Key Ways to Save Money on Eating Out - Website Blog Article By Brandon Gates
Posted 07/15/2022 in Family Finance

Key Ways to Save Money on Eating Out

Key Ways to Save Money on Eating Out

Key Ways to Save Money on Eating Out

An average American family spends almost 20% of its total budget on Food, Alcohol, and Tobacco.  Food (both food cooked at home as well food purchased when eating out), Alcohol, and Tobacco is actually the third largest family expenditure after Housing and Transportation.  In this article we have discussed how American families could save money on food consumed at home.  Below we will now focus on how families could save on Eating Out.

Table of Contents:

  • Food Away from Home:  expenditure details
  • Americans' eating out habits
  • Key methods to save money on eating out
    • Price Comparison
    • Coupons & Discounts
    • Cash Back

As mentioned above food, tobacco, and alcohol are the third largest expense for an average American family, right after Housing (which is #1) and Transportation (#2).  Almost 40% (or more than $3,000 per year) of all the money spent on food is "eating out" (see Table 1 below).

Table 1:  American Family 2019 Annual Average Food, Tobacco, and Alcohol Expenditure Breakdown

#Food, Alcohol, and Tobacco Sub-Categories
US Average ($)
% of TOTAL
1Food at Home
2Food Away from Home


Food Away from Home Expenditure Details

First, let's see where Americans eat when they go out and how much money they spend in different types of food venues.

Table 2:  American Family 2019 Annual Average Food Away from Home Expenditure Breakdown

#Food, Alcohol, and Tobacco Sub-Categories
US Average ($)
% of TOTAL
1Limited Service Restaurants
2Full Service Restaurants
3Drinking Places
4Hotels and Motels
5Retail Stores and Vending
6Recreational Places
7Schools and Colleges


Fast food (aka limited-service restaurants) such as McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King as well as full-service restaurants account for almost 74% of the total "eating out" expenditure.  Let's hone on these two types of restaurants and discuss some ways and methods to save money on them.

To help us figure out how American families could save money on eating out we'll formulate some relevant questions:

  • How often do Americans eat away from home?
  • Do they prefer to eat at fast food or full-service restaurants? 
  • What kinds of food do they like to eat when going out?
  • Do they prefer to eat out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
  • How much do they spend on average when they go out?

Let's now look at some statistical data related to the above questions.

Americans' Eating Out Habits

How often do Americans eat out every week, you might ask?  On average almost 5 times a week.  Of course this does include eating lunch while you are at work and since almost 160 million Americans do work, it's not surprising that Americans eat outside of home on average about one meal per day.

There is a significant difference in number of meals per week based on age—older Americans eat out a lot less than those who are 25 to 64 years of age (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1:  Americans Average Number of Eating Out Events per Week by Age

More than 40% of all the money Americans spend on eating out is spent at fast food and casual dining joints such as McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, and such.  Another 31% of eating-out money Americans leave at full-service restaurants.  And the remaining one quarter or so is spread across "other" places such as hotel and motel restaurants, college and school cafeteria, street and sports venue vendors, as well as vending machines.

Figure 2:  Limited-service, Full-service, and Other Eateries Share of Americans' Eating Away from Home Expenditure

Let's now see where, in what types of restaurants, Americans prefer to have their meals.  And do they equally eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  And what types of foods do they prefer?

According to the 2018 Google News Labs study of the most frequently visited restaurants Americans' preferences for various cuisines are quite different depending on geography.  

Thus, for instance, pizza is by far the most popular type of cuisine frequented in the Mid-West (see Figure 2 below), especially in seemingly pizza-obsessed states of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.  Philadelphians and New Jerseyans seem to be completely smitten by sandwiches.  Wisconsin, part of Michigan, and North of Minnesota seem to be the burger country.  Unsurprisingly, Texas and most of the South-Western States are strongly leaning towards Mexican food.

Figure 3:  Most-visited Restaurant Cuisine in the US by County (Google News Lab, 2018)

Looking at different types of cuisine one by one (see Figure 4 below) reveals an interesting picture.  Thus, BBQ restaurants seem to be predominantly the thing in the South and South-East of the United States.  Italian food is popular primarily in the North-East corner of the country.  Seafood places are most-frequented along the East and Southern coast, though its popularity does extend quite a bit inland into some of the Texarkana states. And of course coffee is now so ubiquitously popular, it's even hard to discern any geographic patterns about its consumption.

Figure 4:  Most-visited BBQ, Pizza, Mexican, Italian, and Other Restaurants (Google News Lab, 2018)

Now if we look at popularity of different types of cuisine by US City, the picture is quite different from the high-level brush strokes painted above.  In a sense, almost every American city has a unique identity and leanings.

Figure 5:  Most Popular Cuisines by US City - Pizza, Mexican, Chinese, and BBQ Restaurants (Google News Lab, 2018)


  • New York City is packed with lovers of pizza-by-the-slice.
  • Mid-West seems to be The epicenter of the pizza-lovers.  When it comes to the specific cities—Detroit is #1, followed by Boston and Philly,
  • Mexican food is the favorite amongst folks in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and LA. 
  • New York and San Francisco rank as #1 and #2 for Chinese cuisine being the favorite, and
  • The Mid-Western and "deep South" Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta are enamored with BBQ.

Figure 6:  Most Popular Cuisines by US City - Burger, Sandwich, Steak and Seafood Restaurants (Google News Lab, 2018)

  • Burger joint are the most popular destination up North in Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of Minnesota.  In terms of cities, interestingly, Washington DC takes the top spot,
  • Sandwiches, which of course includes subways and the super-tasty Cuban sandwiches, are popular in the South (Orlando, Tampa, and of course, Miami are on the top 10 list),
  • Steaks, tasty albeit pricey, are the #1 destination in Indianapolis, followed by the Southern cities in Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee,
  • Seafood restaurants command the top spot in the ocean-facing Miami, Baltimore, and... Hmm... Atlanta?!

Finally, though not a cuisine, but a very popular tradition in the US is, you guessed it, coffee.

It probably will not be a shocker to anyone that the hometown of the global Starbucks revolution, Seattle, takes the top spot.  The West Coast love-affair with coffee has spread out down south of Seattle and captivated most of the West coastline cities to be in the top 5 of the coffee lovers, including Portland, San Diego, Sacramento, LA, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Figure 7:  Most Popular Cuisines by US City - Coffee Shops (Google News Lab, 2018)

So, do Americans prefer to go out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? And how much do they spend when they do go out, you might ask?!  As Figure 8 below shows:

  • 20% to 40% of Americans eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, as well as snacks at fast food restaurants,
  • A lot fewer Americans (8% to 28%) eat the same types of meals at full service restaurants,
  • Percent of Americans eating their daily meals at school or employer cafeteria or from vending machines is quite small, in single-digits,
  • Per week Americans spend on average:
    • $6 on eating breakfast and brunches,
    • $18 on eating lunches,
    • $28 on eating dinners, and
    • $15 on eating snacks.

Figure 8:  Average Weekly Expenditure on Eating Out by Meal Type (left-hand chart) and Percent of People Eating Out by Eating Place Type (right-hand chart) 

Ways to Save Money on Eating Out

Out of 14 Ways & Methods to Save Money the most applicable ones for eating out are:

  • Method #1:  Price Comparison
  • Method #2:  Price Discounts & Coupons, and
  • Method #5:  Cash Back

The Price Comparison Method to Save Money on Eating Out

When it comes to the good-ol' Price Comparison the hardest part of this exercise is of course trying to ensure the foods comparison is apples-to-apples (or should we say, burgers-to-burgers, or steaks-to-steaks)!

The job could be easier with some cuisines and food types and less so with other ones.  For example, it is relatively easy to compare prices of the 12-inch pizzas (with the same toppings) across different pizzerias.  It is also relatively straightforward to compare prices of hamburgers or cheeseburgers across different burger joints (see Figure 9 below for some examples).  Even though there are some issues with the amount of cheese and toppings for pizzas, meat patty thickness and bun sizes for burgers, and of course, the least comparable -- "how well it tastes".

Figure 9:  Side-by-Side Cheeseburger Price Comparison:  McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, SONIC, and Checkers

Price comparison becomes a challenge when it is done to less standard foods served in full-service restaurants, like Italian pasta, or Caesar salad, or even Sichuan Beef at different Chinese restaurants.

The best option for the less standard cuisines and foods is to look at expensiveness ratings on websites like Google and Yelp.

Figure 10:  Google and Yelp Restaurants Relative Dining Cost Ratings

Both Google and Yelp cost ratings are relative and don't seem to indicate specific range of values (such as $ = $5-10). The ratings provide a general idea of how "expensive" or "inexpensive" different restaurants are:

  • $ = inexpensive
  • $$ = moderate
  • $$$ = expensive
  • $$$$ = very expensive
  • $$$$$ = totally unaffordable

The Coupons & Price Discounts Method to Save Money on Eating Out

For those of you who are interested in a very detailed overview of how to save money with Coupons & Price Discounts, including hundreds of useful resources to help you with this, click here to read our article on the Top 19 Coupons & Price Discount resources.

Out of the Top 19 Coupons & Price Discount resources twelve are directly applicable to saving money when eating away from home (see Figure 11 below).

Figure 11:  Twelve (highlighted in color) most applicable to eating out money-saving resources out of the Top 19

Here are a couple of examples of some of the above Top 19 Coupons & Price Discount resources.  From the list above the #8 resource is Printable Online Coupons.  Figure 12 below shows the main page of our website with a whole bunch of printable coupons for restaurants, bars, auto shops, and retailers.  Each one of these coupons can be easily printed to be used offline, in the brick & mortar store.  Alternatively, for convenience, most coupons can also be used to get an offered discount right from the screen of your cell phone shown to the merchant's shop assistant at the checkout.

Figure 12: Printable Coupon Examples

In addition to the FREE printable coupons above also offers an inexpensive annual membership that gives people access to more than 500,000 (Yes, that's Half a Million!) coupons and discounts across the United States.  Figure 13 below shows an example of how easy it is to obtain a substantial discount (in this example a 25% discount off Papa John's pizza pie) using Coupon & Discount apps such as's VIP Perks.

Figure 13: VIP Perks Membership Service Mobile and Printable Coupon Examples

The Cash Back Method to Save Money on Eating Out

The #5 Method on the list of the Top 14 Ways & Methods on How to Save Money.

Figure 14:  Top 14 Ways & Methods on How to Save Money

Cash back is a popular way to save money at retailers, gas stations, or restaurants.  The way it works is that when you spend money at a particular brick & mortar or online merchant, the credit card company "rewards" you for shopping at such a merchant by giving "back" a small percentage of what you have spent.  Percentages that you get back are typically 1% to 3%.  In some rare cases the percentage could be as high as 5%.  And during some special promotions that merchants may launch they could be even more than 5%.

It is important to remember, though, that just because you can earn some cash back by shopping at some merchants does not mean that their products or services are the best value in the market.  Cash back has nothing to do with the value.  Actually, oftentimes the opposite is the case—the higher the prices a merchant has, the more cash back they are willing to pay back to you to entice you to shop with them.  

There are three basic ways to earn cash backs—by using:

  • Cash Back credit cards
  • Cash Back Apps, and
  • Cash Back Websites

As far as eating out is concerned, the cash back credit cards and cash back apps are the most applicable tools to save money.

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