Dining out on a budget requires compromising in small ways, but you’ll still be able to enjoy good food and good company without giving up the restaurant experience. Below I share 15 tips to help you eat out on a budget.

Pick the right time – Lunch is much more cheaper than dinner so when you have an option go out for lunch. Your wallet will thank you! Don’t forget about early bird specials and happy hour.

Split a meal – Restaurant portions are huge nowadays. Sharing an entree can cut your bill in half! It can also do the same for your – ahem – waistline. Eating solo? I like to save half of my food for later. That’s two meals for the price of one.

Don’t ignore appetizers – Have one as your main course. Portions vary from restaurant to restaurant so ask your waiter before ordering. These dishes costs less than a main entree.

Forget the plastic – I’m talking about credit cards here, and instead use discounted gift cards for an easy way to help you stay on track.

Be loyal – Signing up for restaurant loyalty programs has it’s perks. You can get really good discounts. And best of all, you can score birthday freebies. Treat yourself on your birthday month with all freebies and discounts you’ll get just by forking over your email. Tip: Use a separate email to sign up for loyalty clubs.

Hit Restaurant Week – There’s one in every city. This is the time when restaurants lower prices to attract new customers. Dates vary from city to city, so look up the dates and participating restaurants online. You can end up saving up to 50 percent!

Take the survey – Giving feedback to restaurant has it’s benefits. You can voice your opinion and score freebies. It usually takes less than 5 minutes so it’s worthwhile.

Skip the booze – Hear me out. I’m not telling you to give up the wine. You just have to find a way to keep costs down. Here are the options: Either find a restaurant that allows you to bring your own inexpensive wine without charging you a corkage fee or go back to your place for a glass of wine and romancing. At the restaurant, stick with water and ask for lemons if you like. I’ve actually made my own lemonade a la Tyra Banks (model and self proclaimed cheapskate). Saving money on drinks — now that’s fierce!

Skip dessert – Restaurants tend to overprice ice cream and cake. Head to a local ice cream shop or cupcake shop for something sweet afterwards. It’ll cost a fraction of what you would have paid at a fancy restaurant.

Search for deals – Whether you join a daily deal site or use Restaurant.com. Get in the habit of planning your dining experience. Go out to deal when you find a particularly good deal. Never used gift certificates to dine out? Here’s how Restaurant.com works.

Ask for discounts – Senior and student can easily score deals. Make sure to check if the restaurant you’ll be dining at offers discounts or has a special menu for you. Having memberships to AAA or AARP can also cut your bill by 20%.

Forget about tipping – Before you call me cheap, hear me out. Frequenting restaurants where you can get quality food, but don’t get a server means tips are not necessary. That means more money stays in your pocket! Think spots like Panera Bread (I’ve scored lots of freebies here.) or Boston Market. If you’re heading out to a sit down restaurants, be prepared to leave tip. Another options is grabbing food to go. When you dine in, you may be tempted to order more from the menu.

Kiddos eat free – No need to drop off the kids at a sitter — unless it’s date night. There are lots of family restaurants that offer free kids’ meals with the purchase of an adult entree. Make sure to ask if your favorite restaurant offers these specials. Eating out with kids just got easier — or, at least cheaper. Kids throwing tantrums? Sorry, can’t help you there.

Get the book – The Entertainment Book that is. It’s filled with coupons and discounts to restaurants, theme parks, and more. You can usually find pretty good deals on these if you wait to purchase near the end of the year.

Get help – The following sites will help you save big bucks on your restaurant bill. I discovered the sites in ShopSmart magazine, which is published by Consumer Reports.

  • Savored.com – You pay $10 to reserve a table, but you can save up to 40% off your total bill.Cha-ching!
  • BiteHunter.com – This is a real-time location based mobile app for finding dining deals. The app aggregates restaurant deals and you can easily buy them with one-click. The app is free, but it’s only available for iPhones!
  • EatDrinkDeals.com –  Lists the latest coupons and happy hour specials.

How do you save money when dining out?

Yazmin Cruz is a staff writer at the money and coupon blog, BargainBabe.com