Dining Out For Less

If you love eating out, but hate spending all that money, listen up; SmartMoney.com Consumer Reporter Kelli Grant has some tips for saving some dough.

Skyrocketing oil prices and worldwide demand for grain have increased grocery prices. Restaurants are also feeling the pain, so expect a heftier bill for your next dinner out. But savvy consumers can easily save as much as 50%.

First, use gift certificates. If you buy them online, and you'll pay less than face value. At Restaurant.com, a $25 certificate costs just $10. You'll also find bargains on eBay and swap sites like CardAvenue.com or CertificateSwap.com.

When you're out at dinner, try to pay with plastic. Plenty of credit cards offer bonus rewards for restaurant purchases. That's like getting a 5% discount. There are also third-party programs like Rewards Network, where you register any existing card and earn airline miles or points for every dollar spent.

If you know you're going out ahead of time, make a reservation. Try booking your table through OpenTable.com or DinnerBroker.com. These free programs reward you with gift certificates when you've made a certain number of reservations. DinnerBroker.com also gives you up to 30% off your total bill when you make a reservation for a less crowded time.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for coupons. Consumer spending is slowing, which means restaurants - like other retailers - are offering more sales to bring in customers. Look for coupons in your local paper, through the restaurant's e-mail newsletter or in the Entertainment books. Also check for restaurant specials, like "kids eat free" nights or "restaurant weeks."

Finally, do your best to improve your odds of getting a better meal. Restaurants are using other tricks to avoid exorbitant menu prices. Some are reducing portions, or reducing loss-leader items like steaks with profit-heavy salads and pastas. Check the menu before you pick a restaurant. For the best quality, head out on weekdays when restaurants get their fresh food deliveries.

For more information on getting a better deal when dining out, as well as additional personal financial advice, click here to visit www.SmartMoney.com.

By Kelli Grant
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