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How to save money when eating out

How to save money when eating out
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Clark Howard |
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Some years ago, I wrote in Clark’s Big Book of Bargains about how to eat out at restaurants the Clark Smart way. At the time, I discussed the Bermuda Triangle of the restaurant industry where restaurateurs make their biggest profits: Appetizers, desserts and alcohol.

Now the Bermuda Triangle of dining is snaring diners because the price of wine is up. Severe drought in Napa Valley and a cold spell in May have radically reduced the harvest at the same time that consumption is up. Hence the squeeze play leading to higher prices.

These deals can help you save on dining!

This is a time to product substitute. You may need to become more selective about the wine you choose to drink and look for the deals.

Or why not have that glass of wine at home instead of at the restaurant? Or why not look for discounts on sites like or use the OpenTable app that lets you make reservations online and earn points toward free meals?

And one of the best deals I’ve heard in a long time is this offer from Olive Garden: The “Pasta Pass” gives you as much pasta, breadsticks and soft drinks as you want for one flat rate from Oct. 5 through Nov. 22. You can eat at Olive Garden every day if you want with this deal! The passes are being sold online Sept 17 at 2 p.m. ET.

Expect these things to sell out fast because there are only limited quantities available: 1,000 individual passes for $100 a pop and 1,000 family passes (good for up to 4 people) for $300!

Read more: McDonald’s to offer all-day breakfast at all U.S. locations starting this fall

Watch those beverages!

At most restaurants, the markup you pay on the main course is not nearly as large it is on the Bermuda Triangle. In fact, if you want to talk about profit, iced tea is just about the most profitable item on any restaurant’s menu. It costs about two cents a glass and they can charge a couple of bucks!

Now comes word from restaurant research firm NPD Group that people have reduced how many beverages they order when they eat out. The consumption of tap water is up significantly as an alternative.

When I go out, I do everything I can to hold down the cost of the ticket. That includes drinking tap water and avoiding the Bermuda Triangle. But I always make sure to tip as if I ran up a bigger bill because the server is working just as hard.

Read more: Why you should stop drinking bottled water

For more money-saving advice for your wallet, see our Shopping & Retail section!