Rising food costs, not to mention continued staffing challenges and other cost increases, mean higher prices on menus. Yet none of us want to skip going out to our favorite places or miss trying new spots. While passing on dessert or ordering the least expensive main is always an option, there are other, less deprivation-based ways to save money at restaurants.
The key is to look for how restaurants try to save you money—go at times or for events designed to bring people in when they’re less busy and are looking to drum up business. The deals and offers become a win-win for you and the restaurant.
- Hit happy hour. Special small plates, raw bar deals, and 2-for-1 offers make happy hours a no-brainer. Options for this after-work classic go far beyond wings at sports bars. One Market in San Francisco shucks $2 oysters and offers oyster-friendly wines during “Summer Oyster Weekends.”
- Check out lunch menus. Plenty of restaurants offer the same food for less money at lunch. Washington DC’s Boqueria – Dupont offers a lunch special of pimentos de padrón, two tapas, and churros for $35 per person.
- Search for set menus and experiences. Set menus are often at least a bit of a bargain, and while wine tastings and other experiences aren’t necessarily less expensive, they do have a set cost going in so you can budget. Example: Estia in Philadelphia offers a $40 theater menu.
- Grab a seat at the bar. Having a drink and an app or two at the bar provides the taste and vibe of a place without the cost of a full meal. Or go to a bar with great food. Petty Cash Taqueria and Bar in Los Angeles serves bluefin tuna tostadas and grilled octopus tacos alongside their margaritas, sangria, and ranch water.
- Think Monday and Tuesday. Slower days lead restaurants to try and tempt more people out, so many restaurants offer deals, often pretty sweet deals. All-you-can-eat Pizza Mondays, BOGO Taco Tuesdays, and Half-off Wine Wednesdays are well-known versions. Also look for “date night” deals such as Thursdate at The Melting Pot in Minneapolis, where a 4-course dinner, including sparkling chocolate fondue for dessert, goes for $49.
- Try pay-as-you-can options. They’re not the norm, and they’re not everywhere, but sliding-scale restaurants and pay-what-you-can events pop up. Best of all, they often have a charitable bent that donates meals for every full-price meal purchased. HAGS in New York designates Sunday dinners as pay-what-you-can as a way of creating a more inclusive community.
- Indulge in all-day breakfast. When it’s on offer, it’s a winner. After all, the French eat omelets for dinner all the time. Carnegie Diner & Cafe in New York serves breakfast all day (and offers a two-course theater menu to boot).
- Give in to the early bird special. You know you want to.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to anyone who suggests saving money by tipping less. That’s just rude.
Restaurants are still struggling from all the chaos the pandemic has thrown their way, and hospitality is one of the few industries that doesn’t automatically pass increased costs along to consumers in the form of higher prices. Restaurants are reluctant to raise prices and often sacrifice profit rather than charging more. No one should skip necessities to eat out, but for those of us who want to keep supporting our favorite spots as much as we can, these are ways to go out, enjoy ourselves, and show up for restaurants.
For more ways to show up for restaurants, get an in-depth look at how inflation is impacting restaurant bills.