The only thing possibly worse than calorie counting while you’re ordering a meal is budget crunching, especially if you’re a foodie.
The good news is that while budget cuts may have you watching your dining dollars, they don’t have to keep you off the food circuit. You can still nibble like the rich and famous, even if you have to be a little more creative.
Nosh on MainStreet's five tips for creating a luxurious dining experience on the cheap:
1. Eat dessert for dinner. Your mother might disagree, but your pocketbook won’t. Instead of grabbing your favorite four-course meal with a friend, hit a dessert bar instead. Savoring a sweet delicacy and an after-dinner drink will feel just a sinful and decadent as a lobster tail, plus still give you time to gossip (and enough cash leftover to pay for parking).
2. Sidle up to the bar. If you’ve got expense account tastes, with a grad student’s discretionary income, you can still simulate an extravagant meal without the three-figure tab. Grab a chic seat at the bar of the hippest place in town (don’t worry, they won’t ask to see your bank statement), and order an inexpensive dish—think pasta, a special sushi roll or a couple of small appetizers—and a glass of wine. You’ll get to eat at your favorite restaurant without feeling like you’ve sacrificed, but won’t need a personal loan to do it.
3. Go for the early-bird special. Many hot spots have a similar but lower-priced menu for lunch or brunch, which you can enjoy until late afternoon or early evening. Not to mention, you’ll probably have an easier time getting a reservation, so you can linger longer and savor the meal.
4. Entertain at home first. Wine and cocktails quickly take a meal from moderately priced to “we’re brown bagging it the rest of the week.” Invite friends over for a happy hour before your reservation, and then eat at a quaint neighborhood spot within walking distance of your home. You’ll save on cab fare, no one will drink and drive and meals are generally less expensive at places off the hipster radar.
5. Expand your notion of “rich.” People who truly love food will tell you that some of their favorite meals have been randomly discovered at street vendors, side carts, old-school diners, little-known joints, etc. And what's even better, the bills are generally super cheap. Scout out some low-budget holes in the wall (and unless you’re adventurous, steer clear of their health department ratings). Sure, you won’t be eating from a Michelin star chef, but you can try a new cuisine, explore different types of food or spices, or test-drive a meal you’ve never heard of before. The luxury will come from your enjoyment of a new experience, rather than the amount of money you shell out.
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