7 Secrets To Making A Restaurant Menu Work In Your Flavor

by Ron Haynes

It’s been a long day and as you pass your favorite restaurant, you realize that the last thing you feel like doing is going home, hauling out the pots and pans, and figuring out what to fix for dinner. Or maybe it’s Sunday, church has just let out and some good friends say, “Hey, let’s all head over to the Olive Garden!” and your kids start begging. Or you’ve spent the day watching a sporting event and it’s now 6pm. Your buddies want to stop off for supper and you haven’t been able to print your Restaurant.com gift certificate.

So you cave in and decide to go ahead and go out to eat, doing some mental calculations … hmm, $12 for me, $12 for my spouse, $12 for my sixteen year old and her fifteen year old sister, $6 for my son, plus beverages, plus tax, plus tip … $70 – $80 plus for lunch. Wait, did I do that right? Ouch. Talk about a budget buster! And then there’s all that uneaten food on the kid’s plates. Sigh.

There are a few ways to lessen that restaurant bill:

1. Eat an appetizer as an entree

Appetizers are usually cheaper than entrees because they don’t have all the side items that accompany entrees. That can mean less food wasted. Just watch out for all the fried stuff.

2. Split meals

My wife and I have started splitting meals. Since most restaurants have portions large enough for an NFL middle linebacker, splitting a meal is relatively easy, though it can be a challenge if one of you has a preference for spicy foods and the other thinks that Doritos are too spicy. Add a side salad and a loaded baked potato as side items and you’ve actually got two meals for the price of one.

3. Kids eat free

Check out My Kids Eat Free and make use of their research on restaurants that are family friendly and allow your kids to eat for free! Other sites you should check out include Kids Meal Deals, and Kids Eat 4 Free.

4. Drink water

Beverages in a restaurant setting are exorbitantly expensive. I regularly see iced tea for $2.99! Multiply that by my family of five, add a 15% tip and 9% tax, and I’ve spent about $18.50. We’ve moved to the free option – ice water with a wedge of lemon. Add a little sugar to it and you can make a weak lemonade for picky kids who “don’t like the taste of water.”

5. Eat soup

A bowl or even just a cup of soup with some hearty bread can save you some big bucks. Plus many restaurant soups get overlooked even though they’re very good!

6. Eat lunch not dinner

Not all restaurants are cheaper at lunch, but many still are. If you can manage to go out for lunch (or even breakfast) rather than supper, you can also save.

7. Make it at home

If you just have to get your restaurant fix, consider making the same recipe at home. How? Check out:

Help me out!

What other ways can you and I lessen our restaurant bill?

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1003 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Love these ideas, I knew about restaurant.com and have used them a great deal, but the kids eat free lists you have accumulated here are great. I can’t wait to pass this on to my busy moms who would like to get out a little more often and this will be just what the budget ordered! Thanks Ron!

The Biz of Life

Go to happy hour, buy a drink or two, and stuff yourself on the food they give away.

Mandi @ Organizing Your Way

Great tips, Ron!

We love to eat out as a family. With four little ones, it’s the only time I actually get to sit and just enjoy the meal together (at home, it’s, “Can I have more water? Oops, I spilled. Oh, I need ketchup….”). It’s also a good opportunity to teach our kids how to behave, and I think regularly going out to eat is the reason it’s a relatively stress-free experience even though we have four kids 5 and under.

One way we stretch our eating out budget (and we do budget for it because it’s important to us), is by taking advantage of clubs, like TGIFriday’s Give Me Stripes club. We get an $8 certificate for every $50 we spend, which we then stretch using one of your tips above. We generally end up with three adult entrees to split between the 6 of us, and after the $8 off, our bill isn’t too bad!

Guy G.


Thanks for completely depressing me with the reminder that the Olive Garden is no longer in Canada. At least not in our region.

My wife often split meals. I find that most places’ portions are so large these days anyway, that we could easily split a meal at let’s say Montanna’s and still be pretty full. I would never have even considered trying this though until we learned tips on budgeting and started taking a serious look at what we were spending on eating out.

Now that we split meals on about 80% of our meals outside of the house, we’ll often get away with spending less than $20 with tip for the two of us. ‘Just water with a wedge of lemon please:)’

Thanks for the post,

Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com

The only thing with water that people struggle with is that they feel cheeky asking for it. You got to get over it guys!


restaurant are catching onto the splitting thing and have ben forst to start charging a plate charge for splitting. most menu’s are priced for per person. It hurts restauarant when spitting is done too often… I sugest having a smaller protion and a larger portion. How about you bring the left overs home and have two meals this way, vs splitting.?


I’ve never had a split plate charge. I suppose some restaurants may try to do this but if they did, I would protest.

Love the doggie bag idea though!

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