Restaurants are one of the biggest expenses on any vacation, but with a large family, that expense gets multiplied. There are many great ways to save on vacation by NOT eating in restaurants and those will be covered in other posts, but there will be times when eating out either cannot be avoided or where it can be a nice treat, so knowing how to cut down the costs is essential.
1. Plan ahead. In the same way that you would plan your accommodations before a vacation, plan your dining. Decide ahead of time how many meals you will be eating in restaurants. Plan out which restaurants you will go to by searching on the internet or asking friends for recommendations. Most restaurants even have sample menus available on the internet, so you can see prices and food choices and get a better idea of how much money you can expect to spend.
2. Coupons. One way to plan your dining is to search for coupons for restaurants in the area you will be going to. There are coupon books that often have two for one dinners for many of the chain restaurants. Other restaurants often offer printable coupons on their websites.
3. Budget. Decide on a food budget ahead of time and agree to stick to it.
4. Water. The easiest and healthiest way to cut back on the bill when dining out is to have everyone order tap water instead of soda pop, coffee, alcohol, or other beverages. Let your kids know ahead of time that this is what is going to happen so that there is no conflict in the restaurant and everyone knows what to expect.
5. Kids Eat Free. Many restaurants, especially those located inside hotels, have a Kids Eat Free program. This can be a real money saver. The thing to be careful of though is that most of these programs mean that one child can eat free PER paying adult meal, so for parents with four small children, two of the kids would eat free and two would not. For parents who have older children and younger children, this can work to their advantage though. As an example, we have two older children and five younger children. In our scenario, we would have to pay for four adult meals, would get four kids meals for free and those four meals could easily be split among our five younger kids.
6. Avoid the Kids Meal Trap. Other than in the case of a Kids Eat Free program, or the case of a 99 cent or $1.99 kids' meal, they are usually a giant waste of money. For five, six, seven, or even eight dollars, you can order a kids meal that consists of a handful of french fries, a few chicken fingers, and a pop or a small plate of Kr*ft Dinner (which we all know can be purchased by the caselot for the cost of one kids' meal!). With few exceptions, ordering individual kids' meals will be the most costly dining option for a large family.
7. Share. By ordering an adult portion of chicken fingers and fries for $10 and splitting it between two kids instead of two $6 kids meals, you will save money and probably get more food. The same goes for having the kids split a spaghetti plate. With the portions served in most North American eating establishments, a spaghetti can easily be split among three children. Pizzas are something that the whole family can share, not just the kids.
8. Gratuity. Watch your bill carefully. At many restaurants, gratuity is often added to parties of 8 or more. As there are nine in our family, that means that a large gratuity is often automatically added to our bill. If we do not read carefully, we could be paying double the gratuity! In addition, if you are not happy with the service provided, it is well within your rights to ask the manager to have the automatic gratuity removed from the bill.
9. Restaurant Reviews. For me, dining out is a treat and I do not want to spend money on something that I am not going to enjoy. Therefore, I often read restaurant reviews prior to going and choose something that is a favourite of locals in that area. I am usually not disappointed!
10. Ask for a Group Discount. Though most restaurants don't advertise it, many offer platters or meals for larger groups and especially if they have advance notice, you may be able to get a meal for your family that would cost less. Remember, it never hurts to ask!