One great benefit of living in the Philadelphia area is seeing the city become a foodie’s paradise with seemingly endless options for wonderful food.
But even when dining out, frugal principles can still be applied.
Here are some suggestions on getting the most for your dining dollars and keeping expenses in check.
- Adopt a mindset that dining out is for special occasions, not the primary means for obtaining meals. Dining out should be reserved for special times and celebrations with family and friends.
- Remember that dining out too frequently could can harmful to your health as well your finances – while they may taste great, restaurant meals typically are large portions with loads of calories, sodium and fat.
- Ask for a doggie bag – only eat what you really want or need but don’t let the rest go to waste. Take the leftovers home; you’ll have something to look forward to for lunch the next day.
- Limit the beverages you order; it’s OK just to ask for water. Whether fast food or fine dining, the cost of beverages can really add up. Restaurants love beverages for their high profit margins. Beverages to limit run the gamut: from soft drinks, coffee and juice to cocktails, beer and wine.
- Look for BYOB (bring your own bottle) restaurants. Due to quirks in Pennsylvania liquor laws, many restaurants in the Philly area don’t have liquor licenses but do allow patrons to bring in their own beer or wine – a substantial savings for the diners. BYOB eateries may not be quite as prevalent in other parts of the country. Please note: A bottle of wine offered by a restaurant is typically marked up 2 -5 times from its retail price. The price for a glass of wine is usually set at what an entire bottle costs retail.
- As with beverages, limit other menu add-ons: appetizers, desserts, after dinner coffee, etc. Consider sharing appetizers and desserts.
- Sometimes it’s fun to just order a bunch of appetizers for everyone to share in lieu of getting entrees.
- When dining at a high-end restaurant, go for lunch rather than dinner. Lunch will be a better value, at perhaps, half the cost. Plus, it may be easier to get reservations.
- Exclude sales tax when calculating the tip – a tip of 15 – 20% is reasonable, depending upon quality of service. But tips should only be on the cost of the food and beverages. It appears that many of the tip calculators restaurants use these days include a sales tax when calculating the suggested tip.
- Instead of going out, consider cooking at home. Make a date with your significant other to cook dinner together. Have friends over for a ‘pot luck’ where everyone brings their best dish. Host gourmet dinners with friends on a rotating basis.
- Take advantage of credit card rebates – the Chase Freedom Visa offers a 5% rebate on restaurants several months each year. The Chase Amazon Visa gives 2% rebate on restaurants. (Warning: do not use a credit card to get rebates unless you pay off the balance in full every month. And don’t spend more than you would otherwise just because of the rebate)
Bon Appetit! Paul
PS Here are some links to Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan’s blog and a rundown of his 2015 restaurant reviews:
© 2016 Paul J Reimold