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5 Ways to Save Money When Dining Out

Every Sunday Grace takes her family out for dinner. It's been a tradition that she looks forward to all week. Lately, however, Grace has felt really stressed out as Sunday approaches. Money is tight and those meals are more and more expensive. With gas prices through the roof, higher food prices, and meager raises, Grace just feels like her wallet is in a vice. She doesn't want to give up this special ritual, but she feels like something has to give.

Grace isn't alone. All across the country people struggle to make ends meet during rough economic conditions. Breaking bread with friends has been a centuries old tradition -- it's fun to share a good conversation over a good meal. But if you're feeling the financial pinch, you don't want that pleasure to come at the expense of your bank account. Here are some tips for saving money while eating out:

Share an entree or make a meal out of appetizers: In modern America food portions have become so super-sized that the average meal can feel at least two and sometimes even three people. To avoid any surprises when the check comes, be sure to see if the restaurant charges a split entree fee. What's more, some appetizers are so large they could easily fill you up as an entree and they generally cost half as much.

Be sure to ask how much the specials cost before ordering: This a major pet peeve of ours. How many times have you been in a restaurant when the wait staff describes a succulent sounding special or dish-of-the-day? You go for it, only to find yourself fighting the urge to hurl when you see the bill and find out the price. Personally, we think it's a sign of financial self-confidence to nicely ask "how much are these specials"? so you can make an informed decision about whether you really want that dish.

Soup -- It does a body good: A nice bowl of hearty soup (think gumbo, beef stew, tortilla soup, or chili) often costs a lot less, contains healthier ingredients, and fills you up as much as a regular entree.

Think before your drink: Beverages -- alcoholic and or not -- are very high margin products for restaurants. Think twice before ordering something besides water. If you can, savor one drink throughout the meal. Doing this can easily shave 20 percent or 30 percent off your bill (not to mention your waistline).

Do lunch: If you have a really strong urge to meet friends at a fancy new restaurant, try doing it at lunchtime instead. Prices are much lower, portions are more realistic, and you're less likely to run up a costly alcohol bill.

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