Ordering from a restaurant menu on the cheap may seem difficult and unappealing, but it's not if you know how to use creative ordering skills. Once you learn options such as ordering your meal from an area of the menu you wouldn't usually consider to skipping certain items you normally order without a second thought, saving money may become second nature to you.
Eat Out at Lunch
Dinner menu items usually put more of a drain on your budget, so eat out at lunch instead when possible. Some restaurants offer a lunch menu until late in the afternoon -- think 4 p.m. -- so opt to eat your evening meal a bit earlier than what you're used to and save some serious cash. Lunch menu items are often 20 to 30 percent lower than dinner menu fare. While you're eyeballing the lunch menu, look for early bird specials that will help you save even more money.
Share With Your Significant Other
Scope out the possibilities on the menu for meals you can share with your sweetie. Don't be afraid to ask the server how large the portions are for menu items you are interested in ordering. For example, if you want to order a chicken entree, ask how many ounces of meat are included. You may find that the restaurant serves two chicken breast filets as the main part of one entree. Pasta entrees are also a good option for people who want to split entrees.
Order an Appetizer As a Meal
An appetizer typically adds more to your bill, but it won't if you order it instead of an entree. Many times, appetizers are lower in price than entrees and they can make for a suitable meal as long as you're not a big eater. If you're worried that the appetizer won't satisfy your appetite, order a half order of another appetizer, a small salad or a cup of soup on the side to round out your meal.
Skip the Soda
While water may not be your drink of choice, you can definitely save money if you order it instead of a soda or another beverage, especially alcoholic drinks. Check the menu; sodas can cost $2 or more. If the taste of water doesn't appeal, ask for a dish of lemons or limes to give it a kick. You can even make your own free lemonade or limeade by stirring in a few packets of sweetener or sugar.
Snag a Discount Gift Certificate or Coupon
Discount gift certificates work well, especially if you have a large party, due to minimums required for ordering. Check out websites such as Restaurant.com or local or regional websites that offer discount coupons or gift certificates. Another good spot to look for restaurant discount coupons is on the back of grocery cash register tapes.
Based in Texas, Cynthia Measom has been writing various parenting, business and finance and education articles since 2011. Her articles have appeared on websites such as The Bump and Motley Fool. Measom received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.