Americans spend most of their money on food. A study from Hloom says consumers waste more money on restaurants than entertainment, tech gadgets, and grocery items. But even when the bank account starts looking a bit famished, big spenders admit they aren’t willing to give up eating out to save money. So if restaurants will continue to draw a crowd, then it’s in your best interest to find ways dine out for less.
Overspending at restaurants is about as common as chicken fingers and fries on the kid’s menu. Failure to avoid costly mistakes could send an already pricey bill to disgusting new heights. Let’s ensure that never happens again by calling out the eight most expensive mistakes you can make at a restaurant.
1. Asking the waiter for suggestions
- What you risk: Ordering the most expensive item on the menu
It’d be a mistake to rely solely on your waiter when figuring out what you want to eat. Why? Because waiters know the art of the upsell and they’ll almost always recommend the most expensive item on the menu. Informed patrons are less likely to commit costly errors and spend more money if they do a bit of research before placing an order. Try checking out online reviews for a restaurant your unfamiliar instead of leaving your decision up to the wait staff.
Next: This is the wrong meal to eat at a restaurant
2. Going to breakfast
- What you risk: Paying nearly 2,900% more for coffee than you would at home
Ordering breakfast can be a huge waste of money. Eggs are one of the most overpriced items on a restaurant menu when you break it down. In fact, omelettes are often marked up by 566% and pancakes are usually inflated by 900%. Considering coffee can see a price hike between 300% and 2,900%, it’s pretty clear that choosing to buy breakfast at any restaurant would be a mistake. Skip breakfast bills and opt for lunch or dinner outings instead.
Next: An easily avoidable restaurant error
3. Not checking company websites for specials
- What you risk: Missing out on free food items and/or meals
People often make the big mistake of paying full price at restaurants when they don’t have to. Businesses love to create weekly deals and specials that will attract more customers to their tables. They also go through great pains to make those savings deals harder to access.
Lazy consumers will always spend too much money at restaurants. Scour company websites and couponing sites for deals and discounts to local eateries to save a few bucks. Then, plan your meals around those specials. Something as simple as choosing to eat out on nights when kids eat free or on your birthday can go a long way in making meals more affordable.
Next: For all the winos
4. Drinking wine by the glass
- What you risk: Overpaying by 300%
Alcoholic and soda drinks are also some of the most overpriced menu items at restaurants. It’d be foolish to order wine by the glass as most places sell their wines for three times more than what they paid. But if the vino is calling your name, buy the whole bottle instead.
Wine sommelier Madeline Puckette tells Learnvest, “If you’re out with at least one other person, consider buying a bottle — the cost per glass is much lower.” BYOB may be even smarter, depending on the corkage fee in some establishments.
Next: Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky
5. Ignoring your receipt
- What you risk: Tipping an extra 15% to 20%
It bodes well for diners to scan their restaurant check thoroughly for added expenses you don’t expect. One of the most common mistakes people make at a restaurant is not paying attention to the automatic gratuity some place on their check for larger parties. Unfortunately, waiters and waitresses won’t always confess that the tip was already added to your total bill, meaning you could get stuck giving a double tip. Usually this amounts to an extra 15% to 20% spent unnecessarily.
Next: A costly mind trick
6. Ordering the first thing you see on the menu
- What you risk: Falling for an expensive psychological trick
Just like grocery stores stock their shelves with the most expensive items at eye level, restaurants commonly employ menu mind tricks to sway your purchasing power. Strategic menu designs place expensive items (with pictures) where you’re most likely to see them.
Money Watch revealed that restaurants list their most profitable items first because people are more apt to pick the first-choice item they see in every menu category. Instead of ordering irresponsibly, pay closer attention to items in the lower left corners where items are cheapest.
Next: A costly fee for ignoring lunch
7. Always settling for dinner
- What you risk: Buying the same meal for more money
Sometimes lunch prices are way cheaper than dinner prices — even when the menus include similar items. Do yourself a favor and commit to eating out for more lunches than dinners to avoid overspending. Money Smart Family says that Chinese take-out restaurants are the biggest offenders here. One reader writes that lunch, “Costs about 2/3 the price of a dinner meal, AND the lunch specials usually include extras such as soup or egg rolls that the dinner meal does not.”
Next: Why “specials” aren’t that special
8. Ordering the nightly special
- What you risk: Assuming a large savings that isn’t there
It’s likely the nightly special won’t be the deal you assume or expect. Restaurants may dub the crusted salmon or pan-seared filet as “tonight’s special”, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheaper tonight than any other night. Insider says “It’s rare that a server will actually tell you the prices of the daily specials, which more often than not are more expensive than most menu items.”
Savvy diners can’t forget to ask about the price of a special before ordering. If not, you could be spending more than you ever imagined.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
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