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Dining out for less

dine040109BY SHARON HARRIS-ZLOTNICK

Dining out is so much more than just eating outside the home…it can be a culinary and social experience. Who doesn’t love all those great tastes and smells?

The National Restaurant Association projects that in 2009, 945,000 locations across the country will generate $566 billion in sales. Restaurants represent one of the largest private-sector employers in the U.S., and the industry’s 13 million employees total 9% of the American workforce.

However, 2009 is also a year of belt tightening for almost everyone, and tough times make for tough choices. As families decide which activities to keep and which to sacrifice, the new thriftiness has threatened to make dining out a casualty.

Fear not, restaurant lovers. You need not completely ignore your yearning for an interesting meal outside your home’s four walls. Dining out can remain a regular occasion if you take advantage of savings opportunities.

Regardless of where you live, work or travel to, you can develop personal savings strategies. Some are free, while others require minimal payments. By using them wisely, you can quickly more than make up the costs.

These programs, highlighting several of the best available dining options, will help save significant money. Always read the fine print to determine spending requirements or meal restrictions on certain days, hours and discounts.

Restaurant.com (www.restaurant.com) - Diners may save up to $25 per meal when locating participating restaurants by state, county or zip code. By choosing venues in specific neighborhoods, consumers may experiment with various menus and cuisines.

Customers purchase and then print out certificates for use at a particular restaurant. The program typically advertises pre-paying $10 for a $25 check discount. However, wait and plan to buy in bulk. There are frequent certificate sales, costing from $2 to $6 for the same $25 reduction. Registration is free and special alerts are emailed.

Open Table (www.opentable.com) - Members enjoy dual benefits and registration is free. First, say goodbye to calling to reserve a table. Using the online software, diners click on designated times to confirm their meal.

When arriving, check in to receive a 100-point, or $1 credit, in your account. Members redeem their points for vouchers, which are accepted at any participating restaurant in the U.S. The minimum 2,000-point redemption level equals a $20 check. However, numerous 1,000 point opportunities expedite the eligibility for a reward check.

Entertainment Book (www.entertainment.com) - Regional editions pinpoint specific U.S. cities and towns, offering gourmet, casual and fast food options. Using coupons or a plastic card, consumers save up to half the total cost of the meal.

Order Entertainment books online. To avoid shipping charges, plus get a charitable tax     deduction, buy the book through community organizations or religious groups. While each     regional edition may be priced individually, the purchase price is typically between $25 and     $45. Since the books expire in early November, almost every edition is currently selling for     50% off.

Rewards Network (www.rewardsnetwork.com) - Not using cards or coupons, this discreet cost saver rebates a percentage of the total dining bill. The website helps diners focus on metropolitan areas or neighborhoods. Full details, maps and varying cash back reward rates are available for specific dates. Pay the check with a registered credit card, and a credit will appear on the next statement.

Register online for immediate savings. The site requires at least one credit card number on file.

Local fundraising cards - Many educational, civic and religious groups raise funds by selling cards in conjunction with local merchants. There are typically several area restaurants that participate by offering a percentage reduction from the total bill. Call area schools, houses of worship and municipalities, or just ask some neighborhood kids if their school is distributing a card.

Community newspapers, bulk mailers and radio/television promotions - The weekly or monthly papers, coupon publications like Clipper (www.clipper.com) and direct mailers often advertise specials at area eateries. Local radio/television websites frequently partner with regional restaurants to offer discounted certificates.

Senior/child/AAA rates - Benefit from your age or taking the kids out to eat. Contact restaurants to learn of senior promotions or children’s menus. Also, AAA membership can be used for more than just servicing the car. Many restaurant chains also offer discounts to members.

Special hours and promotions - Depending on personal schedules, “Early Bird” meals or “twofers” at the restaurant’s bar may provide economic relief. Also, many bars offer complimentary hors d’oeuvres, which will go well with discounted “Happy Hour” drinks.

If money remains tight, it is still possible to dine out for a change in scenery. When you food shop, visit the takeout counter. Many newer supermarkets have prepared food counters, salad bars and side café seating. While it may not be the lap of luxury, different surroundings may seem like the perfect escape from the kitchen.







 

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