Life Hacks

The broke girl’s guide to: Dining out

In this series, our digital content producer Maxine Fourie shares her inside tips to living your best life—on a budget.


Brunching with your besties has become so ingrained in our Saturday traditions that it almost seems abnormal to have our beloved coco pops and milk combo when the weekend rolls around.

Those perfect pretty pancakes you saw on the ‘gram always seem like a good idea… until you get home and realise that your constant lavish eating habits have once again put your budgeting plans for the week off track!

There’s also no denying that giving in to the temptation even after the fact has become harder than ever. So, we find ourselves giving in to a TDF burger with yes (loaded) fries on a lunch date, a whipped butter bread basket to start and of course a trip to Ben n Jerry’s post-dinner, consequently repeating the same endless cycle — splurge, regret, repeat.

But, we get it: replying with a casual ‘can’t make this one’ ‘cause you’ve had one too many delish but totally unnecessary iced mochas that week (that at the time you convinced yourself was a necessity) can almost be sadder than looking at your bank account statement, especially because food is such a social, interactive and positive experience.

If this all sounds familiar but you want to avoid #FOMO at all costs and indulge in the foodie lifestyle, read on for a few food hacks that can have you dining out breakfast, lunch or dinner with less financial pressure:


First table

There’s a new life-saving hack in town, that’s budget-friendly (really!) and encourages serial dining: It’s called First Table.

The site allows users to book the ‘first table’ of either breakfast, lunch or dinner at participating restaurants at 50% off the bill.

Put simply, First Table makes your $18 eggs bene, with a $6 side of salmon and extra hollandaise sauce, a dreamy $12 instead. Doesn’t that sound like heaven? We thought so, too.

If you haven’t already, gather your girls together, as they allow up to four diners per table, at only a cheeky $10 fee.

First Table is an amazing option for conscious-foodies because you can only book up to a week in advance, so planning is key and takes out wiggle-room for spontaneous and sometimes unnecessary dining.

More often than not, people are jumping on daily to get a great deal, so those expensive and last-minute “I’m bored, what you doing?” dates can’t be accommodated for. Besides, if you know that you can get a delicious dinner at Euro for half the price, why would you splurge on something average instead of waiting a day or two?


Make the most of happy-hour

Happy hour isn’t some budget, low-baller scheme – but, quite frankly, it is what it says in the name.

Happy hour offers punters affordable specials between reasonable dining windows (usually 4pm-7pm) at a fraction of what they usually are, making it the perfect quick catch-up idea.

Instead of visiting a restaurant on a whim, factor in their happy hour options before you head in. This is a smart and subtle way to make your time and money work for you and it still gives you the option of catching up over a drink or bite to eat.

With reputable names on this happiness bandwagon, you’ll be converted and wish you’d tried it before. Some Auckland-based options for happy hour include Coco’s Cantina’s $13 pasta, Gusto at the Grand’s ‘Aperitivo Hour’, $1 oysters at Saint Alice and $10 margaritas at Headquarters. Convinced yet?


Raid the cabinet

If you’re heading out to a local cafe and are on an intense saving buzz (we applaud your self control) or alternatively, you’ve exhausted all your overdraft, the thought of a full-blown big breakfast may make you squeamish instead of peckish.

One thing that’s often overlooked when dining out is the trusted food cabinet, because when the menu is placed in front of us, we feel obligated to choose from there.

However, making a wander to the food cabinet instead of selecting something from the menu is a savvy way to still be part of the social buzz of dining out while still actually enjoying food.

Instead of splurging your hourly-rate on brunch, save a few pennies on the bill at the end by grabbing a $3 to $10 snack. From sandwiches to salads, cupcakes to croissants, the cabinet has you covered.

Without having to feel awkward about your financial situation, grabbing something from the cabinet means you can have your cake and eat it too, literally.


Just add water

Ever wonder why your bill at the end of your meal seems to be so much higher than you anticipated? When your main was only $25, but all of a sudden you’re whacked with a $38 bill? Um what, how does that work?

Let’s break it down into two words: “Drinks please.”

When dining out, so often we subconsciously order a drink or two on the side with our meal, because naturally, it feels like the right thing to do.

But whether you’re sipping a glass of house wine or non-alcoholic drink, adding on that extra addition(s) to your meal, will see the numbers add up and consequently, your bill will be higher than you may have hoped – eeek.

To counter this, when grabbing a drink is avoidable, opt in for a bottle of complimentary water instead and you’ll start to see the numbers shrinking. After all, you’d rather spend your hard-earned money elsewhere, right?


Two for one or all you can eat

While these two for one or all you can eat models might have connotations of low-brow eats, more and more high-end spots are putting on deals designed for students, entry-level workers and passionate foodies, that don’t scrimp on quality OR experience.

The options aren’t average and in fact, they’re endless. Tried and tested, they don’t disappoint your taste palette or your budget – you just need to know where to look.

Some of the most mouth-watering deals in Auckland include all you can eat ribs at The Culpeper; two for one pizza at Ozone; or an endless buffet at Eight. Be sure to check out what’s on offer in your town…

How good is the feeling of getting more for your dollar?


Words: Maxine Fourie
Photos: Getty Images, Instagram

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