This weekend, I exited Picaddily Circus, into the anti-austerity march which was in full swing with #ToriesOut trending high on Twitter. Admittedly, I was on my way to lunch, but walking with the crowds, I began to reflect on what austerity has meant for me over the years. Apart from the increasing education costs that have stopped me from returning to university and the ever increasing transport costs, austerity has had a big impact on my social life. In particular, eating out with friends. This can be seen as a luxury or a trivial matter in comparison to the rent trap millennials are stuck in. However, the need to eat is a necessity and it is becoming even more expensive to do so.
Not everyone can cook or has time to learn how, especially if there is an option to eat out. As public sector pay stalls at a 1% pay increase, we need to make smarter decisions about what we eat. While junk food is cheap and easily accessible, you can still afford a healthy and wholesome meal without breaking the bank. Furthermore, the dismissal mood of austerity may continue to pull at our purse strings but that does not mean it needs to heavily impact our dining experience. So, what is the best way to eat out for cheap with a friend?
My simple answer is to sign up to Tastecard. They offer 2-for-1 discounts or 50% off your food bill at thousands of UK restaurants. You can join today for only £29.99 for a one-year membership. It sounds great – but is it really worth it? Tastecard is a great discount card to have in your wallet but only if you use it correctly. For example, there are a few things that you need to look out for. Such as taking into consideration exclusion days or months where the card is not valid; the need to book in advance at some restaurants and the possibility of full price auto-renewal a year later, if you forget to cancel. However, these are simply minor inconveniences in the strive to eat a cheap gourmet meal.
In order to get the best use of your Tastecard, here are my five top tips to follow:
Tip 1. Go for 50% off deals where possible
If you go to a restaurant and you both order a £8 and £9 starter, £20 steak and £12 salad main and two £9 cocktails, your total bill will be £75.38 (includes 12.5% service). Adding together the more expensive items, with a 2-for-1 deal your bill will be £42.75, right? Wrong! The service charge is usually the percentage of the net subtotal so your bill would be £55.38. However, with 50% off your bill, you pay £50.88 in total. So, 50% off deals are usually cheaper than 2-for-1 deals. For those of you who may be thinking that the math doesn’t add up, the next cost cutting tip will explain.
Tip 2. Order water only
Drinks are not included in either of the Tastecard deals. With the example above, you will have to pay full price for drinks at £9 each. Pretty expensive if you are trying to eat only a £10 meal. We can’t always have happy-hour drinks, so, it is best to stick to water – tap water that is. After all, it is free.
Tip 3. Don’t go to an expensive restaurant
Many of us are guilty of making the mistake of going to a posh restaurant when we see a large discount on offer. Don’t fall into the trap! A fine dining dinner expensive at £100 even with a 50% discount is still about £25 each. Now, that is hardly cheap if you want to eat out more than once a week. Ideally, you want to spend less than £15 each. This is not to say that you should never go to an expensive restaurant, but it is to encourage you to calculate how much the bill will be before ordering. Afterall, you don’t have to choose an expensive food to have a good dining experience and feel full. This leads me to my next tip.
Tip 4. Eat food that will keep you fuller for longer
One of the worst feelings is to leave a restaurant feeling hungry because you wanted to keep costs down. So, stop the nagging hunger with appetite suppressing food. For example, have soup with lots of fresh veggies and high-protein meats. The high water content in the soup will fill you up while high-protein meats will keep your hunger at bay. Fatty fish like salmon is also a good option paired with greens. For vegetations, high-fiber and plant-based proteins like legumes can be satisfying. Throwing in a Greek yoghurt dish can also slow digestion of any carbs that might be on your table. So always research the menu before you arriving at the restaurant.
Tip 5. Ask for a doggy bag
Many people are embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag when they are too full to finish their meal. Granted, there are some chefs who would prefer you eat the food prepared at the restaurant but why waste food if you can take it away? It is another meal at no added cost so take advantage while you can. Otherwise, it is probably going to go to a landfill.
That’s it! These are all great tips to allow you and your plus one to eat out without breaking the bank. From next week, I will be starting my TasteCard food review series. So come back every Tuesday for a new blog post to see if I follow these tips, check how much I spend and review if the food at different restaurants is worth it.
Also, if you have any other tips on how to eat out during times of austerity, please comment below.