When I was in high school, my mom and I fought over whether I would take home-ec courses. I wanted room for drama and journalism classes in my schedule; she saw a practical skill I needed to learn for the ages. Finally, in that dramatic way only teenagers can pull off, I said, “I don’t need to cook. There are restaurants for that.”
Flash forward a (cough, cough) few decades and our society does, indeed, rely on eating out more than we did that day I wanted to win an argument in our kitchen. The problem? This reality comes at a financial price … unless you know how and where to find a restaurant deal.
So, if you still want the no-fuss option of not cooking tonight, or any other night, we at Indy on the Cheap want to share a few secrets on how to eat out for $5 per person:
1. Join restaurant loyalty clubs. They love to shower you with FREE entrees, appetizers, and desserts for your birthday. The drawback? You have a pile of valuable vouchers all expiring at the same time.
However, restaurant loyalty programs don’t require you to show ID, although some no-strings attached deals, like Denny’s b-day gift, do. So sign up with these programs listing 12 different birthdays, one per month. Don’t worry, you aren’t cheating the system. The restaurant still only honors this coupon once a year, which is what it budgeted with the loyalty program. Have your spouse or significant other do the same, making sure you don’t use the same birthday month for the same restaurant.
The cost of one meal when two walk away full is much better than one. And then there are the perks like these during the rest of the year for your loyalty, too.
2. Order pizza. Pizza deals are a consistent feature at Indy on the Cheap, and it’s rare when you can’t find a coupon somewhere for your favorite pizzeria. Pinpoint Perks, for instance, currently lists 140 pizza coupons and that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s out there. They come in the mail packets, directory pages, on the side of the last pizza box you left in the trash. Any way you slice it, the per person cost of sharing one of these pies on the cheap is … well, cheap!
3. Watch Groupon. Honestly, many of the deals at this prepaid voucher site aren’t for my family. But restaurants are our most likely category to buy because it’s not difficult to find time in our schedule to use them. We do eat dinner every night. Some of the sit-down locations will not break down to $5 per person (although 50% off at any price is still a good savings) but sandwich place deals rock. Ask me how many times I’ve bought the Krispy Krunchy Chicken deal. On second thought, I may not want to confess that. (As always, get out your own calculator for the deal — if you are paying $25 for 5 $10 certificates that you can only use one at a time, this deal may sour your appetite.)
4. Take the surveys on the back of your receipts. Not terribly hungry? If you’ve taken two minutes to go online and take the survey printed at the bottom or back of your last restaurant receipt, you now have a deal for a FREE appetizer or a dessert with an entree purchase. Buy something under $10, and split the meal. Voila! Both of you are are satisfied and the price hasn’t skyrocketed. Unless you couldn’t resist the margarita on the menu.
5. Know when and where kids eat free. We add to this Indy on the Cheap feature weekly.
6. Buy an Entertainment Book. But not when they first come out in October and November. If you wait until the year is half over, the price for those same coupons drops to below half, and often the company throws in FREE shipping, too. Currently, the book sells for $9.99, and you still have until December 1 to redeem them—go for the BOGOs first. At that price, you could recoup the cost on the first restaurant (not to mention the other categories), so it’s well worth the late start. In fact, if you’ve used up your favorite coupons already, get out the calculator and see if it’s worth buying a second copy at that price.
7. Eat in the dark. If you choose the times less visited, restaurants will reward you for being the odd man out. Since many of these deals coincide with times when you don’t want to load up on the calories anyhow, order just the specials to keep the bill under $5. Happy hours and breakfast were made for this.
See, Mom, I was right.
(And here comes the disclaimer: Deals change often, even faster than we can keep up with on the Internet, and some of the offers in the roundup articles may have expired. It’s always a good idea to ask ahead of time.)