When Jared was working on his Master’s we lived in a small campus apartment with FREE cable! I know it sounds nerdy, but I loved watching the Food Network, and one of our favorite shows was Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Eating out has always been our favorite date, and even living on a budget we’ve been able to make the occassional eat-outs happen :).
During Jared’s schooling we knew we would be in that college town for at least two years, so we came up with a silly, but fun idea. We decided to go through the phonebook, starting with “A” and try all the restaurants in the city, all the way to “Z”. It wasn’t a huge place with a zillion restaurants, so we thought it would be do-able–about 2 a month according to our estimations. Oh, and we skipped over the chains and well-known places. We wanted to try JUST the local diners, drive-ins, and dives.
It was super fun and we got to try all kinds of different foods. I have to be honest, we didn’t make it all the way through the alphabet by the time we moved though because we found a couple places that became our favorites and we decided to abandon the idea. We DID try a lot of them though.
One of the gems we found which allowed us to continue to eat out fairly regularly (once a week or less) and try so many local places while still living on a tight budget is Restaurant.com. Have you checked out this site? It’s seriously cool. Here’s a little info if you are new to Restaurant.com.
- Restaurant.com partners with restaurants in your area that are looking for new customers. It’s a form of advertising for these restaurants. Enter your zipcode to find the participating restaurants in your area.
- Restaurant.com offers YOU a giftcard at a REDUCED price which you purchase on their website, print off, and then take to the restaurant. For example, you can usually purchase a $10 giftcard for $4, or a $25 giftcard for for $10. BUT, to sweeten the deal, Restaurant.com often has coupon codes where you can get a FURTHER discount!
- The only “catch” if you want to call it that, is that most giftcards will have a “minimum” order amount (which they clearly tell you under the price). For example, when you purchase a $25 giftcard (for $3!!), your minimum restaurant purchase must be $35 plus tip. You pay $25 with your giftcard, and then the remaining balance, plus your tip.
- The gift cards don’t expire for a year.
- Oh! You can also buy Restaurant.com gift cards from Swagbucks!
It really is a good deal, especially if you want to try out local restaurants. Jared and I had never tried Indian food, so we tried an Indian restaurant when we were working on our A-Z list. We were able to try several different dishes to get our minimum order total high enough, but we left the restaurant very full and knowing we loved naan, and that curry was very spicy! Usually when we go out we save money by drinking water and skipping appetizers and dessert. But with the Restaurant.com gift cards, we can splurge on the “extras” or take the whole family out, and only pay about $15 ($10 for the meal, plus tip. Although we usually tip more generously because I was a waitress in high school and believe in passing along the good deed.)
(Mom, don’t read this part ) For Christmas this year we gave my inlaws a $25 gift card to Tony Romas, which we purchased from Restaurant.com at a further discount with a coupon code. Then I made a cute card and slipped the gift card plus a $10 bill into the envelope. I realize this kind of gift might not be appreciated by everyone, but in our situation everyone won because they got to go out for a nice meal for free, and we got to give a nice gift, while still keeping to our budget.