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Eat out on the cheap: how to get the best restaurant deals
Despite the recession blues, you can actually find loads of great meal deals in nice restaurants at the moment. They want your business because they need to make money. So all of them, from posh eateries to greasy burger bars, are offering cheap meals to entice you through their doors.
Not only that but we’ve got our own great cheap restaurant finder at Moneymagpie now. Check out the great deals, particularly the 50% off ones, in our comparison page.
- Looking for meal vouchers and 2for1 deals? See all the latest meal deals here.
- Top tips for cheaper eating out
- Check out our weekly bargain alert here to find top deals.
We’ve rounded up the best places to find these deals. Plus, we’ve put together some top tips for cheaper dining.
Have you heard of it? If you’re a regular Moneymagpie, you can’t have failed to hear us banging on about it at some point. The reason we mention it so often is because it’s amazing!
OpenTable is a site through which you can book restaurants all over the UK and abroad. It’s not just posh restaurants in London. They have a great selection of places all over Britain, with prices starting at just £10.
By reserving through OpenTable, you can get discounted set menus with booze thrown in for free, and up to 50% off food. Once you’ve built up some OpenTable points, you could even get meals for nothing!
How does it work?
Essentially, the OpenTable points program works like a reward card scheme. Every time you book a restaurant through OpenTable, you earn 200 points. And once you’ve accumulated 1,400 points, you can have a free meal at one of a selection of restaurants.
If you want to wait to be able to have a free meal at a slightly higher end selection of restaurants, you just have to wait until you’ve got more points.
If you manage to build up 20,000 points, you can even have a personal cooking lesson from a top chef and eat in their restaurant for free!
This might sound like a huge number of points (and therefore meals out), but OpenTable constantly runs offers that give you the chance to earn loads of bonus points. They also offer you 200 points just for signing up.
As the site expands, you can spend your points on other things, like theatre tickets, hotel rooms or even Christmas gifts. For all the info see their website, get registered and then get eating out for less.
There is one tricky catch: You can’t redeem your points in the month of December, or on Valentine’s Day, so just bear this in mind when you book.
5pm is similar to OpenTable. It’s an online restaurant reservation site where you earn points every time you book a meal, eat it and then write a review.
The advantage of 5pm is that they’ve deliberately focused on areas outside London to increase the choice for people who don’t live in the capital. So, although OpenTable also has choices outside the South East, 5pm has made a big effort to come up with a better variety of restaurants.
Another difference is that 5pm only offers online reservations with restaurants offering special deals.
Since the beginning of the year, 5pm has been working with proprietors to help them fill their restaurants. The proprietors offer deals for periods when their establishments are a bit quieter, and 5pm pass these deals on to consumers.
5pm also offers reward points per person. You’ll get ninety points per head, so if you eat out with one other person you only get 180 points. However, if you book for ten, you get 900 points in one go.
Lastminute.com isn’t just about holidays. It also has an extensive section on where you can book some of the best restaurants in the UK at knock-down prices. The strong point of the deals at Lastminute.com is that they offer you fine dining at cheaper prices, as well as bargain eats.
Their top ten dining deals are packed with offers like three courses for £10. Alternatively, pay a bit more and get a bargain at a luxury restaurant – like £43 for three courses at the Ritz.
The only thing about these offers is that you don’t earn reward points when you book. So, if you have the time, look around and see if any of the other booking sites are offering the same deal.
Lastminute.com does wield quite a lot of corporate power – and because everyone has heard of them, they can often get deals with the top restaurants that other sites can’t.
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Here are some top tips for cheaper restaurant dining:
Treat yourself to lunch
If you can get away from work, try eating out at lunch time instead of dinner. Loads of restaurants – even the poshest Michelin-starred venues – offer great value lunch time set menus.
They are able to charge less for the set menu because they buy the ingredients in bulk and they can often design that day’s menu around whatever’s cheap at the market. For you, this means you get yummy food at a lower price.
You might think that eating at 6pm is too early and 9pm too late, but pre and post-theatre menus are great value and you don’t actually have to go to the theatre to take advantage of them!
If you only eat a light lunch you’ll be ready for food at six. Or, if you’re eating late, go for a cocktail first – happy hours usually offer deals on drinks so you can take advantage of them before you eat.
As with the set lunch menus – restaurants put dishes on the pre and post-theatre menus that they can produce cheaply. And you’re also helping to fill up the restaurant when they probably won’t have as many customers. A little money for them is much better than none at all.
Do your homework
You may be the sort of person who likes to go where the mood takes you when it comes to eating out. However, doing a bit of research online first can get you serious discounts. Use the sites we’ve mentioned above, and keep your eye on Bag a bargain for more food deals.
You can also ask your friends and relatives if they’ve eaten anywhere good recently. The best bargains are usually discovered by word of mouth.
The margin on restaurant drinks is one of the biggest money makers for proprietors. If you’re on a serious budget – but still want a tipple – try finding a restaurant deal that includes a glass of wine or an aperitif.
If you can avoid drinking anything but water – i.e. tap water – you’ll save a lot of cash. The law says that tap water should be available in all restaurants, so kick up a stink if they refuse to give it to you.
For those on a serious budget, there are plenty of great restaurants that don’t have an alcohol licence and so allow you to bring your own booze.
This way, you can pick up some reasonably priced wine and take it along with you. Just don’t forget to chill anything you want to drink cold well in advance.
Eating out vouchers are all the rage right now. We’ve provided you with links to some in this article, but there are always more around.
Check out the sites we’ve mentioned and if you haven’t already, sign up for our free weekly newsletter. We’ll put any new vouchers we find in there for your dining pleasure. Also, visit out article Latest cheap eats vouchers and 2for1 meal deals regularly for updates on discounted meals and dinner deals.
Book online and earn reward points
With both Toptable and 5pm you can earn reward points for booking through them. Essentially these points are something for nothing. You earn them for a meal you’re probably going to eat anyway and then you can use them to get free meals, gifts and various other things.
Here at Moneymagpie we use these sites even when we’re just eating out in chain restaurants or popping out for a quick lunch during the week.
Eating out in a group
If you’re eating out in a group, think about booking a meal with a set menu. It may look like a lot up front, but a set menu often works out as better value for money, especially if it includes drinks. It also makes dividing up the bill so much easier.
Remember, for groups of six or more people, lots of restaurants add a 12.5% service charge to the bill automatically.
However – just because it’s on the bill, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to pay it. If the service is bad, you shouldn’t feel obliged. If the service is good, on the other hand, you’ll need to work out how much service charge you each owe individually.
Eat early in the week
After a weekend of spending, many of us hide at home at the beginning of the week to give our wallets a break.
This means that early in the week, there are loads of restaurants with empty seats that want your custom. It will make getting reservations at the best places in town much easier. And loads of places are likely to run their best offers early in the week. So don’t stay in, eat out early and save!
Sign up for mailing lists
The recession is ripping restaurants apart and so they are doing their utmost to get us into their establishments. This includes reaching out to their customers as much as possible, via their own newsletters. Signing up for one of these means you’ll get deals direct to your inbox – no waiting. All you need to do is enter your email address and they’ll send you out the latest news with a few discounts and deals attached.
The ones we’ve tried (La Tasca, Strada, Pizza Express) all send us deals that are fab, but they certainly don’t spam us or pass on our emails to others (make sure you tick the box to stop this happening). It’s a really easy way to save with zero effort.
Don’t ignore those pesky flyers
We all hate it when people are pushing free leaflets in your face as you try to make your way home. But sometimes, they can be useful. McDonalds and Subway often hand out food deals vouchers which you may not want at the time, but then you find yourself hungry and there isn’t much choice and so you save yourself a couple of pounds. It’s always worth taking it – you can just recycle it if it’s not useful.
Get a discount card
You can get 20% off in selected food outlets in British railway stations with a bite card. It’s really easy to get one – just go to their website , fill in your details and they’ll send the card to you for free. Then you just show it when you’re grabbing something at one of 13 different chains, including Burger King, The Pasty Shop and Ixxy’s Bagels.
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