Frugal Dining Out: Give the Cook a Break

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You don’t need to listen to the business and financial news to know that more people are eating at home or at less expensive restaurants. All you need to do is look at the parking lots or step inside and compare the number of full and empty tables.

Eating at home might mean healthier meals, but it also means more cooking. More cooking can become too much cooking, though.  The cook needs an occasional break.

During hectic days, there may not be time for cooking.

For special occasions, cooking and eating at home may not feel special enough.

There are many good reasons for choosing to dine out, but dining out at a formal restaurant, or even at a fast food restaurant, can be expensive. You want to give the cook a break, celebrate, or accommodate the need for speed and convenience frugally.

Watch the News and Read the Newspapers

To lure customers back, restaurants are implementing creative new ideas, and the local newspapers and television newscasts are covering them.  Some restaurants offer “kids eat free” deals on particular days of the week and or times of the day.

Other restaurants have changed their pricing concept for all customers on all menu items. When the customer comes to the register, he or she pays what he or she feels the meal was worth. Customers who come to the restaurant for lunch in between job interviews and filling out applications can pay a little less without having to skip lunch. Customers taking a lunch break from work pay or between calls on clients often pay a little more to support the restaurant. The restaurant is able to help those who are struggling, and according to interviews with the restaurant owners or managers, the difference between those who pay a little less and those who pay a little more evens out so the restaurant is able to remain in business for its own employees.

Watch for Coupons

Fast food restaurants, pizza parlors, and casual restaurants make frequent use of coupons, and they aren’t not just among the ads in your local paper. You might find them hung on your door or included with other ads and coupons in a goody bag distributed to the homes in your community. You might find the ad printed on the goody bag itself, so don’t ignore what’s printed there.

If you don’t receive a weekly goody bag, you can print coupons for restaurants in your area from one of the many online sites like

You can also visit and enter your zip code to preview the coupons for your area before purchasing a book for $15. That way you will know before purchasing how many of the included coupons you are likely to use and whether or not the book will be a good value for you.

Watch the Restaurant Deals Web Sites

Not all of the deals involve coupons. Visit to purchase gift certificates to your local restaurants at discounted prices. You might be able to purchase a $25 gift certificate for $10 or a $10 gift certificate for $3. Before purchasing, be sure to read the fine print. You may, for example, be required to make a minimum purchase that may be twice as much as the amount of the gift certificate. In some cases, a tip of as much as 18% may be included in the gift certificate, which means that you would not be able to use the entire value of the gift certificate for the meals you order. Other restrictions may also apply. You may not be able to use the gift certificate to place a carry out order. Instead, you may be required to dine at the restaurant. So, be sure that the restrictions placed on the gift certificate don’t prevent you from using it as you intend.

Restaurant Deals for Kids

Two Web sites track restaurant deals for kids. provides a list of restaurants, some national and some local, that offer “kids eat free” deals, birthday clubs, and other promotions and deals. Visitors to the Web site are invited to post new deals and updated information on existing ones.

At you can enter your home zip code, or, if you are on a trip, the zip code where you are staying, and search for restaurants offering free or discounted meals for kids within a 5 mile to 30 mile radius.

Both and remind their users to check with the local restaurant for details and to be certain that restaurant is participating. Some restaurants are franchises, rather than company owned, and may not participate in all corporate programs.

An Evening Out

It is still possible for everyone to have an enjoyable evening out and still live frugally. Dining out isn’t always a luxury. It can be the smart solution to a hectic day. Dining out can also be a smart stress reducer as well as a smart way for people to reconnect, and frugal living is, after all, about doing what’s smart.

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