If there’s one thing New Yorkers know how to do — and know how to do well — it’s dining out.
For some, it means escaping tiny kitchenettes and inadequate cooking supplies. For others, it’s a way to socialize and engage with the city, to keep up with the news of the day by listening to what people are talking about.
But most New Yorkers can agree on one thing: dining out is theatrical.
Restaurants are places where one can be momentarily transported into a world of different tastes, feelings, atmospheres, conversations — it’s culinary escapism.
And it often comes at a price.
When I’m not budgeting meals at the grocery store, I’m experiencing the city in the best way I know how, through its vibrant dining scene.
Here are my tips for dining out on a budget:
- Split an appetizer and entrée
Assuming you’re not dining alone, this is a practical way to keep costs down. You’ll need a good dinner date for this tactic and a will to compromise, but by eating slowly, enjoying conversation and savoring each bite, you’ll be more likely to leave full and satisfied. Even if only knowing you didn't blow your budget.
- Avoid cocktails
We all know alcohol runs the bill up, so cut costs and opt for drinks that you’ll get the most mileage out of. Unless you only plan to have about one or two pricey concoctions, opt for a bottle of wine under $40 and split that and sip slowly. And don’t be shy about ordering the restaurants cheapest bottle. Simply ask them for their best value bottle of whatever kind of wine you’re after and they’ll take it from there.
- Seek out deals
I bet you saw this one coming! Places will oftentimes have deals on certain days of the week. My beloved Mermaid Oyster Bar has Social Media Mondays where you get 20% off your entire meal if you whisper to your server the secret password which they reveal during the day on their social media accounts.
- Get to know your favorite spots
This is the most obvious one. Get friendly. You know how to socialize, don’t you? After all, you did come out to eat in public and not alone in your apartment. Now put those social skills to work and make friends with the maître d’, the bartenders and anyone else. Don’t forget, your friends were all strangers once.
- Seek out old neighborhood gems
Under-the-radar restaurants are the building blocks of neighborhoods. These are the BYOB, hole-in-the-wall, cash only joints that have not only earned themselves staying power as institutions but are recognized as reputable landmarks. Think Corner Bistro and Carnegie Deli, to name a few. But beyond those well-known names, ask neighbors where they venture out. I’m willing to bet they’re often heading to BYOB, hole-in-the-wall, timeless joints where they can enjoy a meal among locals and won’t be bothered by their tables being taken by dressed up clientele falling out of cabs in droves just trying to check off boxes on their list of hotspots to hit. So once you do get there, to that secret club of a local establishment, take it all in. Find charm in the chipping wallpaper and the rickety register that won’t take your credit card. Because with you being there, it only affirms that we won’t lose another neighborhood gem.