime instead.  Prices are much lower, portions are more realistic, and you’re less likely to run up a costly alcohol bill.

What about you – any other suggestions you’d add to this list?