I’m a pretty avid follower of the “brown bag club” – I take my own lunch to work very regularly and have some soup at my desk for the days when leftovers aren’t present. However, there are simply some times where, for business or social reasons, I must eat out with others.
Here are seven techniques I use to minimize that cost to myself without disrupting the experience of the meal.
I drink a large amount of water just before leaving. This fills up my stomach quite nicely, and the signals from my stomach to my brain tell me I’m pretty full right about the time I’m ordering. This keeps me from ordering too much food.
I suggest carpooling. Even if I drive, I don’t mind it as much knowing that the cost for everyone goes down, and the driver usually rotates, which means I’m only paying for gas for a few of the meals I go to.
I order water as my drink (provided it’s free). Most restaurants provide free water, so I always utilize it as my beverage choice. This reduces the cost of the meal by quite a bit – basically, you pay literally dollars more for them to add sugar to your water.
If everyone else is drinking (which sometimes happens at evening dinners) I buy a single gin and tonic and sip it. No one notices that you’re not slamming them back, so just order one drink and go through it slowly. Not only is it far less expensive, it also has the advantage of keeping me sober and thus more able to participate intelligently in conversation. Aside from this, I just drink water with the meal.
I order something inexpensive but filling. Those are my two biggest criteria when dining out in such a situation. As I’ve mentioned before, I view eating out as a special experience, and a lunch with coworkers at Chili’s is not a special one. Thus, my focus is on minimizing my bill, and the best way to do that is to go for inexpensive and filling. The best place for that is usually the salad menu or the lunch special.
I participate strongly in the conversation. This distracts me from focusing too much on the food, which again keeps me from spending money on the meal. It’s also a way to challenge myself to work on my social skills, because by default I want to sit there and not say anything and stare at my plate. Even more important, it sometimes helps to build relations with others at the table.
I make sure I pass out my business card to anyone who doesn’t have it before I leave the table. This is true for almost any dinner I go to in a professional setting. I have an individual business card and I make sure that anyone I’m unfamiliar with – and especially anyone who hasn’t visited The Simple Dollar – gets one in their hand before they go. This increases the chance I have of them actually visiting the site later – and hopefully my writing will build on the foundation of a good impression.
In short, don’t look at business dinners as being more than a business proposition. Look to minimize your costs and maximize your potential profits so that you don’t end up with a big bill and nothing to show for it.