Surf for steals. Search restaurant.com by ZIP code to purchase discounted certificates for thousands of places. (A typical offer: You can buy a gift certificate worth $25 for just $10.) Or click on the “Cheap Eats” link at urbanspoon.com to find user-generated recommendations for 70 U.S. cities.
Seek out restaurant week. During this period, participating restaurants in cities big and small offer three-course prix fixe menus at affordable prices. (Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Miami will all have restaurant weeks in the coming months.)
Make lunch your big meal of the day. You’ll have similar menu options to choose from, and you can save about 20 percent.
BYO Bordeaux. Restaurants typically mark up the price of wine 50 to 75 percent, so pick up a bottle before dinner. (Call ahead to make sure it’s OK to bring your own.) Though some places charge a corkage fee, it’s usually less than $15. Also ask about the house wine. Some places omit this choice from the list, but it can be as cheap as $3 a glass.
Pass up the dessert tray. Commercial bakeries typically sell sweets to midrange restaurants, then those dining spots mark up the prices and cash in, says Steve Dublanica, author of Waiter Rant (Ecco, $25, amazon.com), a restaurant-industry tell-all. After dinner, stop by an ice cream parlor or a bakery for a treat costing about 40 percent less.