On an intense, road-food research trip, I forage like a shark. In a typical day, I’ll eat three restaurant meals, sip two high-end coffees, hit a bakery and finish things off with a pint or 22-ounce bomber of craft beer. I can stuff all this down for an average daily cost of $40, what many folks would spend on a single meal.
Here how I do it:
- Abstain from booze: A bottle of wine can easily be marked up three times its retail price and cost as much as the rest of the meal combined. Fancy cocktails are also ridiculously expensive. A pint of beer is your best bet and can be shared. Better still, have a drink at your motel/campsite before heading out to dine.
- Avoid appetizers: Particularly at chef-driven joints, you can spend upwards of $10 for a few mouthfuls of food artfully arranged on a plate. If the appetizers are more substantial, consider sharing two or three in lieu of a more costly main course.
- Skip dessert: You know why desserts are often described as sinful? Maybe it’s because these sugar bombs aren’t good for you. Or your wallet. When I see fancy cakes, tarts or puddings cresting $10, I’m thinking that much coin could buy a hearty breakfast.
- Bulk up at breakfast: Remember how mother said breakfast was the most important meal of the day? It’s also the best value. On a long day of driving, I’ll often hit the road early with a banana and coffee under my belt. After a few hours, I’ll stop to load up on a full breakfast (let’s say bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast), for maybe $8. I’m then good to go till dinner.
- Eat out at lunch, not dinner: Lunch is almost always cheaper, often for the same items. The reason, I think, is restaurant owners realize people won’t spend above, say, $15 for lunch, but will shell out considerably more for a leisurely, celebratory dinner. Lunch menus are more limited, but at least you won’t be coughing up $35 for a steak.
- Seek out happy hours: Happy hours are offered in the dead times of mid-to-late afternoon to get customers in the door. It’s a great way, especially at higher-end places I’d normally avoid, to get good deals on drinks and appetizers or light meals. Just check the restaurant website for times and to be sure that what they’re offering is worth your while.