Dining out without breaking your budget

June 28, 2012 3:33:27 PM PDT
Americans sure like to dine out. We spend about $1.7 billion in restaurants every day. But dining out does not have to break the bank.

You probably love to dine out, but hate to see your bill. Good news, Consumer Reports says there are plenty of deals right at your fingertips.

"One of the first things you can do is to visit a restaurant's website to find out about any special offers," recommended Tod Marks with Consumer Reports.

Take Chili's. It has a $20 steak dinner special for two. If you are traveling this summer, Bob Evans has an endless farmhouse lunch for $6.99.

Marks said, "You can also sign up for email alerts and join an e-club to learn about even more deals."

By joining California Pizza Kitchen's e-club, you get $5 toward your next visit. On Facebook, liking Outback steakhouse and other restaurants can also lead to dining deals.

Consumer Reports found you do need to choose where to eat carefully. Its survey of almost 48,000 subscribers gave some popular chains low marks for value, among them Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings grill and bar, Joe's Crab Shack and Hooters.

"Now, another surefire way to save is to eat when others don't," Marks said. "There's a lot more out there than just an early bird special."

At Applebees, late night diners enjoy half price appetizers. At Red Lobster, you get a discount on some shrimp entrees on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Marks advised, "Here's another sweet way to save. If it is your birthday, eat at a restaurant that offers free dessert."

Along with value, Consumer Reports subscribers also rated restaurants for food, service and atmosphere. Among the lowest rated restaurants overall were Waffle House and the east coast food chain Friendly's.

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