Eating out is a luxury for most families, but when you have a large family, it can be cost prohibitive. Learn how to save money in restaurants no matter the size of your family.
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Certainly eating in restaurants is not a necessity, but is it ever nice to once in awhile not have to plan the meal, buy the groceries, make the meal, and do the dishes and other cleanup! Being a family of 9, eating in restaurants is not something we can afford to do often, but I have sure figured out how save money when we do.
1. Order water.
Drinks are one of the fastest ways to run up a restaurant bill. Even non-alcoholic drinks increase the total cost significantly. If our family each ordered a soda pop at $3, it would add an extra $27 plus tax and tip to the bill, which is significant.
Water is healthier than juice or soda pop, especially in a restaurant that offers unlimited free refills. We limit our kids’ intake of sugary drinks. Ordering a round of water is better for everyone’s health.
If you (or your kids) really want soda, stopping to pick up a 2L on the way home to share will cost less than one soda in the restaurant would have and when divided among the whole family, will be a healthier option too than that non-stop pop.
2. Plan ahead.
Going out to eat on a whim will likely cost the most. Choose a restaurant ahead of time. Look up the menu online and do a bit of planning and number crunching. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but it will relieve the stress when you’re out and allow you to have more fun then.
There is a lot you can tell by looking at an online menu such as whether a restaurant is out of your price range or if it may make more financial sense to have two or three kids split an adult meal rather than order off the kids’ menu.
Prepare your kids. Let them know ahead of time what the expectations will be as far as ordering water or ordering (or not ordering) off the kids’ menu. It’s better to plan ahead than to get one of those servers who asks the kids directly for what upgrades they want. Some servers say it in such a way that the kids assume it’s included in the price. We teach our kids that things like gravy cost extra so that when servers ask them if they want gravy on their fries, they know to say NO!
3. Coupons and deal sites.
While it’s not always wise to use coupons (like justifying spending money you normally wouldn’t have spent), it can work in your favour if you have a coupon for a restaurant you were planning on going to. Unless you’re in the practise of eating out often, I don’t advise buying those large coupon books (the entertainment ones that are often sold as school fundraisers) as you likely won’t save more than the amount you spent on the book.
I sometimes take advantage of Groupons for restaurants if I see one that we would go to anyway. Deal sites such as Groupon can be an excellent way of finding discounts for eating out. You can also check online to see if there are any current specials.
4. Order family style.
It can be much less expensive to eat at restaurants that offer family style service or to create your own instead of having every person order their own meal. The most obvious example of this is ordering two or three large pizzas for everyone to share rather than everyone ordering an individual dish. It can also be done in more unconventional ways like ordering a large salad for everyone to share and then a few main courses and a side of bread or vegetables for everyone.
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5. Weigh in.
One of our go-to restaurants when eating out with the whole family is a Mongolian restaurant chain where the price is based on the weight of the food. There are occasionally Groupons offered for that restaurant and when I see one, I buy it. It costs me $15 to get $30 credit there.
With each meal, there is free soup, rice and a fortune cookie! The main part of the meal, which is cooked on a big grill after you choose the items, is priced entirely on weight. While this may not be the best strategy with growing teenage boys (*see note below), it is fabulous for younger children or for kids like my girls that can’t even finish a kids’ meal at other places.
*Important note: Go up with your kids when they are choosing their food and help them. Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. We learned this one the hard way when one of our growing teenage boys put so much in his bowl that it came in at more than $17!
6. Skip the fast food.
On the surface, it seems like fast food is cheaper than eating out in a “real” restaurant, but going through a drive-thru a few times can cost more than a nice family sit-down outing with healthier food. If you run the numbers, you are likely spending more on these “cheap” meals than you think you are.
7. Kids eat free.
Look for places where kids eat free. This is usually limited to kids under 12 but sometimes, it is limited to kids under 10 years of age.
Granted, the kids-eat-free program works best for families with two adults and two kids because it usually stipulates that it’s one free meal for one paid meal, but a large family can still benefit from the programs, particularly if they have some older kids who don’t qualify for kids’ meals and whose paid meals will count towards more free meals for younger kids.
Here are some lists of restaurants that have Kids Eat Free programs:
Kids Eat Free and Cheap from Today’s Frugal Mom
The Master List of Kids Eat Free (and Almost Free) Restaurant Deals from Money Saving Mom
8. Order take out.
I know this seems to contradict what I said about fast food, but I’m talking about real restaurant food. Hear me out. Some restaurants offer a discount or honour coupons for take out. You also save money on not having to tip your server. You can still have a nice family meal without having to do the cooking but the meal will be in your own home.
If you must do fast food, submarine sandwiches are one of the healthier options and here’s a tip for large families that will truly save you money.
Instead of ordering everyone their own sub (or worse yet, sub combo!), order a few large subs and have them customized and then cut into the amount of pieces that you need. For my three girls, I can order a long sub, have them put:
-meat, cheese and mayo on one third
-meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles on one third
-cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, black olives, green peppers, and mustard on the last third.
They all get exactly what they want and I save mega money!
If you are looking for other great family ideas, you may be interested in following me on Pinterest.