Eating out is an easy way to enjoy a good meal, but it can also be expensive. A dinner for two with salads, an appetizer, two entrees and a modest bottle of wine can get you into triple digits by the time you figure in tax and tip. So if you're looking to save some money, here are some tips for making a delicious meal at home for less.
Specialty grocery stores often have a better selection, but they also usually carry higher price tags. So, if you're trying to save money on your grocery trip, stick to the big stores. Shopping with coupons is an easy way to save money, sometimes by as much as 50 percent on certain ingredients. Check your local paper for inserts, and plan ahead so you can go on double coupon days for extra savings. Another good option is to look for store brands instead of name brands. Most times, the product is the same as the name brand for a fraction of the cost.
Meat is one of the most expensive items on your grocery bill. You can save a lot of money by planning your meal around the meat dish and choosing a less expensive cut of meat, such as sirloin if you're leaning toward beef. This will help your bottom line. Lesser meat cuts tend to be a little tougher because they come from a part of the animal that was more active, so finding a recipe that involves braising or stewing or a delicious marinade will help you tenderize the meat and serve a restaurant-worthy dish. Chicken or turkey is also less expensive than beef or fish, so look for poultry recipes to inspire you. Roasted chicken is always a fan favorite, and it's served in some of the finest restaurants around the world. Another way to save with meat is to cut down on the portions and increase the side dishes.
Restaurant wine typically has a markup of three times what it costs wholesale, so a bottle of wine that you can buy for $10 at the grocery store is likely to cost you $25 to $35 at a restaurant. Even if you bring your own bottle, you can expect to pay a corkage fee of at least $10 to $20. If you eat at home and you're a wine enthusiast, you're saving a substantial amount of money right off the bat. Check your favorite wine store for specials, or look for wine in the $8 to $10 range that will complement your meal. If an $8 wine sounds cheap, just remember that you'd be paying $25 for it in the restaurant.
A $100 meal in a restaurant may have many courses, so cutting down on the number of dishes will help you save. Consider skipping the appetizers and sticking to salad or soup, both of which are low-cost dishes. You'll probably also have to skip dessert to keep your tab under $20, but a meal with a salad, soup, entrée and bottle of wine should be enough to satisfy the discerning gourmand.