Dining and Drinking
Affordable Dining Doesn't Have to Be a Combo Meal
How to Enjoy a Great Meal Without Breaking the Bank
If you love dining out and trying new cuisines, sticking to a strict budget may conflict with your appetite. For the dedicated foodie or just a hungry novice, finding affordable menus takes a bit of experimentation.
From getting your gourmet on and sampling new fare at lunch, to diving into dining deals and discovering social savings, there are plenty of ways to dine well on the cheap.
Eve Turow, a New York food writer, prides herself on tracking down the best cheap eats in the city. Her favorite area is currently Flushing, Queens, with restaurants that, she says, serve up delicacies like “tripe stews, soup dumplings and incredible salads, including lotus root with sesame dressing, all for under $5."
Turow's secret to finding food beyond the standard wings and nacho fare is to hit a bar with a happy hour menu.
“One of my favorite places to eat in the world is Spain, where bars offer free happy hour snacks – meats, cheeses and bread," says Turow. This “small plates" concept has migrated to American restaurants, presenting an affordable way to tempt your palate without breaking the bank. But don't limit yourself just to happy hour, she says.
Indulge at Lunch
Another way to marvel at a meal that may otherwise be pricey is to try a new place for lunch, says Turow. Midday menus sometimes offer an inexpensive way to sample the cuisine, perhaps with two or three courses for the same price as a single evening entree.
And if you're hungrier, Turow suggests ordering a big portion. “It can make a great leftover dinner or tomorrow's lunch."
Find Dining Deals to Tempt Your Palate
Look for restaurants like The Refectory, in Columbus, Ohio, that are testing new ways to offer affordable options. With its AAA Four Diamond fine-dining rating, The Refectory has entrees that run from $28 to $49. They're now offering dining deals that owner and CEO Kamal Boulos says allow them “to elevate the guest's experience."
Thanks to Chef Richard Blondin, the restaurant offers a lower-priced “Three-Course Bistro Menu" in a cozy lounge away from the main restaurant. There, diners can enjoy an appetizer, entree and dessert for less than the cost of many of the entrees on the restaurant's regular menu.
The success of the program inspired Blondin to also create a “Small Plates Menu" with less expensive items served at the bar during Bistro Menu hours, says Boulos. These are also popular with patrons coming for the restaurant's casual, stand-up wine tastings.
Try Supper Club Meetups
In the social media age, inexpensive dining perks can also be found online. Boston Scarlette, founder and CEO of Culinary Centerfold, a website showcasing food experts and culinary trends, recommends “supper club" dining groups as a way to get special deals and also to meet new people.
“Find a Facebook dining group and meet up with members at a new place. Restaurants will often give discounts to groups, especially as you become regulars."
Photo: Roasted Goat Cheese Appetizer with Beet Coulis, Courtesy of The Refectory | During her 10 years as a freelance writer and book editor, Nancy LaFever's work has been published online and in print in ReadersDigest.com, USA Today, Orbitz.com, and The Crafts Report magazine, where she was a senior columnist for three years.