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    Fine Dining On A Budget

    By Amy L. Fontinelle

    Food costs take up a significant portion of everyone's budget, and we incur the cost month after month. While it is possible to <a href="http://hungryforamonth.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_hungryforamonth_archive.html" rel="nofollow">eat for a dollar a day</a> if you're desperate, curious, or masochistic enough, most of us have the money and the desire to purchase foods we enjoy. If you'd like to keep your food expenses to a minimum while still pleasing your palate, read on.

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    Eating out is generally considered to be a major budget killer, but for me, it's an affordable luxury and a great joy that I'm unwilling to give up. If you love going out to eat too, you don't have to deprive yourself in the name of saving money. There are many ways to dine out on the cheap.

    <b>You don't have to eat fast food to save money</b> -- just choose a typically inexpensive cuisine. Categories where almost any restaurant's entrees will be under $15 (or even under $10) include Mexican, Salvadoran, Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Cuban, and Vietnamese. When you need to save money, restaurants to avoid include French restaurants, steakhouses, certain Italian restaurants, seafood, and sushi.

    <b>Stick to well-known, well-liked restaurants</b> to increase your odds of getting great food that's worth the money. Most major cities have a significant food blogger presence. These average-joe writers are familiar with the local restaurant scene, but don't have the deep pockets or specialized taste buds of food critics, meaning that what they like, you'll probably both like and be able to afford. A few well-known blogs in major cities include San Francisco's <a href="http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/" rel="nofollow">Becks & Posh</a>, New York's <a href="http://www.nycnosh.com/" rel="nofollow">NYC Nosh</a>, and Los Angeles' <a href="http://www.foodieuniverse.blogspot.com/" rel="nofollow">Foodie Universe</a>. A Google search should help you turn up blogs in your area. You can also check out <a href="http://www.kiplog.com/food/foodlinks.htm" rel="nofollow">Kiplog's food blog directory</a> and use the ctrl+f command in Firefox to search the page for blogs in your city.

    Another nationwide, online source of restaurant data is <a href="http://www.citysearch.com/" rel="nofollow">Citysearch</a>, which has both editorial reviews and customer reviews. You can search this website by location and cuisine to find exactly what you're looking for. <a href="http://www.yelp.com/" rel="nofollow">Yelp</a> and <a href="http://www.chowhound.com/" rel="nofollow">Chowhound</a> are both good sources of honest, consumer-generated restaurant opinions and are likely to have the scoop on small neighborhood establishments.

    If you're looking for something more tangible, Zagat guides are the way to go -- but don't pay money for these glovebox-sized books. Zagat guides are compilations of consumer opinions, and anyone can sign up to be on their panel. If you <a href="http://www.zagat.com/vote/VoteAbout.aspx?LNK=VAB" rel="nofollow">sign up at their website</a> and submit your opinions of local restaurants (which is a very simple process) they'll mail you a free copy of any new book you've participated in when it comes out, which takes place once a year. You can get guides for many major cities as well as a catch-all national guide. I like to get my local book, books for cities I travel to frequently, and the national guide.

    <b>Avoid dining out on major holidays</b>, especially Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and New Year's Eve. On major holidays, many restaurants increase their prices and limit their menus. By pushing your special meal just one day ahead of or after the big day, you'll save money, avoid crowds and long waits, and be able to choose any item on the menu.

    <b>Take advantage of discount programs</b> like <a href="http://www.restaurant.com/" rel="nofollow">Restaurant.com</a>, <a href="http://www.cozmocard.com/" rel="nofollow">Cozmo Card</a>, and <a href="http://www.goldc.com/discount/home.shtml" rel="nofollow">Entertainment</a>. Restaurant.com allows you to purchase $25 restaurant gift certificates for just $10. <a href="http://www.mytwodollars.com/" rel="nofollow">My Two Dollars</a> frequently posts Restaurant.com coupon codes that will allow you to save even more -- I recently purchased $75 worth of gift certificates for a mere $12. Entertainment is a coupon book that you can buy online (or from school kids) that is full of buy one, get one free restaurant deals. Coupons are good for a particular calendar year, which means that if you buy a book towards the end of that year, you can purchase it at a steep discount. Cozmo Card helps Los Angeles residents save money on meals at specified restaurants--you purchase a $30 card which entitles you to significant discounts at various restaurants. Different cities have their own, similar cards.

    One caveat: I sometimes find that the restaurants I try using these discounts are sub-par. Some are also finicky about coupons, so make sure to ask your waiter about using your coupon and clarify any special conditions before your visit and then again before you order.

    <b>Know how to tip</b>. I know the waiters in the audience will hate me for this one, but did you know that you're supposed to tip on the subtotal, not the grand total? Many restaurants trick you into tipping on the grand total by returning only your credit card signature slip showing only the grand total. Most people then leave 15% to 20% of that figure, rather than leaving 15% to 20% of the pre-tax figure. You don't need to leave a tip on the sales tax!

    Tipping properly can save you a hundred dollars or more over the course of a year if you dine out regularly. Please note that I am not advocating stiffing your waiter -- anyone who does their job right deserves a minimum of 15%. If you have the money to eat out, you have the money to leave a proper tip.

    <b>Share</b>. A dining experience with friends can be a lot of fun, and it can also be cost-effective. Sometimes ordering several appetizers and sharing them can be cheaper than ordering entrees -- not to mention that it can be more filling and give you a more varied meal. I'd only recommend this with friends you feel comfortable with, though -- you don't want someone strange eating off your plate, and you don't want someone stiffing you on the bill.

    By using the above tips and a bit of creativity, you can dine out at quality restaurants while not spending a fortune.

    #2
    Thank you for this article, I enjoyed it. We had until recently tipped on the grand total and didn't realize that the tip was based on the subtotal. It does make a big difference.

    If I know that the restaurant serves a large plate of food, my husband and I normally share the meal and order another side which could be a salad or an appetizer. Since we kicked the soda habit, drinking water with lime or lemon has reduced our bill as well. Occasionally, we'll have a glass of wine depending upon the food or occasion, but the wine is such a money maker for them. We noticed the difference in our bill just getting rid of the soft drinks.

    Comment


      #3
      Here's a great Chicago Foodie forum: lthforums.com

      Comment


        #4
        Pardon me for going into the whole tipping thing... I'm one of those server people you mentioned Whereas I definitely share meals in restaurants, drink water rather than pop, and usually eat cheaper cuisine, I tip mostly between 20 and 25% (us servers have a certain admiration for others in our position), and always on the grand total. If most people dont know they are only required to tip on the subtotal, why would the server? This is definitely the first time it's been pointed out to me. If someone tipped me say, 10% on the subtotal, that would register well below for the grand total, and I'd feel pretty crappy about it. Of course, I dont feel too great about 10% either, but at least it's 10% and not 8%. I dont think anyone should tip any lower than 15% if the server does a good job, and still 15% on a subtotal would register lower to anyone unknowing of this idea of tipping on the subtotal. It's a touchy subject, but as someone who's entire income is left solely to others' generosity (or the wolves, as it sometimes would seem), I can honestly say that that extra couple bucks you spend on a tip factoring in the tax can make or break someone's day. Take my word for it.

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          #5
          I agree with pjmama. I always tip 20% or more because I know so many people tip very little and that is not fair when your server is only making $2 an hour.
          The tax on my bill is usually less than $2, so that would only save me about 40 cents. Hardly worth it.
          Another thing, when the servers know you tip correctly, they fight over who gets to serve you. Our waitresses love us!

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            #6
            It doesn't make sense to tip someone on a tax that has nothing to do with the food or service. I have since asked people in that profession and they agree. If you ever have them include the tip on your bill or credit card, see what they put there. We pay enough tax as it is and should not have to pay a tip on tax. I used to be a waitress, so I have been there.

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              #7
              Originally posted by Aleta View Post
              It doesn't make sense to tip someone on a tax that has nothing to do with the food or service. I have since asked people in that profession and they agree. If you ever have them include the tip on your bill or credit card, see what they put there. We pay enough tax as it is and should not have to pay a tip on tax. I used to be a waitress, so I have been there.
              That's a really good point. I tend to over-tip in general because I know what a frustrating, thankless job serving can be. I probably won't change from tipping off the grand total unless I got horrible service because it makes me feel better to leave a great tip.

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                #8
                Personally, I tip with paper rather than figuring it down to the penny because I just don't care to take the time or carry the change. If $3 will be under 20%, I will happily add another dollar and be done with it no matter what the resulting tip percentage is. As long as I'm at or above 20% (and yes, I tip on the tax, too, just cause it's faster and a matter of pennies).

                For those that are truly paying attention to this sort of thing, the easiest method is to take the sales tax on your bill, multiply by 3, and tada... Obviously, adjust the multiplier up or down based on the sales tax in your area, the level of service, etc...

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                  #9
                  Pasta is a great one. A few chillies, tomatoes, capers, parsely (grown yourself of course!), mint (ditto) tastes great.

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                    #10
                    I seen a blog off this thread, about Kroger shopping, Just a lil thing to add, if you take your own bags, thats like 5 cents off per bag you reuse also. so if your shopping for the month, and take 20 bags, thats another dollar saved. dont seem like much, but a dollar saved is a dollar earned these days.lol

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                      #11
                      Were a family of Five. Five is my standard tip, a dollar for putting up with each of us, and our bill is usually under 37.50 maybe that seems to much, but my kids,lol, gotta love em, the waitresses earn every dime of it.lol. I waited tables too and half the people left nothing, and i always ask the waitress to come to the table and hand them the tip, cause this world these days, someones liable to take it off the table. Ive seen it done! So i just hand the money to the person thats supposed to get it.

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                        #12
                        When you can get the certificates from Restaurant.com at a discount, it is a good deal. However, there usually are stipulations on when and how they can be used.

                        I have yet to find a really good way to save money because of the frequency that we eat out and the fact there are three of us. I finally started working on the budget and was shocked to see how much we had spent eating out in the last month. Even fast food (and coffee!) add up to quite a lot.

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                          #13
                          Weekly

                          Sometimes, just being a good regular will get u a discount. I like our local buffet place. They like us too. They know how to treat people and when somethings not there in the trays, u ask for it, they set it up. I go there at least one time a month, i like to go more, but depends on bills. I live in a co op, so gotta wait for that electric bill.lol. I do go to movie gallery or walmart for movies too. If you have a movie gallery near you, a new deal started yesterday, rent 2 movies, you can buy five previeweds for 3.99 each. I normally dont rent, but i went for that. I bought miami vice, saw 4, click, number 23, and deck the halls for 3.99 each. The total for five movies bought and 2 rented was 27.90.

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                            #14
                            In regards to the discount programs mentioned in the article...

                            The wife and I enjoy a free meal at Red Lobster a few times a year. How? We get free gift cards ($25 or $50) by doing different online points programs. It takes a while to add up, but it's a free way to eat. And, yes, we do tip well.

                            ~michaelo

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                              #15
                              Originally posted by leggzz66 View Post
                              Were a family of Five. Five is my standard tip, a dollar for putting up with each of us, and our bill is usually under 37.50 maybe that seems to much, but my kids,lol, gotta love em, the waitresses earn every dime of it.lol. I waited tables too and half the people left nothing, and i always ask the waitress to come to the table and hand them the tip, cause this world these days, someones liable to take it off the table. Ive seen it done! So i just hand the money to the person thats supposed to get it.
                              I've also seen waitresses that didn't wait on the customer pick up a tip on a counter!

                              jkd

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