Fine Dining on a Fast Food Budget

Dessert, as served in the Swiss mountain resta...
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While cooking dinner at home is the most economical choice available, sometimes you just really want a night out at a fine dining restaurant. Whether it is your birthday, an anniversary or you just deserve to be treated like royalty (and, who doesn’t—right, Cherie?), you can lower your expenses at even the most upscale restaurants.

Your inexpensive fine dining experience begins with choosing the right time. Avoid major holidays as some places will raise their prices or provide only a limited menu in anticipation of the larger crowd. Lunch is usually priced lower than dinner, so consider a lunch date over a more expensive evening dinner. There could be additional factors in choosing your date and time as well. Does your area have any dining events? Indianapolis is currently in the middle of Devour Downtown, with participating upscale restaurants offering $30 specials all week.

Paying attention to a restaurant’s specials is another great way to lower your bill. When the server stops by to tell you about the daily specials—listen! You might discover the perfect meal to fit your palate and your budget. A common restaurant special is a couple’s special. It is designed as a dinner for two, and often you will have some options to create your own plate.

If your restaurant of choice does not have a dinner for two option, you can still share a plate—especially at a place that is known for larger servings. Larger portion meals are often served “family style” which means they are designed to feed the whole table. You would only choose one or two side dishes to split among the entire family. Even if a meal is not designed as family style, you might consider splitting a couple appetizers among the table rather than everyone ordering a more expensive meal.

Appetizers are one expense you could consider eliminating, though, if you are planning to order a plated dinner as well. However, appetizers are often something a restaurant is known for and you don’t want to miss out on the experience. Rather than dining from appetizers to dessert, with drinks in between, experience the best restaurants a little at a time. Visit one for appetizers or drinks with a few friends. Try another for a late night dessert after a date.

Even if you decide to go all out, there are restaurant discount coupons available to cut costs. The new 2010 Entertainment Book is here and provides numerous restaurant coupons as well as travel, shopping and entertainment. Online restaurant coupons are also available from The participating restaurants range from family to fine dining and can usually be purchased at a deep discount. (If you utilize a coupon, please be sure to tip your server on the full amount.)

Bon appetit! (That’s fancy talk for “let’s eat!” Right?)


  1. says

    We often ditch the drinks, too. I’m not afraid to bring in my aluminum bottled ice tea from home to even a swanky place. If you enjoy wine, most places will also allow you to bring your own from home. Call ahead and double check first but it’s a pretty common practice.

    Great tip on tipping. ;) Don’t short the server. Being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t be generous.

    A few times we’ve also done a progressive dinner – half priced appetizers one place, split an entree elsewhere, and finished with dessert somewhere cheaper but no less yummier.

    Great post Lady Heather!

  2. says

    Thanks for the tips! We go out mayyyyybe once a month, if that, because of the expense. We ditch the drinks too, and we almost never get appetizers (except maybe bottomless chips) and rarely, if ever, get desserts. My husband has a HUGE stomach, so we haven’t really broached the idea to split a plate before, but one thing I like to do is divide whatever I get in half, eat half and take the other half home. I try to pick things that I know will keep in the fridge and do ok as leftovers. And I always get a refill on the bread basket too! Little things, but since there are only 2 of us, the little things are good enough. has been a big thing for us too – especially when I can get something for 80 or even 90% off. We’ve been able to have $40 meals with a friend and spend only $10 or $12 out of pocket.

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  1. […] The cosmo was super strong (points for that one, bartender!) and the food was decent. Still, we got to visit an official Indianapolis landmark. Now that it’s crossed off the list, I’m all good. If you ever want to say you went, I recommend stopping by just for appetizers and drinks—the shrimp cocktail is their signature dish anyway and, quite possibly, the best thing on the menu (this from someone who eats nothing from the sea). It’s a great way to have the experience without the full price tag. […]

  2. […] at home first so you won’t be as hungry. Parents can be persuaded to keep an eye out for restaurant coupons and deals ahead of time. Many restaurants now have websites where you can check out the menu and sign up for […]

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