3 Ways to Save on Your Next Restaurant Meal

Businessmen Eating Lunch
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By Ryan Ermey

We all love to eat at restaurants with great service and delectable food. But how do you indulge without running up an outrageous tab? This former waiter talked to restaurant owners and industry insiders to find ways to save money.

Know the margins. Alcohol is notorious for high markups, but fountain sodas are also items for which diners often overpay. "We charge $2.50 for a 20-ounce soda," one owner says. "Even with a free refill, that costs us maybe 20 cents to deliver." Other profit leaders include pasta, salad and egg dishes. The best values in entrees: seafood and steak.

Sit at the bar. Most restaurant-industry people do that when they eat out. The bartender likely won't try to peddle all the peripheral items, such as sparkling water, appetizers and desserts, that servers push to pad a check. Plus, you may be more comfortable ordering, say, a smattering of appetizers instead of an entree.

Ask about corkage. Many restaurants will let you bring your own bottle of wine for a fee (typically from $10 at a casual eatery to $50 or more at a high-class restaurant) and some places will uncork your first bottle free. If you drink a Lafite-Rothschild or even a Caymus cabernet, you'll come out ahead. Note that it's bad form to bring a bottle that the restaurant already has on its list. And don't carry in a bottle of bottom-shelf wine or, heaven forbid, a jug.
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