Restaurant Deals You'll Want to Dig Into
Some of America’s biggest table-service chains offer great promotions that can save you big
It’s no secret that many full-service restaurant chains have been struggling due to increased competition.
Consumers are being lured away by limited-service, fast-casual chains such as Panera Bread and Chipotle, as well as by supermarkets that have reinvented themselves as “groceraunts” that incorporate restaurant-style, sit-down service.
Midpriced restaurants like Outback and Olive Garden have been particularly hard hit.
Adding to their woes is the perception that sit-down chains—no matter how fancy—simply don't offer exceptional bang for the buck. Only 11 of the 238 restaurants in our latest subscriber survey earned above-average scores for value. Read "Dining Out: Where America Eats" for more details.
Are chains giving diners less for their money?
Check our restaurant ratings and buying guide to get all of the details from the Consumer Reports National Research Center's exclusive survey of 68,950 subscribers reporting on 170,838 restaurant visits.
Deals on Meals
“Consumers always have, and always will, believe they overpay for meals away from home," says Darren Tristano, president of industry consulting firm Technomic.
Tristano believes that the way consumers perceive value has changed. Now, it's not just price but “authenticity, customization, quality ingredients, and transparency” about the food they're serving.
Another explanation, he says, stems from declining trust in big brands in general and restaurants brands in particular.
Although table-service chains are offering fewer deals than they used to, you can still find some bargains.
Among the restaurant deals we sniffed out while reporting this story: a promotion at Maggiano’s Little Italy offering guests $10 off their next $30 visit; half-price appetizers at Applebee’s for late-night diners; and kids-eat-free Tuesday nights at Ruby Tuesday.
Even glitzy white-tablecloth chains are attempting to lure diners with come-ons.
Although restaurant deals can change at any time, at Del Frisco’s guests can currently enjoy a price-fixed $59 meal that includes a strip steak or fillet, crab cake, salad, and side dish. Though the price may seem steep, it’s a bona fide bargain considering Del Frisco’s was one of the most expensive restaurants in our survey, with an average tab of $77 per person for dinner.
You can spend a lot or a little on a meal out. Our respondents got a decent, albeit unspectacular, meal at most family restaurants, including First Watch and The Original Pancake House, for around $11 to $13 and for a few dollars more at burger and sandwich chains.
What are the best restaurant deals you know of?
Share the savings in the comments below.
Regardless of where you eat, here are some simple strategies to cut your bill. Note that restaurant deals, such as those listed below, change frequently and may not be available at all locations:
Scope out specials. Restaurant websites and social media pages can be rich sources of standing and rotating offers, such as Joe’s Crab Shack’s $15 lobster dinner Thursdays, O’Charley’s Prime rib dinner for two for $27.98, Bravo! Cucina Italiana’s two-course dinner specials on new menu items starting at $12.99, and Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille’s four-course meal for $44 after 4 p.m.
Zio’s Italian Kitchen has revolving specials five days a week, from all-you-can-eat soup and salad, $7.99, to a $24.99 family meal that feeds four.
Dine when others don’t. More incentives are available on weekdays and during off-peak hours.
On Monday through Friday, guests at Saltgrass Steak House can choose from six dinner specials starting at $8.99. Similarly, early birds at Texas Steakhouse can have dinner for $11.99.
After 10 p.m., wings, nachos, burgers, pulled-pork sandwiches, and more go on sale at Smokey Bones for as little as $4. Applebee’s, too, has “late night” (after dark) half-price appetizers.
Eat at the bar. Bar menus, when available, often feature smaller portions at lower prices.
At Mortons The Steak House, guests can order from the Bar Bites menu (wedge salad, petite filet, cheeseburgers, etc.) for as little as $3.95. On weekdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Fogo de Chao diners can order Brazilian-inspired plates, cocktails, wines, and beers at a special price.
Even The Palm, a swanky restaurant, has a half-price bar menu on Sunday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., featuring an assortment ranging from cornmeal-fried oysters to maple-glazed bacon.
Show Your age. AARP members can get restaurant deals of 15 percent at middle-of-the-road chains.
Those include Denny’s, Outback, Bonefish Grill, and Carrabba’s, and 10 percent at elegant eateries such as Chart House and Oceanaire Seafood Room.
Though some chains have moved away from offering senior discounts by name, many feature smaller portions at lower prices to appeal to anyone with a lighter appetite.
Look for restaurants that cater to kids. Only four chains stood out in our survey as good places to dine with children under age 12.
All offer dedicated kid's menus and appeal to kids as well: Cracker Barrel has a store in every location that sells games, toys, and candy. Ruby’s Diner offers a kid’s club featuring collectibles and contests where they can win prizes; Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks has a beach-theme, with distracting surfing videos playing nonstop and special menus for youngsters under age 6 as well as those 7 through 12.
The Rainforest Café cultivates the faux feel of the Amazon jungle with costumed characters roaming the floor and “wild animals” hanging from the walls. Ruby’s Diner also has a Tuesday evening promotion where children 12 and under eat for free. Many others promote similar limited-time, kids-eat-free offers on certain days of the week, including Joe’s Crab Shack, Denny’s, Chili’s, Max & Erma’s, and Ruby’s Diner.
Join the club. Many chains dangle discounts, promotions, and other perks if you're willing to share your email address or join a rewards program (at no charge).
You'll usually get something simply for signing up: a free appetizer, slice of cake on your birthday, 10 percent discount on your next visit. At Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, rewards members can dine for half off every fourth visit.