Restaurant Hacks – Saving on Dining Out Meals

A super page of restaurant hacks.

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This Restaurant Hacks Page contains a growing number of money saving ideas for cutting costs when you eat out or bring food home!

We love eating meals at home, but once in a while a meal out at a restaurant is a wonderful treat. And what makes it even more special is when you can get the same meal for a discounted price. This page if full of tips and hacks on how to get discounted food at restaurants.

Please, if you do get something for free or discounted, remember to be generous in the tipping of your server.

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1. Kids Eat Free Meals

Out To Eat with Kids Logo Poster.

If you’ve got kids and you want to know which restaurants in your area offer free kids meals visit Out To Eat With Kids. Just put in your zip code and you’ll find restaurants listed by miles from your home and the day of the week that they offer free kids meals.   Steve & Annette Economides – Scottsdale, AZ


2. Restaurant Gift Cards & Gas Points

We bought a Chipotle gift card at Fry’s (Kroger) when they were running 4x Gas Points on any gift card purchase. So a $25 gift card earned us 10 cents off per gallon. Then we went to Chipotle, bought two meals and used an online coupon to get free chips with our meal. Steve & Annette Economides – Scottsdale, AZ


3. Restaurant Coupon Searching & Company Kindness

We’re always looking for coupons on each restaurant’s website and coupon codes from retailmenot.com.

Sometimes, if you send comments or suggestions to a restaurant’s corporate office, they will send you gift cards or coupons too!  Rebecca Hinson Beck – PA


4. Free Meals on Special Calendar Days

This is a list of restaurants that give away free food on special days. This list is ever changing. Please verify before going to the restaurant. We’ve listed these by calendar dates.

  • January 19 is Popcorn Day – Free Popcorn in Theaters and Malls
  • March 20 – Rita’s Italian Ice – Free Ice
  • April 26 – National Pretzel Day – Auntie Anne’s Pretzels are discounted
  • May – Mothers’ Day – TCBY Free Fro-Yo to Moms
  • June – Fathers’ Day -TCBY Free Fro-Yo to Dads
  • June – First Friday – Krispy Kreme – Free Doughnut Day
  • June 10 – Seven Eleven – Free Ice Tea
  • July 11 (7/11) Free Slurpee at 7-11 stores
  • July – Chick Fil A – Dress Like a Cow Day for dressing in costume
    Related Story: See how Steve & Annette get free meals at Chick-fil-a
  • September 19 – Talk Like a Pirate Day – Free Doughnut at Krispy Kreme
  • September 29 – National Coffee Day – Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Peets Coffee – Free Drink
  • October 31 (Halloween) – Free Doughnut at Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts
  • October 31 – Chipotle discounted meal.
  • November 11 (Veterans’ Day) Applebees, Golden Corral, TGI Friday’s, Olive Garden, Denny’s – Free Meal for Veterans (or active duty)

5. Appetizers for Dinner

My husband and I bought appetizers and drinks to save money on restaurant meals.
Tabi Jozwick – Macomb, IL


6. Split a Big Meal

If the restaurant serves large portions, ask to split the meal with your significant other. Sometimes there will be an extra plate charge. Merritt Lori McKeon – Laguna Hills, CA


7. Free Food at Happy Hour

Try going to a restaurant for happy hour. Buy one drink and enjoy the free appetizers . . . If the food is good. Merritt Lori McKeon – Laguna Hills, CA


8. Restaurants.com & Baseball

Get restaurant.com gift certificates. You can get a $25 gift certificate for as little as $2 sometimes.

Use it on a night when you can get kids’ meals for free.

A few restaurants in my area give free kids’ meals with the purchase of an adult meal on certain nights of the week. In my area, the 99 gives free kids’ meals the day after the Red Sox win (every time they win). Robin Madore Roper –  Franklin, New Hampshire


9. Order Water to Drink and Take Food Home

We (almost) never order anything to drink besides water, and typically take half our food to go for leftovers the next day. Two meals for the price of one! Julie Mead – Show Low, AZ


10. Get Pizza for Less

Get discounted pizza without a coupon by calling virtually any pizza place near you and ask the following question. “Do you have any pizza orders that were made, but not picked up?” If they do have unclaimed pizzas, you can usually get them at a discounted price, as long as you aren’t picky about what you get. It never hurts to ask, right?


11. Chicken Nuggets at McDonald’s

If you order two, four-piece Chicken McNuggets you’ll spend less than buying one, six-piece order. Plus, you’ll get extra sauces! Anonymous


12. Free Food on Your Birthday

A birthday cake with 10 lit candles on it.

This is another great restaurant hack. Most of these free birthday deals require you to sign up for the restaurant’s loyalty program at least a month prior to your birthday. Don’t wait till the last minute – you probably won’t get your free meal.

  • Applebees – Free Dessert
  • Arby’s – Free Milk Shake
  • Auntie Anne’s – Free Pretzel
  • A&W – Free Root Beer Float
  • Baja Fresh Mexican Grill – Free Taco and Burrito
  • Baskin Robbins – Free scoop of Ice Cream
  • Benihana – Free Birthday Meal
  • California Pizza Kitchen – Free Dessert
  • Carvel – Free Ice Cream Cone
  • Cheesecake Factory – Free bowl of ice cream
  • Chili’s – Free Brownie Sundae
  • Cold Stone Creamery – Free scoop of ice cream
  • Cracker Barrel – Free Dessert
  • Dairy Queen – Coupon for a free item
  • Edible Arrangements – Free item
  • Dunkin’ Donuts – Free Beverage
  • Denny’s – Free Breakfast
  • Firehouse Subs – Free Medium Sub
  • IHop – Free Meal
  • Jamba Juice – Free Smoothie
  • Jersey Mikes – Free 8″ Sub and Drink
  • Krispy Kreme – Free Doughnut
  • Olive Garden – Free Appetizer or Dessert
  • PF Changs – Free Appetizer or Dessert
  • Qdoba – Free Burrito
  • Red Robin – Free Burger
  • Ruby Tuesday – Free Burger
  • Sprinkles Cup Cake – Free Cup Cake
  • Steak ‘n Shake – Free Double Burger with Cheese Fries
  • Souper Salad – Free Meal on your Birthday Week
  • Spaghetti Warehouse – Free Meal
  • Sweet Tomatoes – Free Birthday Meal
  • Texas Road House – Free Appetizer or sidekick of ribs
  • Tony Romas – Free Entree
  • Uno Pizzeria – Free Entree
  • Waffle House – Free Waffle
  • Wendy’s – Free Frosty

Krispy Kreme has so many free days throughout the year, you’ll want to check out this list!


13. Buying Dinner Right Before Lunch Hour Ends

When we get a craving for Chinese take-out food, we plan it for a day I can pick it up while already out on errands. I go during the restaurant’s lunch hours. It costs about 2/3 the price of a dinner meal, AND the lunch specials usually include extras such as soup or egg rolls that the dinner meal does not. Thanks, I’ve been enjoying your email newsletter twice each month.
Ann Thomas – Bridgeville, PA


14. Save Money Traveling with Hospital Food

The hospitals near us have really improved the variety and flavor of the food they serve. It’s almost like eating at a restaurant.

So, here’s a great way to get a tasty meal for just a few bucks. Visit your local hospital cafeteria. Here’s what I’ve found: For breakfast: Two eggs, toast, hashbrowns, and bacon for $2.50. They even gave me a 10% senior discount.

Lunch is almost a better deal, hamburger, fries and a 20oz drink for $2.50. Dinners prices range anywhere from $4 to $6 – the prime rib was delicious.

We’ve heard the same thing from friends who have done this in other parts of the country while traveling in their RV’s.   Sylvester Meola – Scottsdale, AZ


15. Check out Groupon for Restaurant Meals

There are hundreds of restaurants that advertise on Groupon – and the savings can be significant. We loved it when one of our favorite Chinese restaurants dropped a Groupon Coupon – we’ve gone there before and paid retail, but this time we saved a boodle!


16. Half Price Drinks at Sonic

Every day between 2 and 4 pm Sonic Drive-Ins host “Happy Hour.” Most of their drinks and some other food are discounted 50%. Learn more about Sonic’s Happy Hour.


17. Carrying Tea Bags with You

I used to go to the expensive coffee shop and order a mocha for about $3. Since economizing, I still go for “coffee” with my friend. But now I carry my own favorite tea bags (purchased in bulk for 9 cents each) in my purse.

I ask for a cup of hot water and pop in my own tea bag – most restaurants are really nice about giving it to me for 10 cents or less. I also use this tactic when I am running errands or taking the kids here and there.

It helps me avoid heading to the nearest place to buy coffee especially when I’m tired. Julia L. – Camas, WA


The following tips will save you money when you don’t eat at a restaurant.

Taking Food with You on an Outing with Kids

A spiderman lunch box with wheels on it.

I always bring a sack lunch with me. Whenever I go to the mall with my kids – especially if we go in the morning- I pack water bottles, snacks, and a sack lunch of PB and J, frozen Go-gurts, and fruit in a lunch box.

This way, when we get hungry we are not tempted to eat at someplace in the food court, which can add up quickly. It also saves me the hassle of trying to maneuver through a busy area with kids, stroller, and food on a tray all the while looking for a table and a high chair!

We are all set to eat whenever and wherever!   Erin M. – Phoenix, AZ


 When you are too Tired to Cook

Two cans of dintey moore beef stew with mag wheels on them racing very fast.

With three kids and homeschooling, my life has been busy. I generally cook from scratch, but some days I’m just too tired.

So as not to buy fast food or the likes, I have resorted to buying some ready-made foods on sale, to keep on hand. Items such as frozen pizza, canned tamales mixed with canned chili, macaroni and cheese or other canned soup make an easy meal.

This saves money and the kids think it is a treat.   Chrissy and Steve – Phoenix, AZ


Save Money on Drinks When Traveling

Years ago when we just starting on our frugal trek, we discovered many ways that we were wasting money. One of them was soft-drinks.

When we’d go out for a weekend drive and get thirsty, we stop at a fast food place to get a soft drink. On a daily basis, it didn’t seem like a lot of money, but on a monthly basis, it really started to add up.

We decided to start taking our favorite drinks with us. A little planning in advance can really add up! Mike and Linda Lenich – South Holland, IL


Free Coffee From the Bank

Recreation Savings on Meals and Food for your Family.

Instead of buying a $3 coffee while I’m out doing errands, I take advantage of the free coffee offered at my bank and credit union. Most financial institutions in my area have an automatic one-serving coffee maker with to-go cups for customers. Some even offer flavored coffees!

Once or twice a week when I am doing my banking, I’ll make a cup of coffee while there, and then take it with me to enjoy while completing my other errands! I’ve just eliminated the latte factor!

Editor’s Note:

We love your idea. If you want to purchase your own  Keurig coffee maker and it saves you from ordering out coffee all the time, this could be a great money saving purchase!

More Latte for Less Loote

A white cup of coffee being held by a person wearing red mittens.

Our son-in-law, Collin is a college student and works part-time at QuikTrip (QT) gas stations/convenience mart. QT operates about 700 stores across the country. As a working college student, and a new member of our MoneySmart Family, he is always looking for ways to save money.

He recently shared this tip for those of you who love to have your morning jolt of Java or flavored coffee.

If you go into a QT and bring your own cup (smaller than 54 ounces) you can get a refill for 86 cents! If you’re looking to build savings through David Bach’s “Latte Factor” you don’t have to give it up whole-hog. You can merely change where you get your coffee from and bank the savings. If you’re normally buying a Starbucks coffee for $5 per day, changing to QT could save you around $20 each week or $1000 each year (based on a 50 week work year).

This money-saving strategy works for all of their fountain drinks, not just coffee.

Sometimes a change of thinking, convenience or location can end up saving a whole lot of change!

Coffee dispensers at QuikTrip convenience / gas stores.

Drink Counter at QT

 

 

 

Another great blog of ours is about Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwiches.

And here’s some great information about Sonic’s Happy Hour.

For other terrific money saving fun ideas for recreation, consider our first book, America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money!

Restaurant Hacks - 14 Money Saving Tips Eating at Restaurants.

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