Eating out three meals a day can do some serious damage to your travel budget, especially when you want those three meals to be as good as possible. Sure, you could self-cater to save a few bucks, but if you’re a real foodie who wants to taste the best a city has to offer, how can you do it without breaking the bank?
Filling up on street food or tracking down food trucks are two tried and true techniques used by backpackers and budget travelers the world over, but those who want to eat at traditional restaurants cut their costs too. Here are five ideas for eating at sit-down restaurants on a budget.
Enjoy a pre-theater meal
Restaurants located in a city’s theater district will usually offer discounted meals to diners who want to get a bite to eat before heading to see their show – but you don’t necessarily have to hold theater tickets to take advantage of this deal. Most restaurants will happily accommodate you, although the catch is you’ll have to eat early with pre-show meal deals usually ending around 6:30 p.m. Cities with a strong theater culture like NYC and London have long lists of pre-theater meal venues to choose from but the trend is catching on in many smaller cities as well.
Seek out prix fixe menus
Ordering from a prix fixe (“fixed price”) menu can work out significantly cheaper than ordering individual items off a traditional a la carte menu. As an added bonus, you get to try out extra dishes you may not have considered ordering, which sometimes turn out to be the highlight of the meal. With a prix fixe menu, you know upfront exactly how much your meal is going to cost so there are no nasty surprises when your bill shows up.
Eat well at lunch
Most restaurants have separate menus for dinner and lunch – with the latter being significantly cheaper. So if you’re traveling on a budget, the midday meal is the perfect opportunity to try out the fancier establishments that would be too pricy to enjoy at dinnertime. There’s usually a fair bit of overlap between the lunch and dinner menus anyway since few restaurants can afford to offer drastically different items for lunch and dinner.
Eat at markets
You’ve probably already heard the tip about heading to a local produce market, picking up some bread, cheese and fruit and making a picnic out of it – but that’s not what I mean when I say you should consider eating at markets. Instead, I’m talking about dining at one of the small restaurants or food booths set up inside many popular markets. You’ll usually have to sit at a counter or in a cafeteria-style setting and there are typically only one or two menu choices at most of the booths – but the upside is that the dishes on offer have been perfected.
You also get to enjoy fish, meat and vegetables that are super fresh and a fraction of the cost they’d be at a typical restaurant. Quincy Market in Boston (see image above) and Kauppatori Market in Helsinki, Finland, are two examples of markets offering great meals.
BYOB where possible
Depending on where you’re traveling, alcohol can put a real ding in your budget. For example, Singapore puts a heavy tax on alcohol so a beer in a bar or restaurant can set you back $12-$20 while a cocktail will leave you with serious sticker shock. You may already BYOB when eating out in your hometown, so why not do the same thing when traveling? Supermarkets are often a good source of reasonably priced alcohol that you can take along to your meal.