March 10 2010|07.43 PM UTC

Samantha Eckles

The Guerrilla Guide to Cheap (and Sometimes Free) Eats

Category: Featured, SavingsTags: , , , ,

There is no shortage of cost saving tips these days. They mostly focus on simple ways that consumers can reduce costs by cutting out the purchase of things that are not absolutely necessary. But for those who still like to eat out, those who have busy lives’ that dictate their eating on-the-go, or for those who are currently really feeling the strain of the current financial situation, there are alternatives. There are ways to cut down or, in some cases, eliminate food costs while not cooking every single meal at home. Of course, some examples require a bit more creativity, or even some pride-swallowing. In any event, these should be considered fun ways to save money, and for those really in a bind, they can actually be quite useful. This is the guerrilla guide to cheap (and sometimes free) eats.

Eat at Non-Restaurants

(Above: Food @ IKEA Source)

There are many nationwide non-grocery chains that offer cheap eats just to get you in or near there doors. Examples include the food court at Costco, and the cafeteria at Ikea. At these types of places, it’s not uncommon to find a meal for under $1.00, with usually a more-deluxe version of the mea costing about $.50 more. The food is usually pretty good too– as evidenced by the usual long lines.

Order Kids Meals


While we do not advocate anything unlawful, most restaurant employees do not care if patrons order off the kids meals. Some will even let people order off the senior menu! In most states it is unlawful to exercise price discrimination, so just politely ask if you can order off a particular menu – you’ll maybe even get a free toy with it.

Get your Fast Food From a Grocery Store


If you are on the run, it is easy to think of fast food restaurants as the only option to quickly filling that empty stomach. However, grocery stores offer much larger selection, and you’ll be surprised at how affordable it is to run in and grab some fresh fruit and/or something else light. It will be much healthier too.

Cut out the Soda


The bottom line is, soda is bad for you. Therefore, you should attempt to cut out your consumption of it, or at least practice moderation. If you are at a restaurant – fast food or sit-down – ordering a water instead of a soda, is one way to shed a few dollars from your total bill.

Go Out to Lunch Instead of Out to Dinner


A lot of people realize that dinner menus and the lunch menus are priced differently, but they usually realize it when they are at dinner. For some reason, dinner prices can range 25-30% than lunch, for the same food items; but the only real difference is that they are being consumed at night. Going in at lunch keeps the price low, as well as the gratuity.

Participate in Community Events With Free Food


Most communities have numerous events that are open to the public. This can include, church or rec center pot lucks, fire department BBQs, conventions, and even strangers’ birthday parties in the park (half—joking). If there’s free food available, chances are that the people who bought the food bought in bulk, and they got a good deal. Why not help them consume all the extra?

Say its Your Birthday


Plan your eating out around your birthday or the birthday of your friend. There are lots of restaurants that will offer you a free meal or at least a free desert on your birthday. Some people also make a habit out of doing this, even when it is not their birthday – it can be embarrassing if the server asks for an ID, however. Use discretion.

Order Soup and Salad – Fill up on Bread


Lots of restaurants offer affordable soup and salad combos. One good way to make this cost efficient, is to share this with another person – think affordable date night. You can typically also fill up on bread to subsidize your half-meal.

Become a Mystery Shopper


One great way to get food for free is to become a mystery shopper. In many cases, you can get paid for it. Lots of these programs give their participants a dollar amount they are to spend say $5.00, and $20.00 to spend it. They are often allowed to keep the difference, along with the purchased item. Imagine getting paid money to buy food, and then getting to eat food.

Free Samples


Free samples, alone, equal one morsel of tasty goodness. However, 20-30 free samples can equal a filling meal – that is entirely free. Many places such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Costco have more samples than usual during the busier retail hours/days. Figure out which days these are, and make your rounds: Costco on Satudays, and Whole Foods on Sundays.

Themed/Discount Nights


Lots of restaurants try to make special themed nights on what are typically the slower days of the week. For example, a Mexican restaurant may have a ‘Taco Tuesday’, and a bar may have a ‘Thirsty Thursday’. This can mean $1.00 tacos, or a $1.00 cocktails – typically much cheaper than what the products are sold for on other days.

Take it To Go


If you are in the mood for a gourmet meal, and don’t want to cook, there are alternatives to eating at a restaurant. Order to go, pay with a coupon and pick it up at the restaurant. You can have wine or your beverage of choice much cheaper at home, and you’ll also be able to avoid the larger dine-in gratuity. Its a big way to cut your bill nearly in half.

Give Blood (or Plasma)


Practice moderation: giving blood can be a good way to get a free cookie and feel good about yourself. Selling plasma, can be a good way to do both of the above, and make a few extra books. Most nurses are nice, and will give you an extra cookie if you are polite.

Get Free Baked Goods at Bakeries


It may still be a secret to many, but those who have worked in cafes and coffee shops know that many of these places get daily deliveries of baked goods. And, at the end of every night, throw or give away the leftovers. Its not unusual to see people at a Starbucks or Coffee Bean at closing ,walking away with a trash bag full of baked goods. For those places that do not give away their food (or prefer to give it to employees) baked goods may be had at half-price towards the end of the evening, or after a certain hour in the day. Either way, ask around.

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{ 102 comments… read them below or add one }

vince September 10, 2011 at 8:27 am

All US resteraunts are supposed to bill food items seperate from drink items.ex. Couple #1 orders the same meal as Couple #2. Couple #1 orders soda for their beverage at $2.50 a glass while Couple #2 orders vintage wine at $350.00 a bottle for their beverage.Couple #1s bill is $55.00 dollars and leaves a 20% tip $11.00, Couple # 2s bill is $400.00 which at 20% would be $80.00 dollars.The wait staff performed the exact same service for each couple took order,brang food to table,brought drinks to table.NEVER tip on beverages


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