Pretty much everyone upped their spending on take-out food in 2020 – and for good reason. With restaurants closed for indoor dining and grocery stores experiencing unpredictable staffing and inventory issues, many consumers chose to order out for the majority of their meals.
Now that things are slowly returning to normal, you may be wondering how to adjust your budget accordingly. We’ll walk you through how to determine the right amount to budget for take-out and dining, and give you some strategies to save money when ordering from your favorite restaurants.
How Much Should You Spend on Dining and Take-Out?
It’s hard to give an exact prescription for how much you should spend on take-out because it largely depends on the specifics of your budget and financial situation. In general, your food budget, including groceries and eating out, should make up between 10 and 15% of your income. Families with multiple children may spend more than that, so don’t worry if your percentage exceeds the recommendation.
If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, go through your transactions for the past few months and calculate the percentage.
John Bovard, CFP of Incline Wealth Advisors said consumers who have no credit card debt and invest 20% or more of their income in a retirement account can spend 10% of their post-tax income on take-out.
Ways to Save on Takeout
Want to keep your takeout tradition but still feel like you’re spending too much? Here are some tips to save money when ordering out from your favorite restaurants:
Pick up in person
Everyone knows that delivery fees add a huge surcharge to your total bill, but you might not realize how big the difference actually is. A New York Times article found that the same sandwich at Subway costs between 25% and 91% more when delivered, depending on the specific delivery app.
A $20 order could cost between $5 and $18.20 more if you get it delivered. The cost is generally higher during weekends and holidays.
Look for specials
Plan your take-out around restaurant specials. Follow restaurants on social media to see when they’re running discounts, like half-price oysters on Sundays or happy hour specials. When you’re picking up the food, ask someone behind the counter when the best deals are.
Restaurants often print coupon codes or discounts on their receipts, so don’t forget to check there.
Use discounted gift cards
Many restaurants and fast food places sell gift cards and often run special sales, like selling a $50 gift card for $45. This is especially popular during the holiday season.
Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club regularly sell discounted gift cards to popular chains. For example, you can buy $100 worth of gift cards to California Pizza Kitchen for only $80 at Costco, or $75 worth of Domino’s gift cards for only $65.
Dinner is the most expensive meal of the day, so opt for breakfast or lunch if you’re eating out. If you get take-out a couple times a week, use one for dinner and the other for brunch or lunch.
Cash in rewards
Some restaurants have loyalty programs you can join with an email address or phone number, while others have an old-fashioned punch card system. Keep track of these rewards so you cash them out before they expire.
If you’re eating with a group of people, see if the restaurant offers catering, which may be less expensive than ordering individual entrees. Everyone will have to eat the same thing, but it’s a great way to save money.
Sign up for restaurant emails
Both local and national restaurants often have email newsletters you can join to get extra discounts. For example, my favorite Mexican restaurant is constantly sending me emails for 10 or 15% off take-out.
Create a separate label for these emails so you can sort through them before ordering take-out. You can also add reminders on your phone to use the discounts before they expire.
Use a rewards credit card
Many credit cards offer points or cashback when you dine out, and some let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards. Look up the rewards policies for your current credit cards to see which one you should use for restaurants.
Consider opening a new card if you don’t have a dining rewards card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2% cashback for dining and also comes with a year of DashPass, the DoorDash subscription service with $0 delivery fees.
Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders earn 3% cashback on dining, get a free year’s worth of DashPass and also have $60 of DoorDash credit for the first year.
Most dining rewards cards have an annual fee, usually around $95, so don’t open one unless the cashback rewards will exceed the fee. Some card companies will waive the fee for the first year, allowing you to see if you’ll earn enough rewards to offset the fee. Some rewards credit cards also let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards.
Buy a food delivery subscription
If you don’t have easy access to transportation, then ordering delivery may be your best option. In this case, consider signing up for a food delivery membership. DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats all offer a monthly subscription for around $10. Each subscription comes with free delivery and other specials.
Before you sign up, calculate how often you order out and see if a monthly membership makes sense. If you have a neighbor or roommate, consider splitting a subscription with them to save even more money.
Many of these services have a free trial period, allowing you to gauge how much you’ll actually use them. Choose the app with the largest number of restaurants you like.
Use a browser extension
Browser extensions like Rakuten provide cashback when you order from delivery sites like Grubhub and Seamless. Just click on the Rakuten button on the top right of your browser when you visit either of those sites. You’ll earn up to 11% cashback with eligible orders.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.