Ultimate guide to saving money at restaurants
On a student budget it might seem like eating out at restaurants is a bit out of your price range but there are definitely tricks that can help you go out for a meal for a little less money.
A lot of chain restaurants, and even some independent ones will offer student prices if you’ve got your uni ID or NUS Extra card on hand. It’s well known that McDonald’s give students a free cheeseburger or McFlurry when they buy a meal, but even more high end eateries like Bill’s offer a 25% discount for student diners.
To see which places you can score money off at check out our restaurants section, or just phone them up and ask, it’s worth a try!
There’s not much better than a free meal, and with mystery dining you can even earn a bit of money on top of getting 100% of your meal paid for.
We’ve written a whole guide to mystery dining, but the basic premise is that you apply for the mystery shops online, and tell them which day and time you’re going to go. The mystery shopping site will tell you what to watch out for when you’re there, it could be anything from the quality and presentation of the food, to the staff or the cleanliness of the restaurant. After you’ve finished your meal you’ll have a short time to fill out a questionnaire about your visit, and send off a photo of your receipt and they’ll pay you back for your meal and (usually) there’ll be a small payment on top of that too.
You’re not supposed to tell anyone about your visit (that’s the mystery), but we’ve been to some extremely well known chains, as well as local pubs and restaurants.
Go for lunch instead of dinner
Restaurants are usually a lot busier in the evening than during the day, and to encourage lunchtime customers it’s quite common for them to have special lunch menus that are much better value than what’s available at dinner time.
Pizza Hut for example, has a lunchtime buffet on weekdays that is a total steal (especially if you’re really hungry), you’ll definitely get a lot more pizza for your money.
Find out about deals online
Before you go to a restaurant, always search online for any vouchers or special offers that can get you a better price. Make sure you read the Ts & Cs for any excluded dates or locations, you don’t want to end up not being able to use your vouchers.
It’s also worth signing up for the newsletters of your favourite restaurants, as you’ll hear about even more offers. They may send you surveys and in return for filling them out you could end up with a free meal - it worked for us at TGI Friday’s.
If you’re always going to the same restaurant chains then it’s 100% worth getting a loyalty card for them, Nando’s is the most famous, but a lot of places have them, including Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Frankie & Benny’s and Subway.
If you prefer to go to independent restaurants rather than chains, then it might be worth grabbing yourself a Tastecard. It offers members 50% off or 2 for 1 meals at thousands of restaurants all over the country.
The full price of a Tastecard is £39.99 a year, but it’s rare for people to pay full price. You can usually get your first three months for a pound, but our favourite offer is to get is part of The Times+ student, it’s £20 and you not only get access to The Times’ website for a year, you also get a year’s Tastecard app and 2 for 1 ODEON tickets at the weekend.
Remember to check the exclusions for the restaurant you want to go to if you want to use a Tastecard. Some require booking over the phone or won’t let you use the card on Saturdays or during December.
Got any more tips for eating out on a budget?