When money is tight, dining out is often one of the first things on the chopping block for most people. However, you can still treat yourself to a night out without planning, shopping for, and preparing every meal yourself. There are plenty of restaurants out there with budget-friendly options - especially if you're not indulging very often.
Below, you'll find seven of the best cheap restaurants to visit when you're looking to eat out without dropping half your grocery bill on one meal. Some of these are quick-service or fast-food restaurants while others offer a sit-down experience and delicious meals.
Since Olive Garden hit the scene in 1982, it's become a beloved favorite in the United States. Its popularity reached such heights that the Italian-American restaurant expanded into other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Kuwait, Brazil, and more. What does Olive Garden do that keeps people talking? It offers good quality restaurant meals at affordable prices, especially if you know the right times to go and what deals to look for!
Enjoy the Built-in Appetizers
Olive Garden is famous for its breadsticks, salad, and soups. They're included automatically with your meal, so take advantage of them! Dining out with other people is a great way to get a sampling of everything. Have one person request the salad while the others opt for different soups (or their favorites) and there's something for everyone.
Ask About Specials
Olive Garden runs certain specials that cut down on meal costs. For example, you might snag a take-home meal for just $6 when you buy an entree or grab a bundled meal to feed your whole family at a fraction of the cost of purchasing individual meals. Check out their specials online or ask in your local restaurant.
While this suggestion isn't as specific as Olive Garden, it's because many Mexican restaurants have similar structures. Menus and final prices may vary, but you'll find that setups are the same.
Go for Lunch
If you're looking for a delicious restaurant meal and aren't set on dinner, head to your local Mexican restaurant for lunch instead. They'll typically have a special lunch menu featuring all of your favorites, including combination plates that let you try a little of everything or create your own meal! Portions may be a bit smaller than dinner plates, but the food is just as delicious and you'll still leave feeling full and satisfied.
Don't Skip the Chips and Salsa
Practically every sit-down Mexican restaurant serves chips and salsa the moment you're seated. Not only are they delicious, but it's basically free food! You can skip out on ordering an appetizer and whet your appetite with fresh tortilla chips and veggie-packed salsa instead.
Denny's is an American-style restaurant famous for serving breakfast around the clock. Most locations are open 24 hours a day, making them more accessible than many restaurants, and offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. It's the perfect place to eat if you're looking to save money but need some quick, good-quality food.
Kids Eat Free
But what sets Denny's apart (aside from their always-open policy) is their affordable kids' menu. It's so affordable that kids eat free! As long as you purchase an adult entree (valued at $6 or more), your child can grab something off the kids' menu at no cost.
Be sure to check with your local Denny's for other restrictions, as some may only offer the deal on certain days of the week.
Free Birthday Meal
Plenty of restaurants offer free birthday treats, but Denny's offers a whole free meal on your birthday! Even if you don't have other plans for your special day, you can still enjoy a delicious "Birthday Slam" breakfast on the house.
Wherever you go, the odds are high of finding a McDonald's somewhere nearby. The chain boasts 38,000 locations (and counting) in over 100 countries. Menus vary depending on local tastes, but you'll find deals in every country.
Get the App
McDonald's offers value options on their regular menu, but downloading the app gets you the very best deals. You'll earn points each time you eat, too. Exchange them for things like a free Happy Meal with chicken nuggets to keep your little one happy or choose a chicken sandwich reward for yourself instead!
Taco Bell is an immensely popular Mexican-American fast-food restaurant. As grocery prices continue to rise, many other restaurants have reduced their dollar menu offerings. In contrast, Taco Bell still boasts a fairly expansive value menu with a range of different options. It's one of the cheapest fast-food options around, has filling options, and you can easily get enough food for two meals (for one person) for a few bucks. Eat half when you order and save the rest for dinner!
Get Special App Deals
Like McDonald's, Taco Bell offers points for each food purchase. You can exchange them for free items, like delicious Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes or free soft drinks. Rewards points aren't the only reason to use the Taco Bell app, though! You'll also get exclusive access to certain menu items - including those that make your money stretch a lot further.
For example, the TB app lets you build your own combo box - an item you can't order in stores or through the drive-thru. You'll get an entree, sides, and a drink for as low as $6 in some locations!
Chili's has a little bit of everything on its menu, whether you're looking to score some sizzling fajitas or chow down on a classic bacon cheeseburger. It also offers plenty of opportunities to save - giving you everything from free meals for kids to Happy Hour specials.
Stop in for Happy Hour
Happy hour at Chili's is about more than just drinks! While they do offer specials on certain adult beverages (like margaritas) during happy hour, you'll also get deep discounts on appetizers and other items. The specific items on offer may vary by location but typically include favorites like their Awesome Blossom Petals, Texas Cheese Fries, and more.
Free Kid's Meal
If you sign up for Chili's Rewards programs, you'll enjoy some fantastic perks like free kid's meals. Restrictions do apply, but you can typically receive a free kid's meal with the purchase of an adult meal.
Like the Mexican restaurants squeezing into the number two spot on the list, most Chinese buffets operate similarly. You pay a flat fee for access to an entire smorgasbord of tasty food. If you plan on eating your fill, you'll typically do it for a lot less at the buffet. There's something to satisfy everyone, too, even if you have a picky eater who swears they'll only eat noodles!
If you're just looking to grab something to go, many buffets allow you to pay by the pound for takeout boxes. You can still get all of your favorites without ordering a dozen different options at a more traditional takeout restaurant.
Dining out is a luxury, but there are plenty of restaurants making it more attainable. Whether you're looking for a quick lunch or a sit-down experience to celebrate a special occasion, there are budget-friendly options out there.
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