With practically the entire world’s cuisine crammed into our tiny island, it would be criminal not to indulge our appetites every once in a while. But eating out all the time can get real expensive real fast, especially if we fall into the trap of chasing food trends. (Remember when dessert used to not cost twice or thrice the price of your hawker dinner?)
Still, there are ways to keep your budget under control while enjoying fine cuisine every now and then. Help yourself to that scallop sashimi — along with some savings — by following these eight money-saving tips.
1. Keep track of bank offers
Banks are one of the largest sources of dining discounts and offers, and all you have to do to qualify for them is to hold a valid credit or debit card. Browse any bank’s dining offer page and you’ll find savings on everything from fast food to restaurant meals. The best offers are those that give you massive savings for unlimited food — that’s right, one-for-one offers for buffets, including lunch, dinner and high-tea.
And if you have an appetite for fine dining, you can’t go wrong with Love Dining by Amex. This programme gives you up to 50 per cent off all day, every day at selected Singapore top restaurants and hotels. The benefit structure is highly flexible, providing savings for up to 20 guests. But the highest savings (50 per cent) kick in when you dine with one friend — great for cheering up your man with a surprise gourmet meal.
2. Order wine by the bottle
We get it; a good glass of wine can elevate an ordinary meal into something special. But if you’re going to have your Friday indulgence, we recommend going for the bottle. The markup on alcohol is terribly high, even more so if you order by the glass. Splitting the bottle with two or three of your girlfriends will save you significant bucks in the long run.
Another way to save money on expensive drinks is with Chug, a recently launched app that lets you buy an alcohol subscription. Choose from $9.90 a month for five drinks a month, or pay $19.90 and get one drink every day.
3. Take advantage of evening discounts at bakeries, delis and sushi joints
If you happen to be going on a grocery run after 8pm, remember to check out the supermarket’s sushi, deli and/or fresh baked good sections. Chances are you’ll find some great selections at heavily discounted prices.
This happens because certain foods are only appealing when they’re fresh, and although there may be nothing wrong with eating, say, day-old bread, most shoppers prefer fresher options. But because predicting customer demand is still an arcane art, sushi outlets, deli joints and bakeries more often than not hold last minute flash sales to reduce wastage.
That’s great for all those times when you have an inexplicable craving for raw fish and soy sauce.
4. Opt for lunch instead
True story time. My friends and I went for a Korean BBQ dinner buffet in Chinatown. It was awesome and we really enjoyed ourselves. The following week, we decided to go there again, but only this time we went during lunch. We figured with the dinner rate, we were overpaying for premium items anyway.
Imagine our delight when we found out that the lunch buffet serves up the exact same menu as the dinner one, but it was 60 per cent cheaper! Of course, we never went back there again for dinner from then on.
Long story short: If there’s an eatery you’ve been hankering after, but it’s kinda out of your price range, enquire if they have a lunch service instead. Chances are, you’ll be getting most (if not all) of the same menu, but at prices that are friendlier to your wallet.
5. Save money with apps (Eatigo, Chope, the Entertainer)
It’s a universal rule by now that there’s an app for everything, and dining discounts aren’t exempt. Saving money on good food could simply be a matter of finding and using the right app.
Between eatigo, Chope and The Entertainer — three of Singapore’s most popular dining apps — you should be able to find your sweet spot. Eatigo gives you straight-up discounts when you book a restaurant using the app. Chope lets you reserve tables at eateries, and rewards you with points when you do. You can then use these points to exchange for discounts or to purchase deals. The Entertainer lets you purchase deals and offers which you can use whenever you like. With great deals like these, there’s no excuse to be paying full price for your meals.
6. Go out during birthdays
You know all those Facebook notifications that tell you it’s so-and-so’s birthday? (You still use Facebook, right?) Well paying attention to them could net you some dining savings.
Most cafes, bars and restaurants offer birthday discounts and other goodies, so if you shrewdly plan your big-ticket dining around your birthday month — and those of everyone else you know — you can end up saving a fair bit. Just don’t be too obvious about why you’re really asking out, on their birthdays, that colleague you normally never speak to.
7. Earn cashback or miles on your meals
This next tip may not reduce your bill outright, but it could put your spending to work generating savings in other areas. The idea is simple: how can all those dollars you spent at the fancy French bistro be used to help pay for other things? The answer is cashback or miles.
Pair your dining with a good cashback credit card or air miles programme so that your dollars can pull double duty. Now, banks rejig their credit cards all the time, so it takes a bit of effort to keep up. But as of this writing, the OCBC 365 Card (6 per cent cashback on everyday dining) and the UOB YOLO Card (up to 8 per cent cashback on weekend dining) lead the pack, offering good cashback and easy fulfilment — all you have to do is to fulfil the minimum monthly spend to save money. For OCBC, that’s $800 per month (cashback capped at $80 per month), while for UOB, that’s $600 per month (cashback capped at $60 per month).
(For comparison, the CIMB Visa Signature offers 10 per cent cashback when you wine and dine and you need a smaller minimum spend of $500 per month, but you’ll have to make eight separate transactions of at least $30 each.)
The same idea can be applied to air miles, so if travel is your thing, be sure to pay for your expensive meals with the air miles card that offers the best conversion rate you can get your hands on. As of this writing, that would be the UOB PRVI Miles, which gives you 1.4 miles per $1 spent locally. And you only need an annual salary of $30,000 to qualify!
And if you’re serious about your air miles game, be sure to use the Mileslife app, which grants you bonus air miles at selected merchants — on top of your regular air miles earn rate!
8. Subscribe to your favourite restaurants
Last but not least, we have the oldest tip in the book. Simply subscribe to the mailing list of your favourite eateries — and be sure to check their emails. This can help you take advantage of limited-time offers or flash sales to save money while enjoying your favourite restaurant meals.