I know that eating out isn’t always cost-effective. But sometimes, treating yourself to a nice dinner or even a specialty coffee drink can give you that “happy boost” you need!

Related: 10 Grocery Store Shopping Tips to Save You Money

But to help you (and your wallet) out a bit, I want to share a few of my go-to affordable dining tips for eating out that are sure to put some change back in your pocket.

General Tips For Eating Out

Whether you’re dining at a fast food restaurant or sitting down to eat with the family, these affordable dining tips should make saving money while eating out easier.

Sign up for rewards programs

If you eat out at a specific location enough, consider signing up for their rewards program.

Some places will ask you for your email and send you regular discounts, and others can be joined when you download an app on your smartphone.

Some places will give you a deal or free item just for signing up (like Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Panera and more). And others will give you discounts as you continue to make purchases at the restaurant.

Buy gift cards below face value

I know it sounds crazy, but you can actually purchase gift cards below face value. That means you could get $25 worth of food for just $20!

affordable dining tips

You can head over to Restaurant.com or Giftcards.com to find discounted cards online.

You can also shop at places like Costco and Sams Club and find a bundle of discounted gift cards in store!

Check to see if you’re eligible for a discount

Are you a teacher, a student, a vet or an active member of the military? Plenty of restaurants offer discounts if you have an ID or way to identify your status.

And if you dine in at your favorite place, it’s worth checking to see if they offer a senior discount or a discount for the kiddos too.

Be smart when ordering

Whether you’re dining in or getting something to go, look for menu items that will fill you up or items that offer a lot of bang for your buck.

affordable dining tips

Also take into consideration that a tip is expected if you dine in… so if you’re exclusively looking for food and not the experience, consider ordering your food to-go.

Last thing… double check to make sure refills are free! No one wants surprise charges on their account!

Take surveys on the receipts

Oftentimes, when you order your food you’ll see something at the bottom of the receipt asking you to take a survey.

While these are designed to help the restaurant with research and customer experience, they may pay off for you as well! I’ve seen some that will give you a free meal or a 50% discount if you complete the survey.

So for 5 minutes of time, that seems like a pretty good deal to me!

Try to dine during happy hours

Whether you’re going out for drinks or for a few appetizers with friends, check to see if the place you’re going has a happy hour.

affordable dining tips

If you go during happy hour times (typically from 3-6 pm), the restaurants and bars are often less packed too. So it’s a double win!

Bring your coupons

Coupons aren’t exclusively meant to be used at the grocery store. You can also use them when you’re dining out!

You can sometimes find them on the restaurant’s website or on their social media accounts. I’ve also seen them regularly in local papers, pamphlets or magazines.

If you can’t find one, give the restaurant a call to see if there are any floating around.

Eat out on your birthday

Remember those rewards programs we were talking about? Plenty of places will give you free items on your birthday.

affordable dining tips

Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, McDonalds, Chilis, Chipotle, Denny’s and Panera are all places that offer free food on your special day (or during your birth month).

And if you’re dining in and a birthday treat isn’t listed on the menu, snag a waiter and see if they’d offer you a birthday surprise on the house.

Specific Discounts and Rewards Programs I Like

In addition to the affordable dining tips above, check out some exclusive details and reward programs you can use today!

affordable dining tips
  • Arby’s: Sign up for Arby’s Extras for a free birthday shake and fries. You’ll also get rewarded for signing up and for accumulating points.
  • Auntie Anne’s: Receive special offers and a BOGO pretzel deal on your birthday.
  • Baskin-Robbins: A free scoop of ice cream is available if you’re part of the “Birthday Club!”
  • BJ’s Restaurant: In addition to receiving a free Pizzoukie (cookie and pizza in one) on your birthday, you’ll get in-app offers when you download the app. Also take advantage of the “family meal deal” options!
  • California Pizza Kitchen: The CPK rewards program will get you a free treat during your birthday month in addition to free items when you accumulate points.
  • Chili’s: My Chili’s Reward members get you free chips and salsa on every visit, personalized discounts, free dessert on your birthday, and free wifi!
  • Cinnabon: If you’d like fun offers, sweet surprises and a treat on your birthday, sign up for the Cinnabon eClub.
  • Dairy Queen: By downloading the DQ app, you can accumulate rewards, score weekly deals and get a free blizzard with the purchase of another blizzard on your birthday!
  • Denny’s: A Grand Slam meal is free on your birthday! And if you join their rewards program, you can get deals, discounts and special gifts in addition to 20% off your visit just for signing up.
  • Einstein Bagels: Big bagel fan? Enstein’s Shmear Society will score you rewards in addition to a free egg sandwich on your birthday.
  • Jamba Juice: If you like to order smoothies on the regular, you can get 50% off a smoothie when you sign up for the Jamba rewards app. You’ll also get a birthday smoothie, exclusive rewards and the ability to accumulate points for treat redemption.
  • Jimmy Johns: Have you tried Jimmy Johns’ bread? It’s half the reason I go there! And with Freaky Fast Rewards, you can get a birthday surprise in addition to rewards from earning points.
  • Krispy Kreme: Download the app and get a free donut immediately! You’ll also get one on your birthday and can receive exclusive offers and freebies on the regular.
  • McDonalds: The McDonalds app is filled with incredible deals on all of their menu items. And the best part is that there are new deals every day!
  • Panera Bread: If you’re a regular coffee drinker and live close to a Panera, it makes sense to sign up for the Unlimited Sip Club. That means you’ll get a FREE coffee (or lemonade, tea and soda) every two hours. The MyPanera app will also give you deals and special perks.
  • Starbucks: By downloading the Starbucks app, you can accumulate points to redeem free coffee, and you’ll also get a free drink on your birthday. Don’t miss out on the exclusive discounts either!
  • Wetzel’s Pretzels: If you’re more of a Wetzel’s Pretzels person instead of an Auntie Anne’s person, download the ap to earn rewards and get a free pretzel on your birthday!
  • Zaxby’s: You can sign up for the Zaxby’s email club to get a free sandwich on your birthday in addition to exclusive rewards and deals!

I understand that it isn’t always easy going out to eat in today’s economy, but I hope some of these affordable dining tips will allow you to treat yourself every once in a while!

From my home to yours,


A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now. A. Now.

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