I just found this interesting article about how restaurants use advertising "psychology" to get you to spend more money -
Sneaky ways restaurants use menus to entice you to spend more
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Some other tips for saving:
1. (Duh) Use a coupon. There are many coupons available in the Entertainment books for various areas as well as in the newspapers and mailers. You can actually sometimes get a coupon on the restaurant's website, especially if you sign up for their special emails or newsletters. Often there are some restrictions on the coupon like when you can use it (Sunday through Thursday), so pay attention to that before going out to eat. However, I've used Sunday through Thursday coupons on the weekend (specifically at Tyler's Tap Room in Durham) without a problem. If you use Entertainment book coupons, it doesn't hurt to call in advance and ask if they are still taking those coupons.
2. Check the prices from multiple restaurants you're interested in on their websites before going out. Sometimes you can get a fabulous dinner for cheaper at a lesser known place.
3. Get restaurant gift cards at reduced prices. On http://www.couponmom.com under Restaurant Coupons, special codes are advertised, for 60 to 90% off restaurant gift cards you can purchase online from http://www.restaurants.com You can get $25 gift cards for $1 to $4. These are specific to certain restaurants and are not always in stock depending upon the kind of card and the restaurant.
4. Skip the appetizer/dessert(unless you have a coupon) or share among everyone at the table. Also skip the pricey alcohol. Soda or milk for your kid can also be pricey, especially if there are no free refills. I've paid up to $3 for a glass of milk when I forgot to bring some for my daughter - for that you could get a whole gallon at the store! Some kids meals already come with a drink, which tends to be cheaper - but check the prices to make sure. There are some alcohol specials lately though that can be worth it. For example, Chili's brought their margarita prices down to $4 at a lot of locations. This does not guarantee a large margarita, and many restaurants are skipping the top shelf liquor for cheaper brands, but who can tell in a mixed drink anyway?
5. Go when kids eat free or cheap. If you have multiple kids, this may be especially important. It may be an off night for eating out though, like at Moe's where kids eat free on Tuesdays. Incidentally, if you like Moe's sign up on their website to get a free burrito on your birthday. They also now have junior versions of all the burritos, though I never had a problem ordering a Mini Moo Cow even though I'm over 12. Some restaurants may allow you to let your kids share an adult meal, which may end up being cheaper in the long run. Look out for sharing or extra plate charges though.
6. Don't forget to take home your leftovers. I've had them boxed up and left them sitting on the table before. Not cool - this could be lunch for tomorrow!