Do you all know about restaurant.com? This is a website where you can go browse a list of restaurants in your area, then purchase a gift certificate for a given amount (usually $25, but some restaurants offer certificates in different denominations). The cool thing is that the $25 only costs $10 under normal circumstances, but restaurant.com is almost always running a sale and the certificates often cost even less. A few weeks ago they were having a sale, so I stocked up on $25 gift certificates, getting them for only $2 each!
The tricky thing is that you buy a gift certificate for a certain restaurant, so it does involve some planning ahead. I bought certificates for restaurants close to our home, close to my husband's work, one for a restaurant close to the theater we frequent on date nights, and another for a restaurant at the mall we like to go to. After you purchase the gift certificates, you can either print them immediately or log in later to print them out when you get ready to use them.
Last night we tested out the gift certificates for the first time. Each restaurant has rules that must be followed for using their gift certificate, but those are very clearly printed on the certificate itself and are also visible to you before you purchase the certificate. Last night we went to an upscale family restaurant for dinner. For that restaurant, we had to order $35 worth of food in order to use the $25 certificate. We ended up getting more than that, since we were both starving, but in the end we got two nice entrees, a big dessert, and I got a glass of sangria, and it cost us $32 total out of pocket, including tax and tip. Add in the $2 I spent on the certificate, and that's a nice evening out for $34. If I hadn't had the glass of sangria, it would have been even cheaper!
We're using another of the certificates tonight for our date night. I'm hooked on this idea- we love to eat out, but are trying to watch our money closely, so this is a really good option for us. Take a look at the site for yourself- there's probably a great restaurant near you that's just calling your name!