Restaurants on the Cheap: 5 Ways to Get Deals on Dining Out

Last Updated Mar 25, 2010 2:45 PM EDT

Love to eat at restaurants, but feel the tab for dining out is getting a little excessive? You can buy great meals at great restaurants for a pittance if you know how to find coupons and discounts for eating out, said Annie Korzen, an actress best known for her regular appearances in Seinfeld and a self-proclaimed "Bargain Junkie."

Restaurants commonly sell $25 gift certificates for $10--and they can sometimes be had for as little as $2, said Korzen, author of the just published "Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap." That's just among 5 tips of how to get great deals at restaurants.

How do you get the best deals on restaurant meals?
  • Sign up at Restaurants.com, where you plug in your zip code and peruse a menu of dozens of local restaurants willing to sell a $25 gift certificate for $10 and a $50 certificate for $20. These gift certificates often go on "sale," Korzen added. At times, you can buy your $25 meal gift certificate for just $2.
  • BlackboardEats.com is another site that offers coupon deals for restaurants. The deals range from providing huge discounts, such as 30% off your meal, to offers for free appetizers or entrees. At the moment, they've only got deals in Los Angeles and New York. But if you happen to live in (or visit) one of those two areas, it's worth a look.
  • Groupon.com offers coupons on everything from spa visits to restaurant meals. The typical deal will discount your meal (or massage) from 30% to more than $75%. If you sign up, they'll send regular emails of the daily deals in your area. You decide whether to buy or delete.
  • ChowHound.com is a site where foodies talk to foodies. This recent discussion thread tells where you can get restaurant meals for $5 or less. Uhmmmm, tacos....
  • BYOB. If you're a drinker, call the restaurant where you want to eat and ask about their "corkage" fee, Korzen suggested. Some eateries will let you bring your own bottle and charge only a small fee to have the waiter serve it. Since restaurants typically mark-up a bottle of wine by 300 or 400%, bringing your own can save a bundle.
There's just one caveat: Make sure you read the fine print on all of the coupon deals because the certificates do expire and some can only be used for lunch or on certain days. Most also add in the tip before deducting the value of the coupon to make sure that the waiter doesn't get stiffed on the deal.

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