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30 May 2022

Dining discounts: how to save money on eating out

10 tips for saving at restaurants and cafes this Bank Holiday week
Glass of wine with summer salad

With extra days off for the Queen’s Jubilee this weekend, here’s what you can do to bring down the cost of a meal out or a takeaway. 

Two in five people have had to cut back or stop spending on eating out due to the cost of living crisis, according to a recent survey from YouGov.

But if you do want to treat yourself to your favourite takeaway, family meal out or date night, there are ways to bring down the cost.

Here, we round up our top tips for bringing the dinner bill down.

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1. Sign up for mailing lists

We know, we know - the thought of adding even more emails to your inbox can be off-putting. But when such big discounts are up for grabs, it could be worth it.

Sign up to a restaurant chain’s mailing list, and they might send you special deals direct as soon as they’re launched. When we signed up to the Pizza Express mailing list, for example, we were offered a 35% discount on a local restaurant. That's a huge chunk off of your bill for relatively little effort.

2. Join dining clubs

Dining loyalty schemes such as Gourmet Society and Tastecard offer up to 50% off at participating restaurants. 

Tastecard is currently running a special Platinum Jubilee promotion, offering a 70-day free trial and the chance to win free meals to anyone who signs up - but monthly costs kick in after this time.

Gourmet Society also has a 90-day free trial for new customers. So, if you trialled and then cancelled the two cards one after the other, you'd have nearly six months of discounts completely free. 

3. Bring your own booze

Alcoholic drinks can hugely inflate the size of your bill. If you want some booze with your meal, it can be much cheaper to bring your own. 

We previously found that restaurants mark up wine by an average of 167%. While a typical bottle of house wine starts from around £15 when ordered in a restaurant, you can find similar bottles from just a fiver in the supermarket. 

Of course, not all restaurants will let you bring in your own alcohol; search online for BYOB restaurants near you to see what you can find. Just keep in mind that some BYOB restaurants will charge a corkage fee. 

4. Don’t pay for water

Sticking with beverages, you can make big savings over a year by ordering tap water instead of bottled mineral water when you're out. We've found some restaurants charge upwards of £3.50 for a bottle of mineral water, which can add up if you eat out regularly.

Anywhere that serves alcohol must offer free tap water - so it’s worth specifying tap, even if the waiter asks ‘still or sparkling?’. 

5. Order takeaway direct

Apps like Deliveroo and Just Eat may have made ordering takeaway easier - but it comes at a price. 

A Which? investigation found that you can often save money by ordering a meal directly from a restaurant, due to Deliveroo and Just Eat’s additional charges and markups. 

One meal we looked at cost £11.62 more from an app than it did when ordered straight from the restaurant. 

6. Earn money eating out

Want to walk away from a meal out richer than when you went in? You could try becoming a ‘mystery diner’. 

Some companies recruit these patrons to eat at a restaurant, pub or café and give an honest review of their experience. 

Usually, all you need to do is visit the restaurant, follow a set of ordering instructions and then file a report. In return, you'll either be paid for your services or you'll get the meal for free.

7. Find voucher codes online

You'll find voucher codes and special for all kinds of restaurants if you search online. Rather than looking up each restaurant individually, it can be worth checking sites like VoucherCodes and HotUKDeals, which list the latest discount codes available. 

If you prefer physical discount vouchers, keep an eye out for newspaper deals. 

8. Get free kids' meals

‘Kids eat free’ offers are perfect for bringing the down the cost of family meals, and tend to be on offer during the school holidays. 

Last Easter, we found offers for restaurants like The Real Greek, Yo! Sushi and Preto - but some offers were only available at certain times, or on certain days of the week - so check before you visit.

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9. Book online

You could save money on your meal by booking ahead, as some restaurants will offer extra discounts. 

Check websites like 5pm, Lastminute and OpenTable for two-for-one offers and 50% off deals on nearby restaurants, before you decide where to eat. Just make sure your server knows you've booked for this offer when you arrive.

10. Take a doggy bag

It’s not unusual to overorder in a restaurant. You don’t know exactly how big the portions will be, after all. 

If you've not been able to finish all the food you've ordered, it’s worth asking for a box or bag to take your leftovers home - especially if you’ve left enough to eat for tomorrow’s lunch.