How much do you spend on dining out each year? According to a recent survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent over $2,505 (AED 9,200) on meals away from home in 2010. Whilst we don’t have the same statistics for the UAE, I would imagine the figures are even higher as so many people like to eat out on a regular basis and there is a restaurant or café on every corner and several in every hotel. In fact a marketing survey that was published in January 2012 indicated that UAE residents eat out a whopping 11 times a week. Even if you factor in people buying their lunch at work five days a week, that it still a lot of eating out. The survey, which polled just 1,131 UAE residents, stated that the majority of people who responded were aged between 18 and 34 so it is likely that younger single people may be the ones who eat out more than families with children.
No matter the statistics, I think we can say with confidence that most UAE residents eat out fairly regularly, whether in a cheap and cheerful café or a five star hotel, but virtually all of us could do with reducing our outgoings so here are a few tips on saving money when eating out.
Loyalty cards Many hotel groups have their own loyalty cards which either offer a discount to diners or allow you to accumulate points that can be exchanged for free meals. Various publications offer free cards that proved discounts in many establishments. Although these are often for just 10-20% off just the food, it is still a worthwhile saving. Look for offers in the local press too.
Group buying sites There are several sites operating in the region and all post regular deals that will give you discounts of between 25 and 60% off the full price at specified restaurants. Most are available for a limited period and have to be used by a stated date, but can be a good way of trying something different as well as eating out for less than the standard price.
Discount voucher book The Entertainer book is probably the best known brand, but these books contain vouchers for meal at hundreds of places, in all price ranges on a ‘buy one get one free basic’. Whilst the books cost a few hundred Dirhams, the price can easily be recouped in just a few meals.
Smartphone discounts If you have a smart phone you can download social networking applications that can give you discounts. Foursquare is the best known in this region and it can take some time, but if you visit the same places regularly you could benefit for minimal effort.
Special Occasion Deals If you have arranged a meal out for a special occasion such as a birthday or wedding anniversary it is worth telling the restaurant ahead of time as not only should the staff be extra attentive there is a good chance of being given a free cake. With a big group there is an even better chance of this type of freebie and there are your dessert costs drastically reduced!
Become Facebook friends A number of restaurants have special offers that they only offer to their Facebook fans, or competitions where you can win a free meal.
Lunchtime deals Some of the smartest and most expensive establishments offer set meals at lunchtimes at prices far lower than in the evening. If you are able to go for lunch you could try a place that may ordinarily be out of your budget.
Plan before you go – Take a little time to read restaurant review, particularly for places you haven’t been before, so you don’t waste money on a bad meal. Whilst a review is no guarantee either way, if everything you read says a place is poor, you avoid spending money on a poor experience.
Ask for local water A trick that most long term residents are well aware of. Certain restaurants will give you expensive imported water at high prices unless you specify that you require locally bottled water at a fraction of the cost.
Have a takeaway instead Not exactly eating out, but ordering a take away can work out far cheaper than eating out. You cannot add to your order part way through so the bill won’t be a surprise and you provide your own drinks at a much lower price that in a restaurant.
So there are ten easy tips for reducing your annual bills for eating out. None of them take any great effort, but the savings can be significant, especially over time, if you learn to be a savvy consumer.
Keren Bobker is an Independent Financial Adviser at Holborn Assets and writes at financialuae.me