My family and I went to the Mall of America on Father’s Day and decided to splurge one time and eat at the Rainforest Cafe. My husband, kids and I had eaten there a couple times, but my parents and grandma were visiting from out of town and had never been there, so we thought it would be a fun treat. We love the “thunderstorms” that happen every 30 minutes, the gorillas that come alive, and the beautiful fish in the many tanks. The food is great as well – I haven’t yet had anything there I didn’t like.
We had a good time but received sticker shock when we got the bill. It was $96 for my parents and grandma, and $55 for my husband, kids and me. Yikes! We knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but there were several add-ons (they charge for everything, like if you add soup or salad to a meal, extra fish or meat, even refills – which for my yummy strawberry lemonade was $.99).
But what surprised me was that they added the gratuity to the bill. I’m guessing it’s a new thing or it was because there were 7 of us, because they hadn’t done that when it was just my husband, kids and me. It was a fair 17% and the server did a good job, but I didn’t like having it forced on us like that.
We decided we probably won’t go back for a long time, but in the meantime, we’ll be more conscious about costs when we eat out. Of course, the best way to save on eating out is not to eat out at all, but we all know that’s not realistic! Sometimes we’re out and about, everyone’s hungry and no one wants to wait until we get home and cook something. So I made a list of 5 realistic ways to save money when eating out:
1. Drink water with your meal instead of ordering a beverage.
OR – If you DO order a beverage, ask for NO ICE.
Though my strawberry lemonade was SUPER good, it was $2.99 and they filled it up ridiculously high with ice. I removed the ice and it left only about 2/3 of the glass filled with the beverage. So I pointed this out to the server who muttered something about how they’re “set up” that way (I know machines are designed to measure a certain amount of ice – but I think they’re rigged to rip people off). I ended up getting a refill for $.99 – THIS time with no ice. What a difference!!! So I recommend asking for NO ice with your beverage (if you want ice, order ice water as well and just take ice from that) or just drinking cold, refreshing ice water, with or without lemon – for FREE.
2. Avoid eating out at places where you have a server, or find out in advance if the gratuity/tip is automatically added to the bill.
Boston Market is a great example of a place where you can get a good sit-down meal without a server to tip. You pick out the entree & sides you want at the counter “buffet,” pay, then bring it back to your table yourself. However, if you prefer a place where you’re served, it’s good to find out if the tip is charged to you instead of optional. This doesn’t exactly save you money unless you’re cheap about tips, but it helps to know what to expect.
3. Go out to eat for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner.
Dinner meals on a menu are much more costly than breakfast or brunch. This helps you avoid the dinnertime crowds as well.
4. Use coupons – and always carry them with you!
I love Boston Market coupons (can you tell I’m a fan of theirs?), which are printed periodically in the Sunday paper coupon inserts. You can easily find other coupons for eating out establishments in every source imaginable – direct mailings to your household, magazines, online including Facebook, and more. Set up a separate email account so you can sign up for regular emails from your favorite restaurants. I get regular emails with coupons from Old Country Buffet, Perkins, Texas Roadhouse, and more. I just have to remember to always bring them with me (!) – Sometimes we’ve spontaneously stopped to pick up food somewhere while I had great coupons sitting around at home that I could have used. Grrr!
5. Share a meal and avoid add-ons.
Restaurants are sneaky. They know they can make more money by tempting you with all the “extras” like sides, appetizers, and even refills (check which ones are free and which ones aren’t). Those “extras” just add more fat and calories to your meal, and are usually overpriced additions to your bill. Remember, portions nowadays are huge everywhere. Your meal itself is probably more than enough, which is why it’s wise to consider sharing a meal with someone else.