Eating out can be a rewarding and yet costly experience. Few things will drain your bank account faster than eating more than an occasional meal at your favorite restaurants. The food may be good, but are you spending too much for the convenience of not having to cook or do dishes?
We decided to take this question to the LockerGnome community and find out how technology can help save you money while dining out. Surprisingly, there are quite a few ways, and some of them can save you boatloads. Imagine only paying half of what you would normally pay for a table full of sushi or taking a date out for a night on the town and still having money left over for that bottle of wine or chocolate dessert that adds that little something special to an already romantic evening.
Here are a few ways you can save money at restaurants.
Foursquare is one of those services that can be both creepy and extremely helpful at the same time. Sure, letting the whole world know where you are at any given moment can be unnerving, but you don’t have to publicize your profile. Use it under a pseudonym or only while you’re out of town. The choice is yours, but the savings can be quite real. Some places give you 10% off your tab just by showing them that you’ve checked in using Foursquare. Other places will reward the mayor of their establishment with further discounts, encouraging frequent visitations.
Peggy Dolane mentioned, “I’ve saved a ton of money with Foursquare, especially during the holidays when AmEx was doing [its] $10 for $10 promotion.”
Groupon, LivingSocial, Google Offers, etc.
There are a whole bunch of helpful services that can save your pocketbook when dining out, but they all pretty much do the same thing. An establishment in your area is either reached out to by one of these services, or it does the reaching in order to trade steep discounts for customers. By taking part in one of these deals, it’s pretty much guaranteed a ton of customers, who pay up front for what amounts to a gift card at a discount. So, instead of advertising its business through a medium that may or may not have any direct impact on sales, it’s able to get a real and immediate response to the campaign while you receive a huge discount on your bill. That sounds like a win-win to me.
I’ve personally used Groupon on several occasions to get 50% off at various locally owned restaurants. The process is fairly quick and I usually get some proof of purchase to take to the store (coupon code, printable receipt, etc.) very quickly.
This suggestion was recommended by NCTA on Twitter, who also suggested our next savings tip.
Restaurant.com appears to be little more than a directory of eateries in your area on the surface, but underneath the initial impression is a site filled with savings. As I researched this article, I found a current deal over there where you can purchase $25 gift certificates for as low as $3. That’s a huge savings.
I did a quick search in my area and almost instantly found gift certificates for places I’ve wanted to go to for ages, and never felt the price would justify the experience. Through this site, I’m able to grab a $50 gift certificate for $25 — a 50% savings.
It would be hard to write an article about saving money with any business without mentioning Twitter. Following a company’s official Twitter account is a great way to stay in the know for any specials going on. Not only that, but some companies reward followers with exclusive deals that only they can take part in.
I try to make a habit of tweeting any especially satisfying experiences at locally owned businesses. This supports local commerce, but also gives your followers the benefit of hearing about a place they might not know existed otherwise.
Doing this has landed me free lunches on several occasions as businesses are thankful for the free publicity and their competitors try to get me to try what they have to offer. Yes, that sounds too good to be true, but just think about how much they save on advertising when someone spreads the word with a genuine recommendation through social media.
Facebook and Twitter are very different, but some companies love to give discounts to people in return for “liking” their official Facebook page. A restaurant with a properly run social media campaign will usually offer some value-add in exchange for allowing it to be a part of your news feed. Exclusive offers, heads-up on any specials, and other benefits are frequently given to followers. If you’re on Facebook, this a great way to save money.
All right, so gift cards are a big deal these days. People give and receive them as gifts for just about any occasion from Valentine’s Day to Christmas. What if you receive a gift card for a place you really don’t want to go?
Enter Plastic Jungle. This site is awesome. You can pick up a gift card for your favorite restaurant at a significant discount. During a quick look at the site, I found offers for 15% off Baja Fresh, 11% off at the Cheesecake Factory, 20% off at Boston Market, and countless others to restaurants that fit all tastes.
One of the cool things about Plastic Jungle is that it’s a great way to make money off your unwanted cards, too. You could technically sell a card to a place you don’t like very much and put your earnings toward a discount at a place you do like.
Oh, and it also saves you money at other places. Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, said: “I actually used Plastic Jungle to buy Best Buy gift cards before I bought my fridge, which effectively reduced the amount I spent on the fridge by $96. Things like food have much wider margins.”
Do you live in the UK? VoucherCloud is a great way to save money while dining out, and it was recommended by Matt on Twitter. This site allows you to find the latest voucher codes and discount vouchers to a variety of retailers and restaurants across the UK. You can even have mobile vouchers texted to you.
VoucherCloud even has an iPhone app, making it easier to find discounts while you’re out and about.
So, when is VoucherCloud coming to the US?
Being a frugal geek doesn’t limit you to just saving money on electronics or searching for an open source alternative to otherwise overpriced software. You can save a bundle on everyday activities through utilizing tools like social media and the greater Internet to find and secure deals at your favorite hangouts.
So, what about you? How do you save money at restaurants?