Foodie Secrets: How to Save $$$ While Dining Out

Simply put, eating out is not cheap, especially when it's a habit. Here are great suggestions on how to enjoy eating out while not paying full price. Now you can have your cake and a drink or two!

Loyalty Apps

If you frequent a business, then you should be rewarded for your loyalty. Almost all chain restaurants have an app where customers are given points that can later be redeemed for free food or discounts. Our personal favorite apps are:

  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Starbucks
  • Whataburger
  • La Madeleine French Bakery & Cafe
  • Papa John's

In addition to these restaurant apps, we regularly use FiveStars. This app supports local businesses in the area. All you do is sign up with your phone number and add as many businesses to your list as you like. Each time you check in to the business, provide your phone number and just like that you earn points. Each business structures their point system differently. From time to time, a business may also send you discounts and automatically give you a free item if you have not checked in a while.  Below are examples of some of the offers.

Groupon

Don't forget about the app that changed the game. Before paying full price at a business, be sure to see if they have a Groupon available. Groupon even has coupons on their Groupons! Examples of restaurants that have been featured are Dessert Gallery, Cupcake Kitchen, Sal y Pimienta, Little Napoli, Cafeza and Pepper Twins.

Yelp

No doubt everyone has Yelped to find the best reviewed restaurants out there. Not only will you narrow down your results based on what you want to eat, you'll also get special coupons for certain businesses. Bonus: You get to read all the lame negative reviews for those people who are never happy!!

social media

We now live in an era where social media is taking over all marketing. No wonder businesses turn to it to grab the attention of thousands of people who are constantly scrolling their phones for the latest information. Most businesses will post special discounts or limited time specials on channels such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to follow your favorite restaurants!

OpenTable

Surprisingly, many people do not know about this program or remember to use it. It allows you to book reservations for restaurants online and is available in almost every major city. Whenever you check in at the restaurant, you get points for each reservation. Each reservation is worth 100 points and some restaurants give you 1,000 points for certain off peak times. Whenever you reach at least 2,000 points, you can redeem them for an OpenTable gift certificates to use at any participating restaurant. There's an app too!

Email Subscriber Lists 

Chances are that if a restaurant has a website, they have an email subscriber list. Sign up for them! You'll be the first to know about new happenings, events and news. But more importantly, you'll get exclusive coupons and offers. Almost all of them will also give you free food for your birthday. Here's list of businesses that give great exclusives:

  • Grimaldi's-Get a free pizza on your birthday.
  • Kona Grill-Get a free menu item worth up to $15 on your birthday. Get other great deals for certain holidays and special occasions throughout the year. They usually have Black Friday deals every year.
  • Landry's-Each of their restaurants have their own email list. Sign up for each one and you'll usually get a free item upon signing up. Additionally, if you sign up for the Landry's Select Club, you will receive a $25 Welcome Reward and a $25 Birthday Reward every year. Find out more here.  
  • Maggiano's-They send a $10 off coupon almost every month. They also send out Anniversary and Birthday certificates.
  • Blue Fish-They randomly send $15 off $50.
  • America's & Churasscos-Get $30 off for your birthday.

follow those food Bloggers

Food bloggers are a great resource to find out the best deals and to score tickets and gift certificates to restaurants and foodie events. Many restaurants, publication companies and PR companies reach out to partner with these full time taste testers. Follow them on their social media platforms, sign up for their email lists and visit their websites! Need help finding out who to follow? The Houston Food Blogger Collective will give you many, many options. Food Clique is proud to be part of this group of Houston based food bloggers. Visit their page here

mystery shopping

Long before I became a blogger, I was a mystery shopper. This is a legit, fun and interesting way to eat for free or get most of your meal free. When doing my initial search on how to become a mystery shopper, I came across a lot of websites that wanted you to pay a monthly fee to have access to jobs. DO NOT SIGN UP AND PAY FOR ANYTHING! A real mystery shopping business will never charge you to perform shops. Instead, you are the one being paid by them (usually a small fee) and being reimbursed for expenses made to perform the shop. Each mystery shopper is considered a contractor and not an employee of the company. Basically, mystery shopping companies have various clients in different industries. For example, clients range from restaurants to movie theaters to hotels. I personally have shopped fine dining, casual and fast food restaurants, hotels, carpet cleaning companies, clothing stores and make up counters. There are even opportunities to travel and shop luxury resorts and cruises but these are reserved for advanced shoppers. When you sign up, you are given a login and access to a job board where available assignments are listed. Each job has a description, reimbursement fee and shopper fee. Reimbursements and shopper fees are usually paid out a month later, depending on each company's schedule. Below is a couple of companies I have contracted along with some of their clients. There are more out there but these are just to give you an example of how much food you can get paid to eat just by being a mystery shopper.

  • A Closer Look - Torchy's Tacos, Twin Peaks, Seasons 52, Main Event, VERTS Mediterranean Grill, Blaze Pizza, Star Cinema Grill, BB's Cafe, Chuck E. Cheese's, Perry's Steakhouse, Capital Grille, The Halal Guys
  • Coyle Hospitality - Cane Rosso, True Food Kitchen, North, Piola, numerous luxury brand hotels, cruises

eating at the right time

Sometimes, it's not where you eat but when you eat out. First, find out if a restaurant has happy hour with a food menu. Happy hour food menus have deeply discounted items and sometimes they are exclusive to happy hour. Some great happy hour food menus I love are Kata Robata, Aka Sushi, Perry's Steakhouse, Ichibon Seafood and Steakhouse, Red Sushi (with all you can eat sushi) and Boheme. Additionally, eating out for lunch instead of dinner can sometimes be cheaper. The portions might be smaller but so will your bill. Even fine dining restaurants offer a cheaper lunch menu with the same exact items from their dinner menu. It's a great way to have "champagne food" at beer price. Also, certain days of the week may offer a special that you can't resist. For example, Ichibon Seafood and Steakhouse has $1 sushi on Wednesday and Sunday nights. I am a huge fan of this! I can get full off of sushi for only $10! Nobi's Public House has a Tuesday special where you can get a chargrilled pork chop with a pint of beer for $7. So as suggested above, follow your favorite restaurants on social media and sign up for their email lists to find out when their special days are.

Restaurant weeks

I LOVE the month of August because of Restaurant Weeks! If you haven't heard of this amazing time of the year, then head to their website right now! Once a year, participating restaurants from all around Houston offer a preset menu which typically includes 3 courses: appetizer, entree and dessert for a set price. Some restaurants set their price for $35 while others at $45. This is a great value when you take into account the actual price of each course at most of these restaurants. I'm talking about fine dining restaurants with steaks that cost at least $40. Why do they do this? 100% of the funds from these menus are donated to the Houston Food Bank. So not only will you be dining out for a great price but you're dining out for a great cause.

Hopefully, my tips and suggestions will help you save some extra cash. If you have any additional suggestions, please comment below. I'd love to hear them!