Maybe your company’s entertainment budget resembles your Secondary school allowance. Maybe you’re in financial purgatory, waiting for a late paycheck but still trying to impress a date. Or maybe you’re just starving, and your two options are a restaurant on the corner, or a food stall that needs to replace its “D” rating with a Biohazard sign.
We’ve all been there: you’re in a tight spot, but you need to risk that restaurant bill.
Lucky for you, I used to work in this industry. Follow my 6 methods, and you’ll get the least painful bill possible.
1. Don’t Assume Prices are the Same All Week
This is the number one reason people overspend at restaurants. The process goes something like this:
- I get a cheap meal at a restaurant
- I don’t realize the low price is because of Mother’s Day / Weekday / Feeding-Leftovers-to-Suckers Day, etc.
- I book a table for a business meeting, without checking if the price will be the same
- On the day itself, I realize the prices are a good deal higher. But it’s too late to leave without embarrassment, since my client or boss is here.
- I get stuck paying a high bill, and eat porridge and soy sauce for the rest of the week
Before booking, make it a point to check the prices. Don’t trap yourself into paying a higher bill.
If you can’t be bothered to track all those promotions, stick to a simple rule: avoid restaurants with lots of sub-menus. You know, the sort where there’s so many sub-menus it looks like someone made an analogue version of Windows Vista.
Most of the time, these restaurants run concurrent or confusing promotions.
2. Find Set Menus
I’m referring to set menus that are not top-ups (e.g. for another $5.50, get soup and a drink).
Set menus are specifically calculated to provide discounts. As a general rule of thumb, a set menu will take 20 percent off the overall cost. Here’s the bad news:
Odds are it’s only a real set if you can’t nitpick and swap things around. Sets are cheaper because they are part of the kitchens’ strategy to push certain food products. If the sets seem to have an “anything goes” approach, then you may not be getting as big a discount as you suspect.
3. Go for Direct Discounts, not “Extras”
At the right restaurants, having the right dining credit card makes all the difference. It will shave 10 to 20 percent off your meal.
That said, save on your bill by finding restaurants with direct price discounts. A lot of credit card promotions offer special set meals or free deserts. Most of the time, these aren’t worth it. The free desert may end up being a piece of fruit, a measly scoop of ice-cream, or something you wouldn’t have ordered anyway.
Likewise, the “special” set menu isn’t a bargain at all. It just means you can buy something regular customers can’t. They’re probably just testing new recipes on you, or even worse, clearing out the back of the fridge.
4. Restaurant Hop
If you’re alone or with a close friend, consider restaurant hopping. This is when you order a main course at one restaurant, and then go have desserts or drinks somewhere else.
This is the ultimate approach if there’s a row of restaurants / diners in the area. Honestly, I’ve worked in a restaurant where there was a diner right next door that sold coffee for $5 less. The smart customers never ordered our coffee, they just crossed over and had drinks there.
5. Pick the New Ones
Most people think being a loyal customer has its advantages. That if you go to the same place for years on end, you can expect better service and special bargains. It’s sometimes true, but in Singapore the reality is more often the opposite.
Because Singapore’s restaurant scene is insanely competitive, new restaurants like to launch with massive price discounts. On top of that, new restaurants are usually twice as eager to please customers. Any restaurant less than a year old will probably be more energetic, enthusiastic, and budget friendly.Their credit card promotions and lunch specials tend to be more aggressive.
IS Magazine is a good source for finding new outlets. But otherwise, you can just ask the staff at the door. Most of the time they can’t shut up about how new they are.
Buffets are NOT Saving You Money
Average restaurant prices (e.g. $12 per head for low-end, $25 per head for mid-range) exist for a reason. Those numbers are the calculated cost of slightly more food than the average person can eat, in one sitting.
Think about it. When was the last time you ate more than $12 worth of food, alone, at McDonald’s or Burger King? When was the last time you single-handedly ate more than $25 worth at Cafe Cartel?
Assuming you’ve never been on the business end of a stomach pump, the answer is probably never.
And yet, when a buffet charges $35 per head (average price), everyone suddenly thinks it’s an awesome deal. The end result is people paying $35 to eat $25 worth of food.
If you feel a need to go to a buffet, ponder how much food $35 will buy at the next closest restaurant. And if you really MUST pig out, check out our review on the best value-for-money buffet places.
So there you have it, 6 simple ways to keep your restaurant bills low. Whether you’re saving money, or don’t want to look like you’re embezzling the petty cash, sticking to these; it’ll keep you as well fed as your bank account.
Got any of your own tips for saving money at restaurants? Let us know in the comments below!
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