Tip #12: How I’m saving $2,000+ on eating out in 2009

Ramit Sethi

This is Tip #12 of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge.

Today’s tip is to save money on eating out using services that offer incredibly steep discounts. I eat out a lot, so this one is saving me tons of money.

You can get big discounts on eating out if you plan ahead and are willing to use coupons at a restaurant. If you live in a city and restaurants tend to be more expensive, saving 10% or 25% or 50% per meal — even once a week — can add up quickly. Here are the tips I’ve started using for a huge drop in my monthly spending on eating out.

1. is offering 80% (!!) off its gift certificates. Note: This expires on 11/20/08 11/24/08.

  • Get $25 gift certificates for $2 (no joke)
  • Get a 12-month Dinner of the Month Club membership for $24

Remember, those deals expire on 11/24. Use code “SURPRISE” to get the discounts.

2. The 2009 Entertainment Book
Remember these from elementary school? They used to cost $40 and seemed unreasonably expensive…until I started having to buy my own food. I bought a copy of this a couple days ago after checking out the site to make sure their coupons were good for my area. I’m forcing myself to use at least two coupons per month — so if I’m planning to grab dinner with someone, I’ll consciously grab a coupon from this book (which I’m going to keep on my desk) and try to pick a restaurant that applies. Note: This works if you already eat out, but if you buy the book and then force yourself to use it — spending more than you normally would have — that’s probably not the best way to save money. Duh. These are $25, so check the coupons to see what it will take for you to save money.

I ordered mine a couple days ago.


3. Along the lines of involving your friends in the 30 Day Challenge, here’s a tip I’m using to save money on eating out. The other day, one of my friends was talking about she loves to cook, but hates cleaning up. My eyes lit up because I don’t mind washing dishes, but I’m horrible at cooking. Could there be a win-win situation here?

Everybody wins: We all get to hang out, eat food instead of letting it go rotten, and my friend doesn’t have to worry about cleaning up. If each meal saves a $20 dinner out and you do that three times/month, that’s $60/month.

There are also a bunch of other coupon / eating services out there, so if you have suggestions, leave them in the comments. It depends how much you eat out, but to share my friends’ biggest expense, it’s eating out by far, so this tip alone will save most of them over $1,000 over the next year. If you eat out a lot, it’s even more.

Total saved: $50 to $3,000

* * *

Last thing to do
1. Check out the other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.

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  1. Kenn Wilson

    Wow, is that for real? I’ve never heard of before but I just bought myself a 12 month subscription and the discount code worked a treat. Great tip!

    As you say, I think there will be a tendency to use the existence of the coupons as an excuse to eat out, but I think I can handle it. My wife and I don’t eat out at often as some people but do go out at least a few times a month, so this will pay for itself in no time

    I’m also happy to see that my favorite Ethiopian and Indian restaurants in the East Bay are both members, as well as one place I’ve been meaning to try.

  2. Beth

    Great tip! However, I’d recommend to any fellow Canadians out there to look for similar books produced and sold in Canada. These sites look great and I’ll for sure keep them in mind for my next trip to the US, but I’ve seen similar books offered here in Canada that have more stuff included and don’t involve shipping across the border or pay in USD. I’ve often seen these books offered through the local chamber of commerce or through school fundraisers. (Ramit, I don’t know if any of them offer affiliate programs, sorry).

    Another place I’d suggest people look is their local or state/provincial tourism bureau. You can find discounts like these online and you can have books with coupons for attractions and restaurants shipped to you for free.

  3. ekrabs

    Hey, this is a great tip! If I’m eating out anyways, might as well get myself a massive discount.

    What I found pleasantly surprising is that I can identify only two of the restaurants out of the entire list in my zip code. Wow. I thought I was well-heeled in my local cuisine, but apparently not so!

    But I think many that are listed are rather posh locales with a rather expensive menu, so that probably explains why I haven’t gotten around to them. Still, with decent coupons like these, I just might give one or two a try!

  4. SoniaW

    When eating out at lunch remember to ask for the lunch size meal. Lots of restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory offer lunch size portions meals that cost less, but don’t always mention the option. Lunch portions not only cost less, but are smaller more reasonable portions.

  5. zoe

    Great tips – do you know of anything like for your Canadian friends?


  6. Linda

    Hi – I just found your website/blog a couple days ago and THANK GOD I did – I just bought my family’s Christmas gifts (the 12 month subscription of restaurant gift certificates) for 80% off (of course, I bought a year’s worth for me and my husband, too – since we LOVE to go out to dinner at least once a week!) – So, basically, $900 worth of gift certificates, just cost me a fraction of the actual face value!!! You go, Ramit!!!


    Life is full of money saving opportunities, if you know where to look. Coupons are more than readily available on the internet, if you dine out a lot this is perfect for you.

  8. Amy

    Just an FYI – the $25 certificates for $2 are showing up as sold out.
    Ramit, I am sure you have helped swamp their site. : )
    Thanks for this great tip. A co-worker and I are going to split the Dinner of the month club membership…a $12 savings for each of us!

  9. Matt

    Wow, great tip. This has gift potential too.

  10. Jane

    sure this works great for those of you who eat out regularly, but since i live in the middle of the north yorkshire moors….. it’s not very relevant. Keep up the good work though, coz my savings to date = £107 week one [with a month’s credit card savings included]
    £85.40 week two
    £80 week three [including a month’s energy bill savings]

  11. Ramit Sethi

    Amy, most still work for me (7:26am PST on Wednesday), but I see a few are starting to show as sold out!

  12. Courtney

    My husband and I went to dinner this weekend and we used a gift certificate from I got a $10 GC for $0.90 (after using the coupon code). It was awesome! And I’ve also been thinking about being the Entertainment book, so I’m glad you mentioned that.

    Thanks for all your tips!

  13. Jennifer

    Ramit’s tip is a good one, I purchased three certificates recently and used them all successfully.

    In fact, yesterday my fiance and I ate lunch at a fancy steakhouse for a total of $24.60 (including tip) and we both got steak, calamari, and sodas.

    My credit card is through Citi, and there’s a great rewards program called the Thank You Network. I go there all the time and if you link to other sites through the Thank You Network, you get bonus points. Whenever you purchase anything from you get 15 (yes FIFTEEN) pounts for EVERY dollar you spend.

    If you purchase an Entertainment book through the Thank You Network’s link, you get 21 points per dollar spent on the book. Since mine was 20 dollars, that’s 420 points right there.

    Through the Thank You Network I’ve cashed my points in so far for a $330 plane ticket and three $100 retail store gift cards. I’ve had the card for two years.

    Becoming The Marshmallow

  14. Yuliya

    Thank you for the tip!
    I did get couple of certificates to the restaurants I usually go to.

    FYI, the price of $2 for $25 certificates is showing only after you apply the Surprise discount code at check out.

    The deal has some traps though:
    — you cannot apply more than one certificate at a time
    — lots of the restaurants have a minimum you have to spend to apply the certificate, or
    — In some restaurants you have to order a pres-fix,
    –can use the certificate not more often than once a month per restaurant
    –Most deals are for weekdays only(Sun-thurs).

    The rest of the deals unfortunately were worthless for me since they did not have discounts for the stores I usually shop at, or the restaurants I go to. So I saved about $42 by not buying the dinner club membership and the coupon book, since I wouldn’t use those anyways 🙂

  15. Jang Choe

    I’m frugal in many ways except my vice is eating out too much. These coupons are perfect! Eating out with 2 people suddenly got much cheaper, even with the minimum spending limit.

  16. Nikki

    Great tips, but be sure you check the site for what restaurants are in your area before you buy. I was going to buy some, then checked my zip code. There were zero restaurants within 15 miles of my zip code! The closest restaurant to me that participates in this is over 45 minutes away! So, be sure to check your area before you buy, or you will be wasting money.

  17. debt2dreams

    BEWARE of limitations of each promotion, Yuliya outlined pretty much what we found out also, not the easiest things to use. But I must say it is wise marketing by restaurants to pull people that may not normally come to their restaurant. The Entertainment Book is something we do use since it is the BOGO concept for many local restaurants with hardly any restrictions, only restriction is that it can’t be used on holidays.

  18. J. Todd Leffar

    The Entertainment book for our area (VA/MD/DC) includes 4 $5 coupons for Safeway, to be used quarterly. Even if you don’t normally shop at Safeway, it doesn’t hurt to use those coupons, and brings the price of the book down to a wonderfully cheap $5.

  19. Amanda

    For those who may be signed up to Frequent Flier programs, I know for United they also have a way to get miles through dining and through grocery shopping. I have my United member number linked to my Safeway card and get airline miles just for buying groceries, plus you can link it to your credit card and it gives you miles for using your credit card at specific restaurants. A way to get some airline miles that costs you no additional money.
    Not sure how much airline miles are worth these days with all the stupid restrictions and fees, but it’s worth a shot!

  20. Curtis L.

    The dicount is great, I’m here in mid michigan and have used these before. Just a note about using the discount code… after you “complete your order” it asks you to complete a survey to get $10 cash back, be aware that doing this will automatically sign you up for a $15 a month subscription to shopping essentials, instead of clicking the big YES option, click the smaller no thanks, continue with checkout.

    and be sure to read the details on each certificate offer, different restraunts have different terms and work with them to get use your certificate.

    I love this opportunity,

  21. Nicole Gustas

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but we had real problems with certificates in LA. Hidden catches that weren’t on the vouchers (which sometimes left us spending more money than we would have if we’d just gone to the restaurant without the darn coupon), restaurants dropping out before we could use the coupon…in the end, I think we broke even on what we spent, but we didn’t really save money. I would suggest reading the conditions on each coupon VERY carefully before you buy; many times, what looks like a good deal, isn’t.

    Same thing with the entertainment books. We bought something similar (the Eat/Drink coupons for LA), and it turned out most of the coupons were for venues that were geographically undesirable (it would have cost us more in gas to get to them than we’d save with the coupons). I *know* we lost money on that one.

    Caveat emptor and all that!

  22. Caleb

    You can save well over a couple thousand dollars just with this tip alone. That’s more than some people save in a whole year. I did a calculation, and I would save somewhere around $2300 a year, just eating out LESS. I spent $2400 to go on a Carnival Cruise this past summer with my girlfriend. That would’ve been a great tool to use to pay for it, had I implemented this a year ago. Eating out is bad for you all over. Just think about the health benefits gained from eating in and preparing your own meals. Good post.


  23. GGF

    I buy gift cards are stores that offer rewards and then use the gift cards to eat out. That way you get the rewards for restaurants that wouldn’t normally offer them. I never pay cash/credit card at restaurants, it is solely gift cards. It has the additional advantage of being a little more secure (i.e. the waiter doesn’t run off somewhere with your credit card).

  24. Anca

    Now if only included restaurants that are actually good instead of just desperate for customers.

  25. Robert

    Hmm, I only have 1 quarrel with the first 2 points. I personally don’t eat out much anymore, I used to quite a bit though. I had the 2007 Entertainment book, which was great because I thought about all of the money I was saving from meal to meal, but by the end of the year it seemed like false savings as I had eaten out infinitely more often than I would have without the book. This also comes with the negative point of eating more fast food and other unhealthy cuisine simply because the coupons dictate it.

    I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that I benefit more from not eating out than from eating out cheap.

  26. A Dawn

    Here is a tip – Always beware of special day deals, e.g., “kids eat free night”, “parents eat free night”, “birthday deal night”. Restaurants often offer deals on one slower night of the week such as Monday night, Tuesday night etc. By eating on these nights you will be able to save a lot.
    A Dawn Journal

  27. Nick

    Just make sure you read the stipulations for each restaurant on A lot of the time after meeting their stipulations, you spend more than you would have if you had just gone and ate normally without the coupon.

  28. Benita

    We just used and Entertainment book coupon last night as a matter of fact. We always like to try new places and the Entertainment book is great for that, also you can trade coupons with other people, we do that a lot at work! Also in the book besides food is movies! You can get a movie ticket for $6.50..that’s a pretty good deal around here. Here in Las Vegas we also have what is called KSHP, the radio shopping show, I think there is also one in Chicago and they have great deals! New restaraunts use them a lot for promotion.
    Also, signing up for the restaurant newsletters etc is a great way to get discouts, I got 3 BOGO’s in my email just this week and one in the mail!
    By the way, Las Vegas is not the $1.99 buffet or steak and eggs it used to be!!

  29. Melissa

    Thanks so much for posting about this! A friend and I just got $175 worth of certificates for $13. We read all the restrictions so hopefully we won’t have too much trouble using them on our trip to NYC in April.

  30. Green Panda

    I grabbed an entertainment book for my area. I checked out some of the places and we’ll save the most in casual dining. If we use the coupons for the places we already eat at, the book will pay for itself with three coupons.

    Since I used MyPoints referral link, I also can redeem some points and get some gift certificates. Double bonus!

    I got less than $100 to save this month for my goal and I’m excited.

  31. boliyou

    I hit the site yesterday and bought gift certificates to give as Christmas gifts. $55 worth of gift cards for $3.80. Not too shabby.

  32. Peggy

    Eating out was the first thing that went buh-bye when we began seriously seeking a frugal lifestyle. We eat out three times a year: My birthday (I’m the cook), Mother’s Day and our wedding anniversary. Although I’ve invested in the Entertainment Book in years past, we are living a lifestyle that doesn’t support its cost anymore.

    I did use the idea, though, and nabbed some GCs for my sister, mother and son who all eat out frequently.

    A warning, though: in this economy, be prepared to have GCs not worth the paper on which they are printed when the company goes under.

    Your daily skeptic

    Today’s Tip: $50
    Cumulative total: $90.75

  33. Little Miss Moneybags

    I wish you would do a really detailed post about I keep seeing these “fantastic” deals but I can’t find anything on the site that really seems worth it. I’d have to spend money at the restaurant to use the certificate, and it seems like it would be a hassle with the waitstaff to get them to accept it. I also have a really hard time finding restaurants in my area that I’d be interested in going to–and I live in New York City, so it’s not like I’m in the middle of nowhere.

  34. JACK

    Oh, boo hoo to all those people who are complaining about the restrictions on the certificates. The only thing I think worth complaining about is if for some reason the restaurant doesn’t honor it.

    The restrictions are all there in black and white before you buy the certificate. If you don’t think you will go to the restaurant for over a year, why the heck are you buying the certificate? If you think that you wouldn’t ordinarily spend the money necessary to meet the restrictions, then why are you buying it? I’ve known many people who have used the certificates without any problem. I personally bought some yesterday to two restaurants that I like and know that if I went there I would easily meet the restrictions listed for the certificate.

    But yeah, if the restrictions make it an unattractive deal, don’t buy it just because of the discount.

  35. Raoul Duke

    nice tip, much appreciated.

    (if only’s user interface wasn’t From Hell.)

  36. Burton

    I really think you would be hard pressed to save this money by eating out as opposed to cooking your own meals. A huge caveat practically all of the deals are the minimum meal prices (as one reader already pointed out). I think a big question to ask yourself is, are you planning to spend $25 on a meal in the first place? I suppose the deal is better aligned for those who eat out a lot.

    My wife and I cook fantastic meal for a lot less and a lot of the time the leftovers last for days. We’ve both knocked out $100+ a month EACH by making a conscious effort to just fix our own food. Not that eating out is terrible or anything. We love it, but I seem to think this tip is great if you’re not looking to do something a bit more practical.

  37. Judy

    Thanks for the tip on I’d heard of them, but never tried them.
    There are only 6 restaurants in my area, but I bought 2 $25 certificates yesterday – 1 for my daughter & son-in-law, who are learning how expensive twins can be & how much personal time they lose when those babies come along -LOL! The 2nd certificate was for me & my hubby, who have 11 & 13 yr old boys still at home who keep us busy,plus now I babysit the 10 mo old twin grandsons 9 1/2 hours every week day – not much time to cook & eating out so expensive!
    Today, I realized what a GREAT opportunity to buy the 12 month membership as a Xmas gift for my hubby who complains (rightfully) that we don’t get to spend enough time together alone – now we can afford to have a once -a- month date without feeling guilty for spending the money, I can hardly wait!!

  38. Happy Saving

    Thanks Jack, I was shocked by the number of ungrateful people complaining about this tip.
    If there are no restaurants you want to go to or already go to in your area then don’t buy any.
    If the restaurant gives you grief for using it then you have a problem with poor service at the rest. not the website. — The restaurant I use it at always provides great service and accepts the certificate with a smile.
    You don’t need to be a serial restaurant goer to use this tip either… if you only go to and use a cert. once or twice a month, then you’ve significantly cut your expenses
    …and here’s a tip for the people who live in NYC and can’t afford it. Move…. Don’t live in expensive New York City if you can’t afford it.

    Happy saving

  39. Lise

    As an alternative to going out to dinner weekly, my husband and I take turns hosting and making dinner for/with two other couples. It’s a nice way to get out and socialize without spending too much cash.

    I too am wary of the gift certificates. I was excited to see that my favorite local pizza restaurant was on there, but you have to spend $35 on dinner to qualify. I don’t think we’ve ever spent that much, so I passed. I’m not sure I eat out often enough to get enough value out of these.

  40. Little Miss Moneybags

    @ Happy Saving

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that I can’t afford to live in New York City, because I certainly didn’t say that. At no point in my comment did I complain about prices here.

    My suggestion to Ramit was to do a thorough post on using certificates–I’m sure there are good deals to be found, but newbies to the process (like myself) find the site confusing and overwhelming. It would be helpful to have someone walk us through the entire process of using the website and then using the certificate at the restaurant. He mentions deals on his website often enough that I would appreciate the post, and others might as well.

  41. Sapan

    Buying a 12-month subscription makes a lot of sense for me as I go eat out over the weekends anyways. And now I’ll get to try different restaurants and cuisines.

    Saved: $276.

  42. EntertainmentBooks

    An alternative to buying your Entertainment Book from the company’s website is to buy it through a local organization. LOTS of groups use this as a fundraiser. In the case of the group I’m with, we sell the books for the same price $25, but the group gets $5 of that. So not only do you get to save by using the coupons, part of the purchase price supports an organization of your choice (school, non-profit or church). BTW, the company says the retail price is $30.

  43. Mike

    I have to jump in here about the Entertainment Books. As a parent of two (one now in college, the other in high school), I’ve been involved in selling (and buying) these books for years: first elementary, then middle school, then the youth orchestra – lots of organizations sell these as fundraisers.

    One year a parent got up at the sales pitch to PTO and said she bought one, went through and tore out all the coupons she knew she’d use, then sold the rest of the book to someone else for $10!

    Last year we bought TWO books. We carried one in each car, so it was always handy for an impromptu meal stop. (or maybe not so impromptu: “Where’s a coupon for ice cream sundaes?”)

    There’s lots more than food (although the food coupons range from fast food to nicer restaurants). Our kids show horses and their suits need to be dry cleaned several times during the season. Entertainment Book to the rescue: we used every coupon in both books. Bowling? Coupon. Movies? Coupon. Go karts? Coupon.

    That’s why it’s called the Entertainment Book. 🙂

  44. hungryelmo

    @ Happy Saving
    Probably your comment
    >I’d have to spend money at the restaurant to use the certificate
    made Happy Savings believe that you can’t afford to live in NYC.
    It’s really not that hard to use Scrolling through a long list of restaurants might be time consuming, but there are ways to refine your search, like by area or by cuisine. And once you purchased it, it’s really easy to use. Just print it out and submit it with your CC (or cash) when you get a check at the end of the meal (unless the certificate must be presented before ordering-just read carefully). Double check to make sure $25 or whatever the amount is deducted, and that’s it! No tip since they include 18% gratuity (in CA). It’s really nice since I live near a major metropolitan area, and there are so many restaurants I’ve never tried. It’s pretty typical that people spend $20/meal before tax where I live, so the certificates are perfect! Also in California, it’s illegal for gift cards and certificates to expire- so expires in 1 year does not apply here. And if the restaurant(s) go out of business, you can contact to get reimbursement- that’s what I heard.

  45. hungryelmo

    @ Little Miss Moneybags, I mean.

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  47. Mel

    I’ve been using the certificates for more than a year now — the best way we’ve found to use them is to invite friends to go with us, and split the savings. It’s not hard to spend $35 at a restaurant with four people, and we all get to eat cheaply! We went a favorite place the other day with a couple visiting from out of town and ended up spending less than $5 a person (my husband and I usually eat there for about $25 together), so a great deal!

    And to those who are complaining about it — it’s easy! Don’t buy! My goodness — not every tip on this site is applicable to every person!

  48. Sam

    If you can find anything similar for Australia, that’d be great. We have the entertainment books, but the value of that depends on whether I’m interested in the limited selection of coupons in it. I’d like to see something like the offers for AU.

  49. Carletta

    I’ve been buying the entertainment coupon book for years but I buy it in May when it’s $9.99 and most of the coupons are still good until November or December. Our local book has coupons to a sporting goods company so I update our running shoes and clothing then.

  50. Brett

    The 80% of discount doesn’t work. I sent through the purchasing steps, inputting code “surprise” and even at the last step where it totals my cost it showed $10, not the $2 it should cost w/ the discount.

    I tried it on two separate resaurants on two separate purchases. Anyone else having that problem? I wasted about 30 minutes with nothing to show for it.

  51. Brett

    By the way, this is still a great tip. Its just that when I’m expecting a $2 charge I don’t want to pay $10. And I live in a rural area so I am buying in case I travel to Los Angeles soon. I’m willing to forfeit $2 or $4 on a couple of meals but not $10 or $20 in case I don’t get to use them.

  52. Linda

    Hi – I’ve been an Entertainment book member for years – I just got a deal (because I didn’t re-order the first time they asked) – $18 for the northern NJ book, and if I renewed for the annual shipment, they’d knock another $5 off – PLUS – free shipping. So I just paid $13 for the E-book – hundreds of saving (supermarket coupons and travel discounts too!!). Also, my husband, my mom, and I LOVE to go out to eat – and we love our wine – So, instead of ‘jacking up’ our total bill with alcohol, we try different BYOB places – the food is a little more expensive (not much), but you’re not paying inflated alcohol fees! Good luck to all – and save save save!!!


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  54. cyn

    i got really excited about this posting and immediately purchased a gift certificate. At the end of my purchase there was an offer from Shopping essentials.
    Curious, I looked them up and immediately came across the link above plus many more complaints
    Apparently Shopping Essentials has been making unauthorized charges after the certificate purchases.
    This DOES NOT sound like a good way to save money.
    Keep an eye out on your credit card statements.

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