Man smiling at a restaurant and holding out a credit card.

Image source: Getty Images

It’s possible to dine out strategically and save money.

Key points

  • Inflation has hit restaurant prices hard (just like everything else).
  • Consider skipping the booze and ordering an appetizer as a meal.
  • If you choose the right dining out credit card, you can earn cash back or points on your restaurant spending.

Dining out is one of those everyday luxuries that nearly anyone can afford, at least once in a while. It’s very nice to walk into a restaurant, be seated, order whatever you want, and have it be served to you — no cooking or washing dishes afterwards required. That said, it’s extremely easy to blow your budget if you go overboard on dining out.

The most recent report from the Consumer Price Index showed that the cost of “food away from home” (as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics designates non-grocery food spending) was up 8.5% from November 2021 to November 2022. Thanks, inflation.

I’m a fan of small non-chain restaurants in my city, and have definitely felt the pinch of paying more for my meals lately. I’m happy to still buy restaurant meals, because I want these businesses to survive — it’s been a hard couple of years for restaurants, too. To that end, I’ve been collecting little ways to save money on dining out. Read on for some ideas to try the next time you go out.

1. Skip the alcohol

Ordering alcohol in a restaurant has an immediate large impact on your final bill. Alcohol markup in restaurants is often about 200%, according to How Stuff Works. Plus, a restaurant that serves alcohol requires additional (and sometimes expensive) licensing, especially if it serves hard liquor and not just beer and wine. For this reason, it’s a good idea to skip the booze if you’re hoping not to run up a big credit card tab on your night out.

2. Consider the appetizers

I am frequently in…

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