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Friday 14th June 2024

How to eat out on a budget

Shoestring Jane suggests ways to eat out without breaking the bank!

How to eat out on a budget when money is tight


To eat out on a budget might seem extravagant when you are tightening your belt financially.  But if you enjoy having delicious food cooked for you and don’t want to give it up, here are some ideas to eat out on a budget.

Become a mystery diner

One way to eat for free and experience a range of eateries you may not have visited before is to sign up to be a mystery diner. You won’t usually get a three-course meal, but can generally have a main course and a drink. It depends on the brief.

Mystery Dining by HGEM sends you to quick-service restaurants to begin with, allowing you to get your confidence up. You will be given a brief, which could be to order a main course and dessert or might be to request a specific dish.

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The brief is likely to require you to take photographs of your food, and possibly areas of the venue like the toilets. After your meal, you complete a questionnaire and submit it by the deadline to receive your reimbursement. 

Avoid peak times

Many pubs, cafes and restaurants offer cheaper set menus during quieter times. Often, if you eat at lunchtime or on a weeknight, you will save yourself a packet. 

For example, Hungry Horse runs two-for-one deals between Monday to Friday and Sizzling Pubs offers two meals from £11 during the week. Toby Carvery has two courses from £10.99 between Monday to Friday, and Pizza Hut offers an adult weekday buffet for £10.99. Be careful not to load up on extras, though.

Look at the websites and Facebook pages of restaurant chains and independent venues to view their current deals.

Stick to the basics

If the food is the best part of your eating out experience, skip drinks with your meal. If you would like a drink, find a pub running a happy hour before you go in or have a glass or two at home first. Don’t be afraid to ask for a jug of tap water on your table for free – you don’t have to accept the pricey bottled stuff.

Similarly, you can stick to a main course and go home for coffee and dessert!

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Meerkat Meals

Buy a qualifying low-cost single-trip travel insurance product through Compare the Market and get 25% off your entire bill at restaurants around the UK. These policies can cost you as little as £2-3, and you will soon recoup your investment. Meerkat Meals also offers 50% off pizzas at places like Dominoes and Pizza Hut if you decide to eat at home.

Sign up for discounts and freebies

A great way to get discounts on eating out is to sign up for apps and newsletters. For example, you can enjoy 25% off food when you download the Harvester rewards app and the same with the Toby Carvery app.

Some will also send you birthday freebies. Pizza Express offers a free dessert when you sign up for the Pizza Express Club and Frankie & Benny’s will give you a free main course.

Don’t forget to ask if there are discounts for students, pensioners or blue light workers.

The gift of food

If you love to eat out but don’t have the budget, ask for restaurant vouchers as birthday or Christmas gifts. Family and friends are often stuck for ideas and appreciate suggestions.

Use your Tesco Clubcard points

Tesco Clubcard rewards can help you to eat out on a budget. You can spend your vouchers at a wide range of restaurants, and they are worth double the points value. So, if you have £10 in rewards, you can convert them into £20 to spend with one of the Tesco partner companies.

Choose from Pizza Express, Zizzi, Hungry Horse, Chef & Brewer and more.

Too Good To Go 

This isn’t strictly eating out, but the Too Good To Go app allows you to eat restaurant food for a fraction of the usual cost. This app aims to reduce the amount of food that is wasted, whilst giving customers a bargain.

The food on offer depends on where you are located. In my area, I can, for example, order a Preto meat buffet dinner bag valued at £26.95 for £8.98, or a Harvester rotisserie chicken and salad bag valued at £13.97 for £4.79. The catch? I will need to wait until 9 pm to collect, and there is the possibility my order will be cancelled if there isn’t enough leftover food at the end of the evening.

Split the bill fairly

When you are eating out with friends, agree to split the bill fairly rather than equally – that means paying for only what you eat and drink plus a tip if service isn’t included. Most people will be happy for you to do this. I find it helpful to agree to this in advance to save any awkwardness.

I hope I have given you some helpful ideas on how to eat out on a budget and shown that you can treat yourself occasionally. Once you start looking, there are lots of ways to eat out, experience great food and enjoy a relaxing ambience without breaking the bank.

Photo Credits: Pexels

Shoestring Jane

Mouthy Blogger

Shoestring Jane is a full-time self-employed mum of three daughters. Her frugal partner in crime is handyman extraordinaire, Mr Shoestring. They are constantly on the look out for ways to save and make extra money. Read more on her blog, Shoestring Cottage.

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