It is inevitable, even with a commitment to cooking, you will eat out. We rarely go out as a family because it can easily run us over $50. Even fast food is around $35-$40 for all of us. My oldest two children eat adult meals so , for us, we basically are feeding 4 adults and 4 children. Our best bang for the buck is a local oriental place were we can get three quart sized entrees and a quart of soup for about $25 and it feeds us all.
When we do eat out, here are some of my ways to stretch our dollars:
Coupons: I watch for local coupons on places we like and keep them in a handy file. Nothing complicated here. Look for them in the paper and in the junk mail. In the past when we ate out more frequently, we have invested in an Entertainment Book.
Kids Eat Free: Often restaurants will have a day of the week where kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entree. Kids Meal Deals is a site where you can search for restaurants in your area. Restaurant rules may vary, but this can save a ton.
Groupons: Many cities now offer groupon deals. What is a Groupon? It is a daily deal on something local. It could be a spa treatment, or a restaurant gift certificate. Usually they are around half off. If they sell enough of them, the deal goes through. You print out your voucher and use it to make your purchase. I have got a $25 meal voucher to a local restaurant we love for only $10. Sign up to get daily e-mails or "like" them on Facebook to see what they are offering in your area.
Drink Water: I know - not real exciting. With non-alcoholic beverage prices sometimes passing the $2 mark, you can save a ton of money by drinking water which is FREE. For our family that would be $16 shaved off of our bill. As a bonus, you will be saving calories and be healthier, too. Train your children to order water at a meal. We tell the kids before we ever enter a restaurant that if a drink is not included in the price of a meal they will drink water. That is what they are accustomed to at home anyway.
Split Meals: Most restaurant portions are enormous! Plan to share a meal with someone. Say something to your waitress and make sure that this is not a problem. Some restaurants will charge you extra to share a meal or are not willing to split it for you and will just bring an extra plate so you can do it yourself. However, we have been places that are very nice about splitting a meal for us and even adding some of the extra sides to both plates. Not only will you save money by doing this, but you will have a healthier sized meal portion.
Buffets: We have found that buffets are often cost effective for us. Usually the younger children eat for free or for a very reduced rate. One place charges 10 cents per year of age. The added benefit with small children is there is no long wait time for food and everyone can usually find something they really like.
Eating out can be a special treat that doesn't have to destroy your budget if done with a bit of planning and care.