Budgets feel tighter everywhere right now—at companies, in our homes, and dining out is one of the first things families say they're giving up. And for those who love fine dining, who thrill to the creations of their region's most talented chefs, that may be especially true. But we're here to tell you that haute cuisine doesn't have to mean dramatic costs; if you're willing to make a few tweaks to your dining-out behavior you can still work fine dining into a pared-back budget. Here's how!
Live without the glass of wine. The next time you're dining at a nice, casually upscale restaurant take a look at the price of that glass of wine. At many restaurants a single glass of even the house stuff can be almost as expensive as your entree. If you held out, you can enjoy a glass of wine at home from your own wine rack and save more than you might have imagined.
Share—if not the entree, then the other courses. Restaurant portions are generous. So if you share appetizer and dessert, there’s still have plenty to eat. Sharing is good for your wallet and your waistline.
Enjoy a fancy lunch instead of a fancy dinner. Many fine dining places offer smaller portions with corresponding smaller prices at lunchtime. And because it’s in the middle of the day, you may decide on your own to forego that wine. And if you've got kids you typically get a sitter for, maybe you can get lunch in while they are at school or weekend activities—eliminating the need for a babysitting budget, too.
Watch for promotional specials. Watch for specials designed to bring you in; most cities plan some sort of "restaurant week" promotion, when fine eateries around town offer meals at special prices. In Miami, for instance, many local restaurants participate in Miami Spice, offering three and four course meals for $35 and $45. Pricey still, but for top-notch spots, and fixed-price meals, the number's hard to beat.
Make a meal up of starters or small plates. Spanish bars offer tapas—plates of a few bites to be shared and enjoyed with a drink. Three or four plates, a nice glass of wine, great conversation. Before you know it you’re full, the check isn’t frightening, and you've discovered a new way to dine. Happily, more and more restaurants are jumping on the small plates/tapas bandwagon. Time for you to jump, too.