Even if you're not downing $15 martinis, a night on the town is no cheap proposition.
The average cost of an evening out for a family of four has jumped 25% over the past five years to $203, according to a study by EPM Communications, a market research group. (The figure includes tickets, food and, when applicable, souvenirs.)
A scarier thought: Because kids' tickets are cheaper, a night out à deux won't cost you much less.
Happily, the solution to spending less isn't staying home -- or smuggling soda cans and home-popped popcorn into the movie theater. Before you plan your next big night out, check out these resources to cut your costs by up to 80%, no matter what your plans.
DinnerPotential savings: 30%.
Go ahead, order the surf and turf. There are ways to save big on your bill -- without "accidentally" discovering a fly in your soup. Here's where to look:
DinnerBroker. Before you make a reservation, check in with this free service, which can knock as much as 30% off your tab. Search for restaurants by city or state and then by number of diners and date. Not every reservation is eligible for a discount; in some cases you must dine within certain hours set by the restaurant. But the deals are tasty. You can, for example, shave 15% off your bill at New York City's famous (and pricey) Café des Artistes simply by booking your reservation. The best part: Your discount is automatically taken off your check, so you don't need to print out confirmations or coupons.
Another bonus: Register for the site for free, and you'll earn points toward gift certificates with each reservation you make. (On the downside, some listings don't offer a discount at all but simply let you accrue points toward gift certificates.)
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OpenTable. Another variation of that theme is OpenTable, a free service that lets you make reservations online. You'll earn 100 points for each reservation. Earn 2,000 points and get a $20 gift certificate to be used at any participating restaurant. You can earn more than the standard 100 points per reservation by booking a table at certain hot restaurants, such as Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia (1,000 points), or by making a reservation for a certain time.
Restaurants.com. This site sells gift certificates for restaurants (but not chains) across the country -- for much less than face value. For example, you can get a $25 gift certificate for the Boston area's popular Redbones restaurant for $10. Just print it out and redeem at the restaurant. Be sure to read the details first. Each restaurant has a list of specifications for how the certificate can be used, and some are so complex as to be dizzying: restrictions on days of the week, times of day, the number of diners, the food ordered and so on.
Entertainment Publications. These well-known discount books, published annually, offer tear-out coupons for a variety of services, including popular chain restaurants. Near the back of the book you'll find menus and deals for local restaurants -- for example, Chicago's famous Billy Goat Tavern. Use the Entertainment Club card that comes with the book to receive a discount at these restaurants. (Most restaurants offer two entrees for the price of one, or a second entrée for half price.) The downside: Your card gets punched when you visit a restaurant, and you can get the discount only once. You'll pay $24 to $45 per entertainment book, depending on where you live.
The Diner's Deck. For those in New York, San Diego or Montreal, The Diner's Deck might be a better option. Each "deck" contains 52 cards that double as $10 restaurant gift certificates. In the New York deck, for example, you might try the ultrahip Zanzibar. The decks cost $29.95 each. You can buy these card decks online or in local stores.
Rewards Network. Earn airline miles when you dine at participating restaurants. Just register your existing credit cards, for free, and use them to pay your restaurant bills. How much you'll earn will vary by restaurant, as well as the date and time you dine. It also depends on which airline program you're using. Say you want to rack up points for Continental Airlines. You'll earn three miles per dollar spent on your total bill at restaurants such as San Francisco's trendy Blowfish Sushi to Die For -- and double miles if you dine at select restaurants.