Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frugal Fine Dining

A dinner out at a nice restaurant as jumped almost as quickly as the price of gas. What is really frustrating is laying down anywhere from sixty to over hundred dollars for subpar food and service. How can you avoid this?

I have a three-prong approach to this dilemma. The first one is hitting lunch specials or specialty meals. Many local restaurants will offer specials a certain day, time of year, or week to beef up their business. This is a great time to check out the place to see if it could be your special occasion spot.

The second place is reading several reviews to get a feel for a place. The first glowing review might be deceiving. Online sites such as Yelp, and Tripadvisior inadvertently allow restaurant owners to write their own reviews, or ask friends, and employees to place favorable reviews.  I recently patronized a restaurant with questionable service, when I looked them up on the Yelp, among the glowing reviews where a dozen reviews mentioning my same complaint. I think I know which ones tended to be more genuine. I also know people tend to comment more on a bad experience as opposed to an average one.

When reading the reviews, consider what the comments were. A local Japanese restaurant run by recently immigrants, a commenter had the audacity to remark the family didn’t know how to cook Japanese. Another person gave a restaurant one star because they found the host aloof.  Focus on the issues that are important to you.

If you and your sweetie want a romantic restaurant, beware of casual and family friendly—please read well lit and over ran with other people’s children. If you walk into a place and it isn’t what you thought it would be, please leave. You know from the get-go it will not be a pleasant experience.

To save money at the restaurant avoid alcohol, if possible. I am not a heavy drinker, but I do know when I am being charged twenty-four dollars for a five-dollar bottle of wine. That eighty-dollar bottle of wine is only twelve at the grocery. As for mixed drinks, you overpay, but there is also no consistency in the product. Sometimes you’re not even sure you have the right drink.  Usually drinks are watery to make more money, and to have people order more.  Go with water and save a bundle. You can have a glass of house wine and not break the bank too. Often people will have a cocktail before they leave, but use discretion especially if driving.

If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant they almost bring you some type of house munchies, be it bread, crudités, or simply chips and salsa. The classic move is to ask what you want for an appetizer before providing this service. By the time you gobbled up your complimentary munchies and appetizer, and over-priced drinks, you may have to force yourself to eat the entrée. Pass on the appetizers. Get what you want as an entrée. Your waiter may recommend a soup and salad. Do you eat this much at home? If not, you probably won’t elsewhere either.

Finally, your waiter reappears with a dessert menu and the offer of after dinner drinks.  Unless you are eating at the hotel you’re staying at, pass on the after dinner drinks. You have to get home somehow. Do not pass on dessert because it is usually the best part of a meal. You can share a dessert if you want. This is your dining experience you really can have it your way.

So now, you’re ready for your special night on the town. You’ve check the reviews. Maybe hit a special night/week offering. Decided what you really want. Most restaurants have menus you can look at online.  Dressed for a night of fine dining at a reasonable cost. If you really like the restaurant, get on their email list because they will continue to send you coupons and offers to keep you coming back. Many have birthday and anniversary clubs too. Bon appetit.

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