I'll just come right out and say it — I hate cooking. When I have the energy to meal prep on Sunday's, I'm all set but every other time I'll end up going out or ordering in. And sitting down at a restaurant can get very expensive even at the cheapest restaurants.
I don't know why but eating out with friends is even more expensive — probably because you don't see the bill adding up when you're having fun. Anyways, old habits die hard so here are some ways you can save money while being lazy about cooking.
Order your meal to go
Most chain restaurants like Applebee's or 99 Restaurants let you order to go or even have "curb stop" parking for easy pick up. It's a bit classier than a drive through and it beats paying extra fees. When you sit down, tips can go up to 30% if you're generous — and respect service workers.
However, when you pick up your order, you skip out on tips and delivery fees. I mean, most restaurants are pretty bad with service anyways so it's pretty much a win-win.
Places like The Cheesecake Factory have HUGE entrees — it's even been spoofed on some TV shows. When restaurants give you more food than you can eat, split your entree or an appetizer with your friends. I once went out with six friends and we only ordered four plates.
With this option, it'll be even easier to split the bill. Since everyone is sharing, there won't be any salty comments about how someone's dish was more expensive than the rest. Each person pays less than what an entree is worth and everyone walks away happy.
Find restaurants that give free starters
By starters I mean bread or chips — not full sized appetizers. When you go to a restaurant hungry, you tend to order more. Places like Longhorn Steakhouse or On the Border give out free bread and chips along with your meal.
Refills are also free so stock up on your carbs while you're at it. Once you're finished, you'll already be halfway full! Afterwards, I recommend ordering or sharing an entree with mostly protein.
Order from the promotions menu
Many restaurants will have seasonal promotions like the $10 unlimited appetizers from TGI Friday's or the endless pasta bowl from Olive Garden. Really, there's going to be a promotion any time of the year because restaurants compete to be the cheapest.
Try to find promos that offer apps and desserts too so you get the full package. If you order little else, you'll see that your bill stays low.
Say it's your birthday
Okay okay, this one may be a little immoral, but it works. Tons of places offer birthday cakes or treats when it's that special day. Telling the server that it's your birthday may earn you an unwanted song, but I think it's worth it.
This option takes care of your sweet tooth, but of course you can't do it all the time. And if you get caught, that's one restaurant off your list.
Order fountain drinks or water — or come during happy hour
Fruity cocktails and creative lemonades can quickly add up — especially if they don't have free refills. Instead, order a soda or a water. Sodas are normally two or three bucks while water is 100% free.
If you absolutely need your alcohol, come during happy hour. Drinks can be half off or even lower depending on where you go. Draft beers are usually priced the lowest so be sure to visit a place with a good selection.
But of course, staying in and cooking is the cheapest option — by a long shot too. If you need inspiration, you can try meal prepping or a subscription box like Blue Apron. Bon appetit and happy eating!