Scan a crowded restaurant and you’ll notice something when people receive their food: many people are taking photos. Restaurants understand the importance of presentation. Some plates look so good that people are compelled to photograph it.
When we eat, we’re doing more than just filling our bellies. We’re satisfying a deep biological need. Food has become an experience, a way to express our culture.
“Indeed, a new Association survey reveals that nearly four in five consumers believe going to restaurants with family or friends gives them opportunities to socialize and is a better way to use their leisure time instead of cooking and cleaning up,” says the National Restaurant Association.
Like most people, I love dining out. I love relaxing with a drink while someone else does the preparation. I love the presentation on my plate. I love the ambiance. I want to eat at restaurants more often.
But like everyone else, I have a budget.
Food prices are going up
Restaurants can be expensive. They strive to deliver quality experiences; they are also businesses that have costs to recoup and profits to earn. The USDA reports that the prices of food are up all over. Food transporters are locked into gas contracts written years ago when gas prices were high.
Further, the food service industry is demanding higher wages. There is a growing movement that demands a $15/hour minimum wage, which will increase food costs, especially in limited service restaurants where there is no tipping.
Costs go up but our pay doesn’t
In 2016, food prices are expected to rise another 2-3%. That seems like a modest increase. Just in line with inflation, right? It sounds reasonable, but only if our incomes were increasing by the same amount. According to the Economic Policy Institute, medium compensation only grew 8.7% since 1973. That’s it! But according to any Inflation Calculator, prices have risen nearly 500% in the same period.
The middle class has it tougher than ever. Millennials are feeling the squeeze harder than their parents. In the 50s, an average working man could provide for a family of four. We just don’t live in that world anymore. We’ve seen some positive economic growth in the last few years, but there’s still a way to go.
Like me, you’ve probably found yourself in a situation where you’ve had to take a look at your finances. Tuition is expensive. Fuel is expensive. Unfortunately, dining out is one of the first cuts we have to make…
So what’s the solution?
I wish I could give you three simple steps to help you enjoy eating out with your friends without breaking the bank, but it’s not so simple. You have to be savvy. Here are some ideas that might help.
Eat before you dine out
– Eat a snack before you head out so you order a smaller (cheaper) meal.
– Beers and soft drinks can really pad your bill.
Dine where kids eat free
– Some restaurants offer specials for children under certain ages.
– Typically buffets are your best value if you’re really hungry.
Bring leftovers home
– Don’t let your server sweep away your plate without getting a to-go box.
Split a dish with your friend
– Do you really need your own appetizer or dessert?
Budget your money
– You should have a budget that regulates your personal finances, which includes a line item for dining out.
Another option to check out is the mobile app I co-founded, Dealici which allows you to save up to 50% on your restaurant bills. Users buy their deals in the app and redeem them at restaurants right from their phone (no printouts required). When more people buy a deal, the deal becomes better (even for the original buyers). Share deals to encourage more buyers and drive down the price, and earn reward cash to spend on food. Multiple people can use a deal at the same table (unlike Groupon).
Some of my favorites
Southern New Hampshire has an excellent food scene. Unlike more urban areas, we aren’t burdened by excessive prices, crowded dining rooms and long waits. Here are some restaurants I recommend:
- For a classy and elegant experience: XO on Elm (Manchester), The Foundry (Manchester), and Speaker’s Corner Bistro (Nashua).
- To unwind and party: Murphy’s Taproom (Manchester), O’Brien’s Sports Bar (Nashua), STREET (Portsmouth), and Milly’s Tavern (Manchester).
- For a comfortable atmosphere and incredible food: La Hacienda Del Rio (Manchester), Lui Lui (Nashua), Cactus Jack’s (Manchester), Blue Mermaid Island Grill (Portsmouth)
Even though times are tough, I implore you not to sacrifice the things that make life worth living: food, friends and good times.
Dealici is currently available at restaurants in Manchester, Portsmouth and Nashua, but it will be available elsewhere soon. Learn more on dealici’s website. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.