5 Ways to Eat Out For Less

10/28/2010 09:14 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

These tough economic times present an interesting financial conundrum for our tum-tums.

During rocky periods it's natural and healthy to want to seek out friends and companionship. Breaking bread and having a good chat is a wonderful way to release work/life stress. But given our busy lives many of us end up spending time with others while eating out... which can really add up. So here are 5 simple things you can do to eat out for less.

1. Share an entree or make a meal out of appetizers:
In modern America food portions have become so super-sized that the average meal can feed at least 2... and sometimes even 3 people. To avoid any surprises when the check comes, be sure to see if the restaurant charges a split entree fee. On a related note, some appetizers are so large they could easily fill you up as an entree and they generally cost half as much as a main dish.

2. Be sure to ask how much the specials cost before ordering: This a major hot button of mine. How many times have you found yourself in a restaurant when the wait staff describes a succulent sounding dish? You go for it, only to find yourself fighting the urge to hurl when you see the bill and find out the price. Personally, I think it's a sign of financial self-confidence to politely ask "and what do those specials run?" so you can make an informed decision. It can be awkward to do it at first - but trust me, the whole table will appreciate it, and you'll be a trend setter.

3. Soup, it does a body good: A nice bowl of hearty soup (think gumbo, beef stew, tortilla soup, or chili) often costs a lot less, contains healthier ingredients, and fills you up as much as a regular entree.

4. Think before you drink: Beverages - alcoholic and even non - are very high margin products for restaurants. At a minimum, think twice before doubling down. If you can, savor one drink throughout the meal. And if you're really trying to cut back, go to nature's best... a glass of tap water. Doing this can easily shave 20% or 30% off your bill (not to mention pounds off your waist line!).

5. Do lunch: If you have a really strong urge to meet friends at a fancy new restaurant, try doing it at lunchtime instead. Prices are much lower, portions are more realistic, and you're less likely to run up a costly alcohol bill.

What about you - any other suggestions you'd add to this list?