Dining out can be expensive – especially as the price of everything seems to be going up! Here are five tips that can help your family save money at restaurants during your next PCS.
Going out to eat at a restaurant is usually more expensive than preparing a meal and eating at home, but if your military family is in the middle of a PCS, you may not always be able to cook. Using these tips you can save money at restaurants and help lower your PCS expenses (that take forever to be reimbursed!)
Save Money At Restaurants Using Gift Cards
When we know a PCS is on the horizon, we start collecting gift cards of places to eat – even before we know where we are going! There are a few ways we do this that really add up the savings.
Purchase Discounted Gift Cards
Raise.com has some of the best deals on restaurant gift cards! Raise.com offers discounted gift cards to stores and restaurants so it can be useful to help save money at restaurants during your PCS and on purchases you need for things at your next duty station. (Sign up for a Raise.com account using this link and receive $5 when you make a purchase within 30 days of signing up!)
Costco and Sam’s Club also sell bulk gift cards to restaurants at a discounted price. The only downfall is you typically have to buy what equates to $100 at a restaurant. We’ve done well buying things like pizza gift cards at Costco since we know we will likely have pizza delivered a couple times between the move out and move in process.
If you’re a Target red card holder, you always get 5% off your purchases, so when buy your gift cards there you always save some money!
Purchase Gift Cards at Grocery Stores And Boost Reward Points
Another way we save money going into a PCS is to pre-purchase gift cards at local grocery stores who have beneficial reward savings on things like gas or other groceries. Grocery stores like Kroger and Ralph’s connect their reward systems to gift card purchases and often have a point bonus at various times during the month. We can save on our gas expenses buy purchasing gift cards when they are doing 4x points for gift cards purchased. While this doesn’t save directly at restaurants, it’s an overall savings – especially while we live in California where fuel is so expensive!
Online Restaurant Coupons
Go to a favorite restaurant’s website to see if they offer any free coupons. For some restaurants, the coupons can be printed off a website, but for many others, they require you to download their app to receive savings. Anyone can sign up for these clubs to receive exclusive offers and coupons through email. (We’ve earned so many points at places like Chick-fil-a and Dominos using their apps during the year that we often have a few free meals by the time we PCS!)
Typically, a restaurant will send an introductory coupon that can be good, from anything to a free dessert to a free meal. Many times they will ask for a birthday or anniversary date, and then they will send a free online restaurant coupon on that date. Be aware that you will typically need to sign up 24 hours or more before visiting to receive the introductory coupon – so plan out where you will be eating.
Watch Portions and Drinks When Dining Out
If the entrees at a particular restaurant are large, consider sharing the meal or save enough of it to take home and enjoy later. Ask the waiter if there is a smaller portion available at a smaller price. Pay close attention to the menu to see if extras like soup or salad come with the entree. Many times a waiter will ask what kind of soup or salad and dressing a customer wants, and it turns out that that it did not come with the meal.
Also, more money can be spent on drinks than on the meal itself. Call ahead to see if and when there are happy hour specials. Some restaurants will even let customers bring in their own wine; just call beforehand to make sure. To save even more money at restaurants, avoid alcohol altogether. If ordering a soft drink, tea, or any other beverage, be sure to ask if there are free refills. Water is almost always the cheapest option unless it is bottled. Consider asking for plain old tap water and then leave and enjoy a favorite beverage from the comfort of home.
Eat Out Earlier
Consider going to eat out at an earlier time to save money at restaurants. Some restaurants run their lunch menu well into the afternoon. The portions are slightly smaller but come at a more affordable price. Also, some restaurant coupons are not good on the weekends, so eating out earlier during the week could save more money if the meal can be bought with a coupon.
Plan Hotels with Breakfast or Happy Hours
When we book hotels along our PCS route we definitely tend to pick places that offer either a free breakfast or a free happy hour. By having breakfast covered with our reimburseable hotel expense it helps us to not have to pay for one of the meals of the day. Additionally there are often things on the continental breakfasts provided by hotels like an apple, banana, bagel or individually packaged box of cereal that make for solid snacks in the car along the drive.