Frugal Road Trip Tips - Save Money While Dining Out

Although I highly recommend making your own food for your frugal road trip, some people just hate cooking and even those who do like to cook want a break sometimes. However, restaurants, especially when you’re eating three meals a day in them, can really put a dent in your vacation budget.

Dining Out and Saving Money

Most people only think of the price of the entrée when considering the cost of dining out, but all the items on your bill add up. The beverages, the appetizer you decide to share, the desserts you couldn’t resist, and the tip for your wonderful waitress are all tacked on to that entrée price and you suddenly are spending a lot more than you intended to.

Finding a way to spend less must be tailored to your tastes as a diner. Some people just have to have an appetizer. Some have a huge sweet tooth and can’t resist dessert. Some love a fancy cocktail or glass of wine with their dinner. What about you?


Figure out your frugal road trippers’ preferences first, and then tailor these tips to fit you. I’ve read a lot of articles and books about savings that made it sound like you had to live this dreary life scrimping along to save a buck. I disagree – there are many ways to save money and still enjoy things like meals out!

So how can you have a frugal road trip and still enjoy your restaurants on your road trip?


  • When you walk into the restaurant and sit down, check out the specials on posted boards and as well as on tents on the table. But, be careful! Some of these "specials" aren’t that cheap! They may have been brought down a little in price compared to the usual price, but there are much cheaper items on the menu that you would like equally well, so don’t jump at the "specials" too quickly.
  • Next, inspect the entrées as they’re the big ticket items. Look at the menu and pick the three least expensive entrees on the menu. Then pick the one (of those three) that appeals most. What if that one still doesn’t appeal enough? Go up a notch to the next least expensive entrée until you find something that sounds delicious. If the special makes it into the lower priced items, go for it!
  • What if you’re an appetizer lover? If your group feels the same way, sometimes sharing a few appetizers as a meal is more satisfying, and much less expensive than ordering both appetizers and entrees. Once again, select the lower priced appetizers in the same way you would select entrees as described above.
  • What about beverages? Liquor and wine are usually the most expensive drinks, followed by shakes, juices, and other specialty drinks. If you’re on a frugal road trip and crazy about these expensive drinks, go ahead and have one, but skip any other extras (like appetizers or dessert). Want more than one? Join the club! I love a couple of glasses of wine, but a couple can really add up, so I’ll buy a bottle of wine for our hotel room and enjoy it there. The cost of a glass of wine in a restaurant is usually almost the cost of a bottle bought in a store, so this is a great way to save.
  • If you have a huge sweet tooth, and can’t live without dessert, there’s no reason you have to. Dig in! Stick with soda, water or plain coffee (not some mocha-chocka coffee concoction that costs $$$), skip the appetizer, and order your entrée using the method described above, and you can have dessert! To save more money, select three of your top dessert choices, and then pick the cheapest of the three. Dessert is usually not very expensive, but it varies depending on the restaurant.
  • Try to eat in diners and chains where the prices are usually fairly reasonable during your frugal road trip, but don’t be afraid to try that intriguing restaurant that caught your eye or that place you heard about where you can’t wait to go for dinner. This is a vacation, after all, and you should be having fun!
  • Share appetizers and entrees rather than ordering one per person. Most restaurant portions are huge and can easily be shared. If there’s a special deal with a full meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert) just order one per two people and share it.
  • Get hungry early in the evening? Take advantage of any early bird specials available for dinner. The time slot for this is between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.
With these frugal road trip tips, you should be able to whittle down your restaurant bills nicely while still enjoying a great meal out. Considering preparing some of your food? Check out my road trip recipes and make your own delicious food for your road trip. For more ways to save money, check out my other frugal road trip tips

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