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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Dining Out For Less

January is Be Kind to Food Servers Month, so it feels like it's time to bring back some tips for saving money while dining on vacation, along with some suggestions on how you can inject a little more kindness when you're somewhere that you are being served food or beverages. 

January is Be Kind to Food Servers Month, so it feels like it's time to bring back some tips for saving money while dining on vacation.

I love food, and I travel to try new things. I know there are a lot of Americans who try their best to only dine at restaurants they recognize when they vacation, and that's very odd to me. I understand if you travel with picky children or have sensitivity to new foods or are atypical and the one constant you need is food, but for others to go out of their way to travel to new places and then only eat the same foods they eat at home is crazy. Food is awesome and it's an amazing way to learn more about a destination. I feel like you miss out on a big part of travel by not engaging in local cuisine. Anyway, here are ways I save money on food when I travel.

When you've bought random snacks and have hunger in the evening, you don't have to go out

Bring snacks - When I'm out doing things, I can eat all day. That's not helpful when you're on a budget. I am also a person who gets hangry. When I declare I'm hungry, it means that I probably need to eat within the hour before I turn into a different person. A person you don't want to know. I travel like I have a 5-year-old in tow, with a bag of snacks, just in case. You don't have to have a million snacks, but a couple is always good. A granola bar, meat sticks, a bag of nuts. Anything you enjoy that can give you that little boost you need and keep you from becoming emotional because you need to eat. I love a good RX Bar. They're small, but mighty and I especially love the Chocolate & Sea Salt and the Honey Cinnamon Peanut Butter.

Tip: Servers are people, too. They didn't make your food, so if it's incorrect or cold or not good, be nice. They're probably happy to take it back and make it right for you, but being rude is uncalled for + don't be mean to the people who handle your food/drinks.

Choose one meal to eat in - If you have a vacation rental with a kitchen, make use of it. Choose a meal to eat "at home". A quick trip to the grocery store is not only fun, but can save you money over dining out. At the very least, and most of what we do, is to bring back leftovers and eat those instead of going out for another meal. Even doing this once or twice can save a good chunk of money, especially if it's a dinner out you're skipping. 

Tip: Give a little extra where you can. I am happy to go out a little less if it means I can tip a little more. Being a server is hard. I know I couldn't do it. Many of them don't make a living wage and depend on tips to pay their bills. Unless I get wretched service, I tip 18-20%, and sometimes more if I can or I get stellar service. I know not all places tip, but even if you're in a place that doesn't really do tipping (like France, maybe), I try to leave $5 or so, so they know I was happy. Just don't do this in places where it is rude to tip, like Japan.

Eat lunch at the fancy place  - Did you want to eat at a fancy restaurant? Then make your reservations for lunch instead of dinner if you can. Sometimes the price for lunch can be as much as half the cost of dinner and often they have the same dishes.  

Hit up food carts/trucks - I live in a food cart utopia. Luckily, more are cropping up around the world. Not only can you save by eating outside of a restaurant, but usually there is more just one truck, which means you can try several cuisines at one time, if you want, or you can find something for everyone in your travel group instead of deciding on just one place to sit and eat. I usually keep a set of reusable utensils in my bag for food cart stops, so I'm helping the earth a little bit and have a better, more durable fork or spoon to eat with.

One of the best hotel breakfasts I've ever had (in Paris)

Book a hotel that includes breakfast - If you have a choice between two hotels in the same price range and one includes breakfast and the other doesn't, choose the one with, because even if it's not the greatest breakfast, it's still free and can save you $10+ per person per day of your trip. I am usually happy to hit up a coffee shop, but even that can add up. If that boring drip coffee is not up your alley (I completely understand), perhaps bringing along an Aeropress and your favorite espresso is a great way to still get a good cuppa and save money.

Tip: If you enjoyed your dining experience, thank your server, but also write a note of thanks on your bill, because not only will they see it, but so will the manager and whoever handles the paperwork after them. It's better than a Google review, because it's specifically for your server.

Share dishes with your travel partner - Sometimes when you go out to eat, you aren't starving and can split something, but my other favorite thing to do is you each order a dish that you both wanted, then share when they show up. If you're happy splitting one entrée, you can always also order an appetizer or a dessert to round off your meal. This way you get enough to eat, but you also don't have to take anything with you if you can't go back to put it in a fridge (though some places don't do leftovers, so it also eliminates wasting any food).

Use GrouponSometimes you can find local favorites on a Groupon deal, saving you 20-60% off a meal. We've found a lot of cool restaurants this way. Make sure to read reviews, because I've also found some not great restaurants this way, though not many. A lot of times new eateries will post deals in order to drum up business and gain a following of regular diners. 

Tip: Be patient. There are a lot fewer staff members at a majority of places right now and it may not get better anytime soon. If you're in a hurry, try to avoid a sit-down place, or go early. Being mad that the skeleton crew can't get to you quickly is just going to ensure that you're mad most places you go. Dining out is supposed to be relaxing. If they're doing their best, that's all you can expect. Have a drink or an appetizer and enjoy your companions or plan your next day of travel. You can always bring a quick game like Fluxx. There are a lot of versions, but why not try the travel-themed version on your travels?

Eat during happy hour - If you don't mind eating a bit early or late, and choosing from a limited menu, you can save quite a bit on a meal. We often go to happy hour at home at one of our favorite restaurants. It gives us an excuse to order more things than we normally would, because it's cheaper and the portions are smaller. Sometimes we don't get hungry for lunch until 3 or we are ready to go to dinner at 5 and this really works out for us. You don't have to order an alcoholic beverage to take advantage of these food deals either, but you can.

Skip the kid's menu - If you can, try to avoid the kid's menu. Sure, they have grilled cheese and pizza and those things that all kids seem to like, but everything is overpriced and half the time kids never finish food they are given. If you can, split something with them or an entrée between two kids. Not only will you get a better value this way, but also broaden your child's taste buds.

Go where kid's eat free - There are lots of places that offer a deal where kids under a certain age eat free when you order an entrée. This can save a lot of money over the course of your trip and it's easy to Google places at your destination where it is offered. 

Tip: Clean up big messes. I see a lot of families eat out and leave a huge mess when they are finished eating. It sucks. There is a reasonable amount of mess that someone expects to clean up, and then there is a 5-foot radius of mashed up food and trash. Please don't be that person. I consolidate all my trash, put all my silverware on my plate when I'm done, and often I stack plates to keep my server from having to pick up 800 individual plates and utensils. 

It's easy to spend money, but it's also easy to save it when you do a little planning before and during your trip. What are some of your favorite ways to save money on food when you travel?

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. I may be monetarily compensated should you make a purchase through them. It's completely free for you and your purchases enable me to keep this blog running, so thanks in advance.

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