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19 ways to eat out on a budget

Brought to you by Moonshot Café

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat like a hermit. We’ve rounded up our best tips for eating out without breaking the bank, so you can still indulge in all your favourite spots.

Link up
Now’s not the time for going solo. Grab a friend and take advantage of two-for-one specials. You could also split a side like chips at restaurants where they’re sold separately.

Dine out with a minimum of one friend

Dine out with a minimum of one friend. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

Mondays are your friends
Many restaurants offer significant discounts for eating out on less popular days like Mondays. (Check out our list of weekly restaurant specials or use our app to find specials in your area.)

Lunch > Dinner
Though dinner may seem ideal in theory, in practice lunch usually doesn’t run up a bill quite as high. Many restaurants even have some cool lunchtime deals to lure you in.

Pub lunches are some of the most budget-friendly meals

Pub lunches are some of the most budget-friendly meals. Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash.

BYOB
This isn’t a groundbreaking tip, but make sure you do your research beforehand – some restaurants charge outrageous corkage fees in order to dissuade diners from bringing their own wine, while others charge none at all.

Still or sparkling?
“Tap water, please,” is the correct response here. Stop being paranoid, your waiter isn’t judging you. (Even if you’re in a drought-stricken province, you don’t have to feel bad as long as you finish it all!)

Today’s specials
Any wallet-watcher feels panic begin to set in as soon as the waiter begins to rattle off all the day’s specials, because it’s really just a laundry list of delicious-sounding dishes with every single one missing something very important: the price. Instead of panicking, remember that it’s been designed this way deliberately and there’s absolutely no shame in asking for the price. You deserve to know it up front; that’s why they normally have it on menus, after all.

Stow your judgement
Just because a restaurant has an outdated interior or ‘minimalist’ décor doesn’t mean the food is bad. They could just be keeping costs down – meaning you get to reap the benefits by paying less for your meal. Keep an eye out during dinner time. A full badly decorated restaurant is a great indicator of delicious affordable food.

Less bells and whistles décor-wise can mean more affordable pricing

Less bells and whistles décor-wise can mean more affordable pricing. Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash.

Pre-eating
It’s like pre-drinks, except you can save even more money. Just eat something semi-filling at home (like a sandwich or even a fruit) then head out to join your friends for a smaller, less expensive meal.

No extras
Pay attention to words like ‘Add’, ‘Plus’ or ‘Extra’. That means you’re going to pay more, even if there’s no price indicated. This might mean skipping out on avo or sauces, but your wallet will be happier for it.

We know it's difficult but you must resist – say no to the extra avo

We know it’s difficult but you must resist – say no to the extra avo! Photo by Alexandra Golovac on Unsplash.

Sweet spot
For some of those cursed with a sweet tooth, the threshold isn’t quite as high as it is for the main meal. If your criteria for a good dessert really just comes down to anything deep-fried or smothered in chocolate, leave the fancy restaurant and head somewhere less expensive for a cheap but satisfying dessert.

Do your research
Walking into a restaurant with no prior information can be murder on the wallet. Get your hands on a menu (you can use our trusty app to find restaurant listings and menus) to make sure there are dishes available in your price range and find out what you can expect (for example, burgers and chips being charged separately can be vital information).

All the best burgers come with chips

All the best burgers come with chips. Photo courtesy of Moonshot Café.

The magic of the doggy bag
There’s no pain quite like that of watching someone send a perfectly good half-finished plate of food back to the kitchen. Never be that person. Be the person who has yummy leftovers for everyone at work to drool over tomorrow. (Plus you’ll feel deservedly smug for paying once and eating twice!)

Go Dutch
Don’t just split the bill – split the meal. Get one plate of nachos to share (no matter what you tell yourself, you probably won’t finish it by yourself) and you could even split dessert afterwards. Half a portion of nachos plus half a waffle equals a pretty decent meal.

nachos and wine

That’s right, this can be a budget meal. Photo by Denise van der Heide on Unsplash.

Break the holiday habit
There’s a charm to eating out on a public holiday; it’s when you just want to take a break and spoil yourself and your loved ones. But restaurants often insist on expensive set menus on days like Valentine’s day or Christmas day. Opt to do some low-key cooking instead and dine out on another day in the same week. You can thank us later.

Drink smart
It’s easy to spend the bulk of your bill on drinks without even realising it. Limit yourself to one drink and skip out on the post-meal coffee (you can make one for yourself at home!). Also, if you’re out with a friend of similar tastes, split a bottle of wine with them instead of buying by the glass. It’s likely to be cheaper in the long run.

Limiting yourself is easier than you think and you’ll see your bill halve. Photo by Vincenzo Landino on Unsplash.

Plan ahead
Make sure you know what the planned or most important element of the outing is. Getting drinks? Eat at home so you’re not tempted to order a meal. Having dinner? Skip dessert and invite everyone over for ice cream afterwards at your place instead.

Go veggie
This could be our best tip yet, if only because you get to help out the environment too. Opt for the vegetarian option and you could end up paying a lot less. (That being said, vegan meals can be just as expensive as the ones featuring meat, so make sure to compare prices first.)

Vegetarian meals are often just as delicious but far less expensive. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

Free lunch
Keep an eye on our competitions page – you may just win your next meal!

Dish It Yourself
A great way to be in control of the cost of your meal is by building it up yourself. This can mean harvest tables or DIY braais – at Pretoria’s Moonshot Café there’s both. They also have a rooftop restaurant, unbeatable sunsets, entertainment from top SA artists, a fully stocked bar and top-notch grub for less than R120 per head.

Affordable tacos at Moonshot Cafe.

Affordable tacos at Moonshot Cafe. Photo supplied.

Brought to you by Moonshot Café

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