Restaurants When Traveling

GAUGING QUALITY

If you have concerns on the cleanliness of the kitchen, make a b-line to the bathroom, for if they don’t take care of the restrooms, odds are their kitchen isn’t immaculate. You can also observe the bubbles in your draft beer to gauge cleanliness. If the bubbles cling to the sides of your pint glass, then the cup is dirty and, probabilistically, so is the kitchen.

Just like flight attendants and hotel desk managers, restaurant hosts and hostesses are usually susceptible to bribery. So you forgot to reserve a table? Better bust out the chocolate. If you do find the time to make a reservation, though, inquire about parking, handicap accessibility, operation hours, and other specific questions, as these are often asked by highbrow restaurant reviewers for whom restaurants go out of their way to please.

WINE MENU

Once you’re satisfied with the restaurants hygiene and have taken your seat, you will likely turn to the wine section for a nice bottle of vino. If you are on a budget but don’t want to appear like a tight-ass, avoid the urge to buy the second cheapest bottle. Restaurants know people’s behavioral proclivities for ordering the second cheapest bottle on the menu and often slot a poor-value, overpriced blends at this price point. This is a rare instance when the cheaper option is in fact the better value.

Another tip notorious among restaurant employees is to never order the daily specials. While some restaurants may indeed have fantastic specials, many are simply discounted dishes that contain old ingredients.

TREAT YOUR SERVER RIGHT

Obviously, being nice to your server and treating them like a human being is a good way to engender superior service, but there are other simple things you can do to help your server help you. Asking for everything at once helps the server avoid unnecessary trips to and from the kitchen, so order efficiently. If you are not in the states, be cognizant of the tipping standards. Many countries don’t tip or automatically add the gratuity to the bill. In some countries it is even considered rude to tip, perceived as a gesture of pity or an act of social superiority.

JACKET TRICK

If you are a fraudster or in a serious pinch, you can always do the old jacket trick (that is, if you have a jacket you are willing to part with). This is easily done by going to a restaurant, finishing your meal, and calmly walking out without paying. Suspicions aren’t aroused because you leave your jacket on the back of your seat, fooling the workers into believing that you haven’t left or that you’re coming back. You can even make a few bucks with this trick by bringing someone else along who pays you (less than the cost of the meal of course) to take the brunt of the risk. Your partner finishes the meal and leaves a few minutes ahead of you, where you then do the jacket trick as if you had eaten alone. Although I don’t typically condone theft, if you are in a tight spot it sure beats starving to death.

Save While Getting Your Drink On

When it comes to drinks, a night on the town can do major damage to your bill-fold. Pre-gaming – getting drunk before you go out – can help immensely, reducing your drink expenditures and getting you primed and ready to party-on-arrival. When you’re going to clubs or bars, make sure to bring a flask or small bottle of liquor. Order a soda or juice then mix appropriately. You can hide alcohol in anything from Listerine bottles to empty sunscreen containers. There are countless secret flasks that can be purchased online, including, but not limited to, tampon flasks, camera flasks, bra flasks, and flasks that look like smartphones. You can even buy tie flasks, hidden wallet flasks, and beer holding hoodies, where bladders in the hood are depleted through hoses disguised as drawstrings.


If you must purchase drinks in-house, always buy beer, as it is usually the cheapest out of all the alcoholic libations. Additionally, buy beers on tap and by the pitcher (you usually get better deals when you buy in bulk). It is also prudent to indulge early. Drinking a fancy glass of scotch or an expensive micro-brew early-on as opposed to later in the night will insure that you maximize your enjoyment. It wouldn’t make sense to buy a high-class drink when you’re already cross-faded n’ turnt.

If you’re going out with the crew and want to visit a place that charges a cover, you can do the ol’ stamp transfer trick. You start by splitting the cost to get one person inside. He/she then comes out (making sure to get stamped of course) and, using a little moisture and pressure, you are able to transfer the ink from the imprinted hand. Lick the back of your pre-stamped hand then press it hard against the hand with the stamp on it. Wait a few seconds then separate. You will see that the stamp has been duplicated onto your own hand (albeit a little fainter). If the stamp is simple, it might be as easy as marking your hand with a Sharpie.

Doing a little research will definitely save you some coin. Many clubs and bars have happy hours, lady’s nights, or other promotional offers. Showing up before they start charging a cover can be smart, as is going out on weeknights. Local liquor stores often do tastings, where corporate reps give away samplings of wine, beer, or liquor. In crowded bars and clubs, keep your eyes on the ground. Alcohol, partying, and money exchanging hands provides the perfect opportunity for finding lost coins and banknotes.

When visiting coffee shops, convenient stores, or anywhere that sells drinks, bring your own cup to get a discount on refills. Even if you don’t, in many cases you can just say “one refill” at the register and they’ll believe you – they don’t get paid enough to refute assholes like you. Keep a Starbucks cup handy and bring it with you every time you go there for unlimited coffee at refill prices. Like with beer, getting your coffee in large doses (by the pot or press) is also a good idea. For the tea fanatics out there, when getting an iced tea from Starbucks, ask for no water and they’ll serve you a full cup of their condensed tea concoction, which can then be diluted at your discretion.

Saving At Restaurants

For those of you who enjoy the occasional splurge, eating out can be a nice treat. Before going out for dinner though, make sure to consult Gift Card Granny. It is a unique site that sells discounted restaurant gift cards. Simply type in the details and click search; you will then be presented with numerous discount cards to local restaurants. It is not uncommon to see gift cards selling for half or even one-third of their face value. If you’re going to temporarily deviate from your miserliness lifestyle, you may as well indulge on the cheap. When it comes to feeding your kids, try either kidsmealdeals.com or mykidseatfree.com. These are websites that show the dates and times when local restaurants allow kids to eat for free.

As a marketing tactic, many restaurants and bars offer free food and drinks to people who engage with them on social media. Share it, like it, post it, pin it, tweet it, and subscribe to the RSS feed, because the best meals are the free ones. Additionally, (especially for birthday bonuses) restaurants give free food for signing up, registering, or joining free programs. You’ll probably receive promotional texts, mail, or email, which can be annoying at times, but signing up is beneficial for the most part.

At some restaurants, you can get nearly identical items by ordering in a slightly unorthodox manner. For example, instead of ordering a Big Mac at McDonalds, you can order a McDouble with lettuce and Big Mac sauce on it. Similarly, at Subway you can get a cheaper version of the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich by ordering double steak and cheese on a regular sandwich. At Jack in the Box, it is cheaper to get two mini bacon burgers instead of one double bacon burger; and it is cheaper to get multiple four-piece nuggets from McDonalds than a twelve- or twenty-four piece (and you get more sauces as well). Through careful analysis, similar ordering variations can be found at virtually every restaurant. Simple add-ons, omissions, or substitutions can change the price drastically.

Making small changes can also insure that your meal is fresher and better tasting. Ask for french fries with no salt to get a fresh batch, then add the salt yourself. Ask for the pickles on the side when ordering a cheeseburger to avoid a soggy bun. You can even ask to substitute ingredients (such as hot fudge in a mocha instead of syrup at McDonalds or more/less of a particular fruit or vegetable at Jamba Juice). If you ask for no ice you will get more soda in the cup; and if you ask for a small drink in a large cup, you will likely get more soda then you would have otherwise received. Become a regular customer and request the same waiter/waitress to build a rapport. If you play your cards right, they will give you substantial discounts or straight-up freebies.

If you’re a real scoundrel, buy a meal, eat half of it, then rip out a big chunk of hair from your head and place it in your food. Politely complain to the manager and you will get another full meal free-of-charge. You can also use such devious tactics when going through drive throughs. If you want to rip off the restaurant, go through and say they forgot something in your order. Even if you didn’t make an order, they’ll likely just give you what you requested, without verifying with a receipt. If you want to rip off fellow patrons, go through the drive through and say you just realized you forgot your wallet. You keep driving through the line as if you made an order, and when you stop at the last window, they will hand you the food meant for the car behind you.

Hankering your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant but don’t feel like going out? Copycat recipes allow you to create knockoff meals from the comfort of your own kitchen. Whether you want the Tuscan garlic chicken from Olive Garden or the Shamrock McFlurry from McDonalds, copycat recipes enable you to create counterfeit dishes at thrift store prices.

Saving While Grocery Shopping

In many cases, obtaining food completely for free is out of the question. When there’s no way around spending money, you can always utilize discounts, promotional offers, and low-cost items to maximize your savings while shopping. The Grocery Coupon Guide is a fantastic resource for coupons. Like its name suggests, the site guides you through the byzantine system that is grocery couponing. It lays out particular strategies and provides up to date information regarding everything coupon related – including thousands of digital and printable coupons.

When grocery shopping, it is crucial that you stick to a plan. Make a list and keep to it, insuring to avoid impulse buys and unplanned purchases. Becoming knowledgeable with the intricacies of grocery stores can also be a boon. Knowing where, when, and what to buy will save you thousands of dollars. A good way to start is to identify the local options for groceries. Ethnic supermarkets, local orchards, or even farmers’ markets (if you are a good haggler) often provide produce at a cheaper price than their big-box counterparts. With regards to timing, the start of a store’s sales week (typically Wednesday) is a good time to shop. This is the day when most stores accept both the new and previous week’s sales and discounts. The evening is usually the best time to shop (around 8 o’clock) as there are less crowds and more stock (N.B. peak rush-hour times are weeknights after work or weekends in the afternoon).

When deciding what to buy, there are many things that must be considered. Shelf placement, for example, can be an important factor. Next time you are at the store, look above and below eye level; you will notice a stark difference in price. Searching for store brands (AKA home brands) is another classic technique; you get the same product sans the expensive brand name. Further, always avoid out of season vegetables and fruits, as they typically cost twice as much. If you’re not too picky, choosing canned or frozen fruits is even more economical. Other cheap and healthy foods include: beets, canned tuna, garlic, onions, cabbage, bananas, popcorn, brown rice, watermelon, eggs, dried beans, oatmeal, flaxseeds, and potatoes. When it comes to meat, the undesirables are ridiculously cheap. If you get over the mental aspect, oxtails, brains, livers, tongues and other unpopular parts of cows, sheep, pigs, and chicken are rather tasty when prepared correctly.

Eating right before you begin shopping is important as well. It will not only help you adhere to your list, but also keep you from overbuying – which is the leading cause of food wastage. Food waste can also be avoided by using a methodical system of storage and accounting. Take stock in what you have and utilize the financial concept of FIFO, whereby the first items you brought in – i.e. the oldest items – are the first ones to be used. Storing your food in airtight containers within a proper functioning fridge is also important.

Another technique for food maximization entails repurposing leftovers and scraps. This is perfect for food you have purchased or collected but have yet to eat. Meat and vegetable remains can be used to make homemade stocks, while citrus fruit rinds can be squeezed and shaven into other dishes to add zest. Browning bananas can be frozen then later added to smoothies, banana bread, or banana pancakes. Are your salad leaves becoming wilted and impotent? Throw them in a stir fry with some garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce for an Asia-inspired appetizer.

Often times there are lingering remnants of food products stuck to the bottom and sides of containers. For the mustard lovers out there who don’t want to waste a drop, add one tablespoon of red- or white-wine vinegar, one tablespoon of honey, and three tablespoons of olive oil into your empty mustard jar and shake repeatedly. Voila, you have just created a homemade salad dressing. Similarly, to use up the rest of the marmalade, fill the jar with a few shots of gin, two tablespoons of orange liqueur, and the juice of one lemon and one clementine. Shake well then strain into a martini glass for a phenomenally delicious quaff.

Before shopping, it is prudent to download and use a few money saving apps. Google shopper is a good one that helps you find the products you are looking for at the cheapest price. It also has a barcode scanner to give you more information about products and “nearby/today’s offers” to show you close and limited-time offerings. Yowza is another great app for couponing. Search your city and zip code and Yowza will provide instant coupons for a seemingly infinite verity of products. Finally, the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app is a must have. It includes a feature that enables you to scan your receipt. It then searches the surrounding area for the items you bought, and if any of them can be found at a cheaper price, you get refunded the difference.

Mystery Shopping Demystified

Mystery shopping is worth mentioning as it often allows for free food. Market research firms, watchdog organizations, and even companies themselves will send in mystery shoppers to scrutinize and report on particular aspects of a firm. This is a pretty flexible job that not only provides free food, (if you shop exclusively at restaurants) but also remuneration.

Suckling Nature’s Tit

If you live by a park or near wilderness areas, nature can provide all the food you could ever need. We have, after all, lived off of nature’s bounty since the dawn of existence. If our Homo sapiens ancestors can hunt and gather, so can you. Gathering is great. It’s like hiking except you collect food along the way. Even if you don’t live near a forest replete with nuts, berries, routs, tubers, or mushrooms, urban foraging can yield a surprising amount of edible goodies. Consult Falling Fruit to find the best spots for wild produce in your area.

Surprisingly, many weeds (the common dandelion and mallow, for example) are chocked-full of nutritional value. Better yet, they are plentiful and grow virtually everywhere, be it an unkempt lawn or a crack in the asphalt. Not only are they commonly used to provide flavor and texture, urban-sourced edibles can also be steamed, boiled, sautéed, or tossed into a multi-ingredient weed salad. Don’t have the time to forage? Have your kids do it (assuming you have kids). Identifying wild edibles is so easy a toddler can do it. In many cases, kids are more inclined to eat something they found over a nasty piece of store bought spinach. If you’re really entrepreneurial, you can sell or trade your surplus items. Otherwise, excess food can be preserved through drying, canning, or freezing.

Similar to foraging, gardening is a great way to get free, healthy, food. All you need are seeds, water, soil, and a little sunshine (NB, if you compost, the soil is free as well!). If you catch and use rainwater, you can pretty much garden for nothing but sweat-equity. In some climates, gardening is as easy as throwing seeds down and waiting for them to grow. Don’t have enough room for a garden? No problem. Visit Shared Earth to be connected with people who have land, but no desire to sow it themselves. In exchange for some of the harvest, individuals with empty lots, backyards, or otherwise unused parcels will let you tend their land like a feudal serf.

Like gardening and foraging, hunting and fishing can also help you capitalize on the fruits of Mother Nature’s loins. Although both activities require equipment and permits, once the fixed costs are paid, the marginal costs are next to nothing. If you don’t have the time, willingness or wherewithal to hunt or fish, you might consider trapping. Even if you’re within city limits, traps, pellet guns, blow guns, and even sling-shots can be used to collect wild game. Rabbits, birds, squirrels, raccoons, the list goes on and on. In addition to harvesting the meat, you can also use the pelt to make clothing, blankets, or other accessories. Hunting within city limits may be illegal, so make sure you do it sneakily and with the utmost stealth.

There are a few caveats to urban hunting that you should research before you begin. Fish caught in urban lakes and streams can sometimes contain toxic heavy metals such as mercury or cadmium. Further, rabbits and other small mammals are known to carry francisella tularensis, a group of bacteria that causes tularemia. Aside from cooking the meat thoroughly, it might be wise to wear gloves when handling a carcass. You should also examine the liver of your catch. If it is covered with white spots, it has a condition known as Coccidiosis. This disease is more common than tularemia and is also commonly found in domestic farm animals and pets . The disease resides in the intestinal tract, so you can still technically eat the meat if you are careful, but I wouldn’t suggest it.