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Indy on a Budget

Dining on a Dime

Ways to save money when dining out

June 01, 2011
It's the middle of the week and you're juggling the Kids, work, laundry, the new puppy, and the kids' summer schedules. Your To-Do list is a mile long and is getting longer, and you still have to read your book for book club.


It's no wonder that sometimes scraping a meal together and then cleaning it up afterwards is way more than we want to deal with.

Simply saying, "Kids get in the car, we're going out to eat," can be a real sanity saver every once in awhile.

But 'every once in awhile' is beginning to turn into 'every week'. In a poll of 24 families, 62 percent said they spend between $100 to $300 per month on restaurants while eating out an average of one to two times per week.

Since dining out here and dining out there adds up quickly, having a plan and economizing on those meals out is the way to go in order to stretch your dollar further.

There are a number of restaurants in and around Indy that offer 'Kids Eat Free' specials. These specials are often found on Mondays or Tuesdays, which are usually the less busy days for restaurants, though specials can be found at various restaurants on every day of the week.

Here are some tips from moms for Dining on a Dime:

"Sometimes we can get a "free" kids meal if we go somewhere we have a coupon for. For example, we like [the restaurant] Cancun and often have coupons for $5 off a purchase of $20 or more. Since their kids meals are $4.99, we can order something for our daughter, and with the coupon it's like paying for just my and my husband's meal."

- Christine L.

"We have a preschooler, and when we go out to eat we get him water. We don't order the kids meal, we let him eat from our plate, and also give him whatever comes with the restaurant (bread, tortilla chips, or crackers.) My husband and I usually get water, or if we really want something besides water we'll split a soft drink or tea. We don't order appetizers, and I order a lot of soup/salad, which is cheaper than an entrée."

- Sherri Foster

"We've used restaurant.com, especially when you get a $25 certificate for $2 when they have their specials. I try for the most part to use coupons. I don't usually get drinks for the kids unless it comes with the meal, and one thing I have done is to get water and bring little single Kool-Aid or lemonade packets."

- Kelly Gray

"We rarely get appetizers or dessert (sometimes I'll have a dessert ready for everyone at home) and we all order water."

- Sherri Seward

Date Night Dining

Another way to take a little time off in the kitchen while still saving money is to get creative with your date nights.

How about a babysitting swap with another family? Your kids will get some playtime with their friends and you get to save on babysitting costs. Then, you simply return the favor and watch their kids for their date night.

Another tip is to go out for breakfast or lunch if possible, which is always cheaper than going out to dinner and it may be less busy, too.

Sherri Foster, who budgets a little bit extra for special date nights, said, "We use gift cards that we get for birthdays or holidays, or use a Groupon. And if we're spending a lot, we try to get enough to have leftovers for the next day."

Kelly Gray offered this birthday tip, "If you or your spouse are having a birthday soon, usually restaurants send out nice deals if you're on their email list."

Looking for ideas? The Ram offers a free birthday mudslide, which is more than enough for two people, and Moe's Southwest Grill has free birthday burritos if that's more your style.

More Dining out Tips

Consider takeout and eat at home. This is sometimes the best option if you have very young children who are at the stage where they don't really want to sit in a highchair for any length of time, which tends to make dining out more and not less stressful. You still have a little bit of cleanup at home, but at least you don't have to cook and wash pots and pans.

Or, with summer finally here, get some takeout and go to the park for a picnic. Our family will sometimes grab a couple of $5 pizzas from Little Caesar's along with some water and carrot sticks from home and head to a favorite outdoor spot or park.

One more thing, when eating at a restaurant, tip well. It's courteous to tip on the full bill amount, especially since as we all know, dining with kids can be pretty messy.

Website Savings

You don't have to spend hours finding out where the deals are.

These are a couple of websites that make it easy to find out the specials:

Check out www.kidsmealdeals.com and www.mykidseatfree. These resources will help you find participating restaurants and the kids meal specials they offer (often kids eat free with an adult entrée purchase, or the restaurant offers .99 kids meals).

www.coupons4indy.com This website lists coupons for businesses all over the Indy area. When searching restaurants, you can search by cuisine and/or city feature, making it easy to find printable coupons for nearby eateries.

www.groupon.com Restaurant deals aren't always on the menu, since Groupon deals also consist of entertainment, spas, and shopping, but it's worth signing up for in order to grab them when they come around, usually for a 50% discount.

www.livingsocial.com & www.eversave.com Similar to Groupon, these websites also offer discounts to Local restaurants as well as theaters, spas and more. These kinds of deals are in most major cities, so if you know you'll be traveling to another city where they're offered, consider watching for restaurant deals there, too.

www.restaurant.com Certificates to participating restaurants are often $10 for a $25 certificate. Be sure to read about the minimum purchase and other restrictions.

Local Kids Eat Free (or cheap) Deals:

Skyline Chili: Kids meals are .99 on Fridays with a paid adult meal

Chili's: Tuesdays is a $20 Dinner for Two offer

Steak 'n Shake: Kids eat free on weekends

Max & Erma's: Kids eat free on Tuesdays

Scotty's Brewhouse: Kids eat free on Sundays and Tuesdays

Teddy's Burger Joint: Kids eat free on Tuesdays

Perkins: Kids eat free on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill: Kids eat free from 5-7 p.m. Mondays

Moe's Southwest Grill: Kids eat free all day Sunday and Wednesdays after 4 p.m.

Bella Pizzeria: Kids eat free Sundays

Johnny Rockets: Kids eat free from 4-9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday

Check ahead with the restaurant to be sure information is accurate, as participation may vary or change without notice.

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KRISTA BOCKO is a freelance writer and lives in Noblesville, Indiana with her husband and four children. She can be reached at kbocko@sbcglobal.net

Tags: Home & Food, Kids, Local, Parenting

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