Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dining on a Budget


So if you haven’t already figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of eating out, trying new restaurants, and cooking. While I don’t have a formal education from a high end culinary school, I know what tastes good and I will write about it. Whether you want to try it out is up to you. I always say - don’t knock it until you try it!

I don’t know about you, but eating out can get pretty pricey! I have found various ways of eating out on a budget since I tend to do it pretty frequently. Many restaurants have coupons for free appetizers or entrees when you sign up for their emails or “like” them on Facebook. There are also websites dedicated to providing you a fine dining experience at half price or better. If you know about these websites, bear with me and you may learn something new!

Groupon
When you sign up with Groupon, they will send you an email with their daily deals that range from 30%-80% off original price. For example, the promo in Phoenix today is for Ticoz Resto-Bar. You pay $13 for $30 worth of food. That is a savings of 57% or $17 off! This is a great way to try new restaurants, bars, salons, family activities in your area. The best thing is that you can access Groupon anywhere in the nation so if you are visiting family in say Houston, you could search Groupon for deals in that area and show your family your foodie expertise. You also have a chance to make money off Groupon or get yours for free if your friends purchase the deal of the day you recommend.

Living Social
Similiar to Groupon with minor differences. The first one is that they do travel packages so if you are looking to do a weekend get away or a week vacation and want extra perks, LivingSocial is the place to look. Also, they have promotions for the East and West Valley for food, family outings, pampering, etc. Signing up for their daily email ensures that you will never miss a deal. You do have to strike while the iron is hot as the deals usually only last 24 hours and sometimes there are limited quantities which can sell out quickly. I have purchased several deals from LivingSocial and I haven’t had a bad experience!

Deal Leak
The great thing about Deal Leak is that it shows all the current deals from a variety of websites so that you don’t have to look on each website. If you decide that you want to purchase an ongoing deal, Deal Leak will prompt you to their website. Groupon, Living Social, Plumb District, and Travel Zoo are a few of the names listed on this website. It was because of this website that I discovered restaurant.com.

Restaurant.com
I got an email from Travel Zoo one day and saw a link for discounted gift certificates to local restaurants so it piqued my interest. Low and behold I found a gold mine of places to eat for dirt cheap! I was able to get $125 worth of gift certificates for only $12. Yup you read that right - I was able to get four gift certificates to American Junkie in Scottsdale, Salvadoreno in Mesa, a $50 gift card to the restaurant of my choice and Fuego Tacos. There are a few restrictions that aren’t too painful - most require that you use the coupon in one visit, there may be specific times you can visit (i.e. lunch only or dinner only) and some are  not valid towards alcohol. Here are the non-negotiables as I like to call them - 18% gratuity is automatically added on (this shouldn’t be a big deal since 20% is the norm) and there is a minimum you can spend (the ones I purchased are $35 min). This is a great way to try different restaurants in your neighborhood or in a different part of town.

Email Lists
Many chain restaurants will also have an email list where they will send out coupons for free dessert, entrees and  appetizers. Some will even give you a coupon where kids can eat free with the purchase of an entree (Chili’s). It’s also a great way to be in the loop with new menu items or ways to get free food. Who doesn’t like free food?! I have seen coupons for Chili’s, Applebee’s, Panda Express, Jamba Juice, Elephant Bar to name a few.

Coupon Etiquette
Hopefully you all know the rules of eating out (what you should and shouldn’t do) but it’s important to have a little refresher course. When you dine with coupons, always tip on the full amount before the discount/coupon. If you can’t tip at least 20% then you shouldn’t be eating out anyways. Remember - tips are how servers, bussers, and the hostess get paid so remember that when your service is sub par or the server is rude. You don’t know if they’re having a bad day or if they have crabby customers. So be considerate and kill them with kindness!

If I missed any other helpful websites for dining out, please by all means leave a comment because I want to get on that mailing list as well!

Buen Provecho!
Thimetis the hungry latina