One of the first things to go when cutting expenses is dining out. It's expensive and is rarely a necessity. So what do you do when temptation strikes or you are meeting at a restaurant for a meeting? Plan and allow yourself a splurge every once in awhile.
While I was in college, I had a number of odd jobs, but the one I was at the longest was for a restaurant. Not only did it give me some great benefits like free soup and salads as well as 50% off any menu item, it also gave me a great education in food.
I learned about different wines and that the restaurant mark up is 100-200% on a bottle. Restaurants make the most profit off of wines by the glass. You can bring your own wine, but you will be charged a corkage fee so call ahead to find out how much. It can range from $10-$30 per bottle.
I also learned how to dine out on the cheap. I took full advantage of my discounts, but I also familiarized myself with all of the Happy Hour specials at the restaurants and bars around town. Sounds like a lot of bad bar food? Not at all. Many area restaurants offer a $1.95-$3.95 menus that include hamburgers, sushi, pasta, chicken Caesars, and hummus plates. The only requirement is buying a beverage for a minimum that is typically a soda pop or iced tea. (Free refills)
Another trick is to buy an appetizer instead of a main course. My friends and I have been known to make a meal of a side salad and split an appetizer. If we are feeling like treating ourselves, we may split a main course.
Finally, consider lunch instead of dinner. You can typically get the same menu but smaller portions for much better prices.
Doggie bags aren't just for the dogs. Ask for a box before you start your meal and take half of it home for another meal. Weight loss gurus have been recommending this for some time as a way to lose weight. It also is good for the budget. Restaurants justify increasing menu prices by giving you more food and larger plates. It gives the illusion of better value for the money. In fact, most people just waste the food by leaving it or they add to the growing weight problem by eating everything on their plate like we've been taught since childhood.
At the end of the day, don't deprive yourself a luxury now and then. Just plan wisely and make sure you enjoy every aspect of the experience.