Five money-saving tips for eating at restaurants

It’s easy to eat out without having to cook! There’s always the possibility of leftovers! — Keeps restaurants busy, but uncertain economic times can lead to some changes in behavior. Customers may opt to pick up food rather than have it delivered.

Rethink how you order

No rule says you must order an appetizer, a main dish, or dessert in the same order. Double up on appetizers. You can taste more of the chef’s creativity if you order the first courses. Boredom can be reduced by only trying a few bites of a dish. You can also request a side dish to go with your entree and share it. A few of the first courses can be considered light meals, as they are large enough.

Choose lunch over dinner.

What’s the best part? For the same amount and same presentation, the Mediterranean branzino at Modena in D.C. that costs $35 at night is only four dollars in the afternoon. Lunch is more affordable than dinner and fixed-price menus. The Gramercy branch of Il Mulino Prime, New York, offers a $35 three-course lunch (along with half a dozen entree and appetizer choices). Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., offer midday “power hours” at their bar. This includes a sandwich, salad, fries, and draft beer.

Don’t drink

Your tab can soar with double-digit cocktails. Other liquids can also be a problem. Clark Wolf is a California-based consultant in food, hospitality, and restaurant management. Wolf asks, “Am I going to get bottled water? Or a double espresso?” Wolf says that if Wolf wants a caffeine boost, he will get it at a coffee shop, where it is less expensive than in a restaurant. Look for establishments that offer sparkling and still water. It’s better for the environment because water can’t be transported and can be reused from house flasks. Additionally, gratuity water is a sign of hospitality. To save money, you can drink wine, beer, or a cocktail before going to a restaurant.

Enjoy happy hours

It feels like the golden age of what was once a pre-dinner event on weeknights, with many restaurants offering happy hours throughout the day. Bar Charley, D.C., provides bargain hunters eight cocktails for $7.95 Monday through Friday and 90 minutes on Saturday. Jackie Greenbaum, co-owner of Bar Charley in D.C., says that if it’s not a steal, it’s not worth the effort. Bar Charley continued to offer liquid discounts when happy hours became like handshakes during the pandemic. This was partly due to fan inquiries. The deal has become an institution, says the restaurateur. Joe’s Seafood and Prime Steak & Stone Crab offer a “cocktail hour” Monday through Friday from 2:30-6 p.m. During this time, patrons can enjoy French dip sliders or lobster deviled eggs for less than $7 each. Happy-hour food is no longer an afterthought—no more popcorn or pizza. The Vermilion, Alexandria, Va.’s chef-driven restaurant allows diners to create their snack bundles — three different tastes for $15 — by choosing from such delights as anchovy toast and salsa verde or stuffed chicken wings with Fennel Agrodolce.

Recuperate leftovers and bring them home

I have turned tonight’s unfinished Kimchi into tomorrow’s stir fry and made bread pudding from leftover baguette. (Although I admit that I am not always the one who consumes. Doggy bags that go directly to Henry, my whippet, might make him the most well-fed dog in the city. As someone who waited tables in an earlier life and has interviewed dishwashers in restaurant kitchens, I can tell you that no one likes the scrape-scrape-scraping of uneaten food into the trash. It’s the sound that waste makes.

Wolf, the consultant, has some wisdom for diners looking to reduce tipping to save money.

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