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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Affordable Dining Options 10.12.11

You know that when I travel, I love to plan my activities around food, because dining in new places and trying local cuisine is a favorite hobby of mine on trips. Of course, this isn’t always the best idea, because it means I get in the habit of eating more every day and then when I get home, I have to get back to my normal eating routines, which is maybe don’t eat dessert with two meals each day and also don’t eat everything I’m served. I know, I know. Details. Calories don’t count on vacation, but they still come back with you, unless you walk a lot while you’re out sightseeing, which is always a good idea anyway.

So, while I love to eat as much native food as possible, you can’t save money by eating out 3-4 times a day without a plan of some sort, so let’s talk about some frugal tips on how to stretch your food budget, while still eating amazing food each day of your trip.

Here we are loaded up on cereal, milk, bagels, butter, beverages and leftovers for when we decide to stay in.

My first tip, always, is to hit the grocery store as soon as you get to your destination and load up on staples. Of course, this works much better if you have a kitchen(ette) of some sort that has at least a refrigerator. I always buy breakfast items, since that is my least favorite meal and also I don’t like to get up too early to get out of the house to eat eggs. If you loooooove breakfast, then you can grab lunch or dinner foods. Snacks are never a problem for us, because we bring quite a few on the plane.

A condo, apartment or house can not only help you save money, because many are the same price as a hotel, have a lot more space if you have a family/group of 4 or more and they also have kitchen facilities where you can make your own meals. I know that cooking on vacation doesn’t sound all that fun, but saving money does and sometimes a home cooked meal gives you time to relax and catch up from the long day you’ve had. Plus, many rental properties also have BBQ grills, and grilling is ALWAYS fun. Right?

Book dining reservations through Internet sites like OpenTable (which now has international restaurant locations as well as U.S. restaurants) and Toptable, which specializes in UK and European dining venues. What makes these great? Well, the best part is that you can gain points for each reservation you complete, which you can trade for free dining.
·         OpenTable – Most reservations net you 100 points, but every once in a while you get your 1,000 point dining options. Once you accrue 2,000 points, you can trade them in for a $20 dining certificate ($26 for Canada and £15 for UK) as well as waiting until you make it to 5,000 and 10,000 point levels.

·         Toptable – Owned by OpenTable, Toptable covers top restaurants in 15 countries in the UK and Europe. You can get free dining starting at just 7 completed reservations. Each one you book garners you 200 points and you can redeem at 1,400 points on. Unlike OpenTable, you get a choice of restaurants to use them at and they are good for certain meal options (i.e., 2-course menu or 3-course menu). The more points you have, the more expensive the restaurant you can redeem them at.

Having fabulous fare at Mac 24/7
I’ve recently been told about a new restaurant reservation site called Savored. It works in 10 cities (currently) across the U.S., including New York City, Boston and San Francisco. You sign up for free and then make a reservation for $10. Once you get to the restaurant and order, they take 30% off your entire bill (including alcohol, unless dining in Boston, where they will give you 40% off just your food instead). If you don’t order at least $35 worth of cuisine, your $10 reservation charge will be refunded, so you can’t even lose money on the deal. It’s a fantastic way to try some of the best restaurants in the city for less.

Look at all this food!
Split your meal. Sometimes you just can’t take your leftovers with you (because you’re in the middle of sightseeing or it won’t keep until you make it back to your room) or you are in a country where they don’t let you take your remaining food with you. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat a large meeting, then possibly finding something on the menu that your travel partner wants and you can split is a good idea. Most restaurants serve portion sizes that are enough for 2 or 3 people anyway. If you think it might be too small, order an appetizer or salad as well.

All this food I got at lunch at Morimoto's in Waikiki for much less.
Make lunch your main meal. If you are dying to try that fancy restaurant, stop in for lunch. The portions may be smaller, but the prices will be also. You can get the same great service and food, but at a better value.

Make a meal of appetizers. Happy hour can save you quite a bit of savings. Another reason to do appetizers for dinner: You had a big lunch or you want to try a bunch of menu items at one time. When 4 entrees seem like too much (which should be always if there are only 2 of you and you aren’t at a buffet), get 4 appetizers instead. You’ll spend about the same price as you would for dinner, but get more options and not totally stuff yourself.

Eat at food carts. Not only are food carts becoming the gourmet restaurants of right now, but they can save you money and offer you so many more options for food, are less than a sit-down restaurant and can get you back to sightseeing more quickly. With the lower prices, you can treat your food cart meal like an appetizer buffet. See my Examiner article on food cart dining.

Hit up the local farmer's market. Check out my last post on why the farmers' market is awesome and money-saving.

So, now you have some ideas on how to eat well, while not breaking your budget. Food will probably always be a big part of your expenses, but you can make it more affordable and not feel like every time you sit down to a meal that there are more things you can't do. Do you save money other ways when you travel? How do you do it?

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