Enjoy Eating Out without Swallowing Your Wallet

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Life is all about enjoying the flavors without letting the fun eat up all of your cash.  WHNT NEWS 19 researched how to save money while eating out.While some people say the easiest way to save money on dining out is to not eat out, we found you don't have to swallow your wallet in order to enjoy a nice meal.

There are a lot of people who opt for eating out.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports the average American family forked over more than $2,500 on such meals in 2010.

Here's how to keep the flavor and kick the cost:  First, before you go out, go to the web.

Restaurant.com offers cheap gift certificates, including ones worth $25, selling for $10 or $15.  Read the fine print because sometimes they're for dine-in only.

Subscribe to Groupon or Livingsocial.  These websites post daily deals for 50% to 90% off at various restaurants.

Also, follow your favorite eateries on Twitter, which will send you special money-saving codes.  Or, friend them on Facebook, where you'll see special deals only offered to friends.

When you're ready to go, do lunch, not dinner.  Lunch and dinner menus often include the same items, but prices are much lower at lunch since restaurants face the stiffest competition then and lunch portions aren't as big as evening dinners.  Some restaurants may extend their lunch hours until late afternoon, which could make for a cheaper early-bird dinner.

While you're at the restaurant, pull out your smartphone and 'Check in'.   There are apps that help you score deals when you do that:  Try Yelp or Try Foursquare.

Skip the drinks.  The same soft drink you can buy from a store for less than a dollar will cost you up to three dollars at some restaurants.

For wine and other alcoholic beverages, it's not unusual for customers to pay four or five times the restaurant's wholesale price.  Ordering tap water or bringing your own beverage -- even if you have to pay a corkage fee -- can save you a bundle.

Go out on your birthday. Many restaurants have birthday clubs that will give you a free appetizer or meal just for turning a year older.  There's even a website just for birthday savings.

Finally, consider doing some simple surveys for savings.

For example, iDine allows you to earn 5% to 15% back any time you eat out just for filling out a quick survey within 30 days of your meal.  When you reach $20, iDine will mail you a gift card.

One last suggestion:  find a place and become a regular there.  Over time, you'll see your loyalty will pay off in a little something extra like a free appetizer of dessert.

And let's face it, food tastes better when it's served up with a discount or free!