Have you ever kept track of how often you eat out each month? And how much it costs you? Add it up:

  • takeout lunches,
  • designer coffee,
  • dairy bars in the summer,
  • Sunday brunch with family,
  • happy hour with coworkers,
  • fine dining with friends...

And tax. And tip. And parking (or taxi). The bill adds up fast!

The price of restaurant meals continues to rise

In the 2022 Canada Food Price Report, the average Canadian home spends nearly 27% of its food budget on food service. On a family food budget of $1,000 per month, $270 is spent at restaurants.

Pre-pandemic (2019), restaurant spending sat at 35% of the food budget. Spending dropped because restaurants had to close for months. Now, with inflation reaching record levels, analysts don’t expect to see such high percentages any time soon. This year, researchers believe that restaurant prices could rise by 6% to 8%.

And watch out if you use apps like Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes and DoorDash . As tempting and user-friendly as they are, these meal delivery apps charge many other fees:

  • administration;
  • delivery;
  • tip for the driver;
  • etc.

According to the New York Times, ordering with Uber Eats can cost up to 91% more than if you ordered directly from the restaurant. Quebec-based apps like Eva and Restoloco are a bit less pricey than the global giants.

What can you do to cut back on your restaurant bills? The obvious solution is to cook your own meals. But this isn’t always feasible, especially if you have to stop at a restaurant when you’re pressed for time or if you want to indulge. Fortunately, there are other options!

Here are some small steps you can take to lower your eating-out bills. Your budget will thank you!

1. Extend your alcohol-free month

If you met the challenge of abstaining from alcohol (February in Quebec, January in the rest of Canada), then why not keep the momentum going when you’re dining out?

A survey from the University of Sussex in England noted that 88% of participants had saved money as a result. Makes sense, since alcoholic beverages can take up 15% to 30% of your dinner bill, depending on what kind and how much alcohol you order.

Survey participants also reported several health benefits from leaving out alcohol, including:

  • better sleep,
  • improved concentration,
  • clearer skin,
  • more energy, and
  • weight loss.

So the next time you’re out with friends or family, go for a non-alcoholic beverage. A mocktail or a glass of sparkling water will be a lot easier on your budget...and on your health in the long run.

2. Look for “Bring Your Own Bottle” restaurants

Do you really enjoy a glass of wine when dining out? In that case, look for a restaurant that lets you bring your own bottle. That way you’ll have the vintage of your choice and save a few bucks in the process.

3. Cut one course out of your dinner

It’s not just that glass of wine that tops up your bill.  Next time you’re out for dinner, try skipping the appetizer or ditching the dessert.  Doing either or both could save you anywhere between $5 to $30 dollars, depending on the restaurant’s prices.

Alternatively, you could choose to have an appetizer as your entrée.  Appetizers are generally cheaper, but portion sizes can be nearly as large as an entrée.

4. Split the meal

Speaking of huge portions, some restaurant and takeout meals are so big that the entrée alone is enough to feed two people.  Ask the staff how large the servings are.  If it’s too much for one person, consider sharing it to save money.

Or, you could ask for a doggy bag after you’ve eaten your fill, and enjoy the leftovers later. Some meals, like pizza, are just as good the next day!

Anne-Marie works while travelling between Montreal and Quebec City so she can’t really take her leftovers home. At restaurants, she now orders one course at a time, depending on her appetite. “Often our eyes are bigger than our stomach. But by ordering one course at a time instead of all of them at once, you might realize, as you’re biting into the bread roll, that you don’t have room for soup, a heaping plate of pasta and dessert too. Then you won’t overload your budget or your stomach,” she explains.

Want to save more for dining out?

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5. Try meal-delivery kits

If you eat out because you’re starved for time and can’t make it to the grocery store, then a meal-kit delivery service might be a great option for you. How does it work?

  • You order a box of meals from the selections for that week.
  • The box is delivered to your home with all the ingredients in the right proportions (cutting out food waste!) and step-by-step instructions.
  • These meals are usually ready in 30 minutes tops, so no more week nights stuck in the kitchen.

For Julie, a mom who signed up for the service several years ago, it’s an ideal solution to have more variety in the family’s meals. “I can’t stand eating the same thing all the time. But I don’t always have time to look for new recipes.  Meal kits are the perfect way to discover new recipes and have a nice variety of meals.”

How much does it cost? Depending on the meals you choose, the boxes range anywhere from $8 to $15 per portion. That’s a cheaper alternative to eating out. Many companies also offer discount codes for new and regular customers. The discounts can be pretty substantial.

What’s more, meal kits give you the nutritional information up front.  You’ll know exactly how much sugar, sodium and fat go into your meals...so you can tweak the recipes as you see fit. Practical and healthy!

6. Look for promotions

Find yourself returning to the same restaurants? Sign up for e-newsletters from your favourite ones. These email alerts often come with discount codes, coupons or freebies with select purchases.  You can also check for promotions on various restaurant Facebook and Instagram pages. Subscribe so you don’t miss a thing.

And what about your birthday? Check to see if any eateries near you offer birthday discounts or free treats on your special day.  It’s always nice to celebrate without having to pay!

Saving money doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the things you enjoy. It’s really about making smarter choices when you eat out. So you can keep enjoying restaurant meals without piling on debt.

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This article is meant to provide general information only. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation