Starters, set menus and special offers - there are loads of ways to feed yourself in a fancy way

We all love eating out whether it’s to celebrate somebody’s birthday, to catch up with an old friend or just because we’re too tired to cook ourselves. Not only is the food (almost) always amazing, eating out is also a social affair and makes it makes us feel good to dress up and treat ourselves. Unfortunately, as a student it can be difficult to allow us this treat even once a month let alone weekly. However, with a thrifty attitude and little bit of research, you can still dine like a star on a student budget.

Go for set menus

While the choice may be limited to a few select favourites from the a la carte menu, set menus are great for saving the pennies while being able to justify getting a starter and even a dessert too. They’re often restricted to lunch times (usually from midday to around 5pm) but check in advance as some restaurants have an evening set menu too. For special occasions such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, restaurants love to provide set menus which often feature special one-time-only dishes.

Buy two (or three) starters

For obvious reasons, main courses are considerably more expensive than starters and sometimes they are exactly the same dish; just a bigger portion. Make your money go further by ordering two starters or if you’re a couple, get five between you. This is basically the same concept as tapas and great for people who just can’t decide on one thing!

Check the restaurant’s website beforehand

All chain restaurants have websites and more often than not, there is a little button somewhere titled special offers or promotions. Make sure you check for this before your visit as you could save a great deal with whatever offer it may be, whether it’s a buy one meal, get one free deal or even just a 25 per cent off the total bill voucher. If you forget to check beforehand, you could probably get away with searching on your mobile phone… while you’re in the restaurant… just before you ask for the bill (though it’s best not to risk it too much!). Be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully as some vouchers are not valid on Fridays or Saturdays. You may have to submit your email address, but the savings are worth it.

Use your points

Some supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s give you points every time you shop. What most of us don’t know is the huge range of things that we can buy with these points, including restaurant vouchers. £2.50-worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers, for example, gives you £10 worth of Ask Restaurant vouchers. Seeing as you shop to eat each week, it makes sense to collect points while you’re at it and then treat yourself at the end of the month. You do the maths.

Keep your receipt

With popular restaurant chains constantly competing with each other and striving to give their customers the highest satisfaction, these days they will ask you to fill out a short survey online to let them know how your visit was and how they might improve. The waiter will probably point out the website and your special code which can be found on your receipt. Once you’ve provided the feedback, they like to thank you for your time by taking more of your money and offering you a discount or special offer for your next visit. It’s a win-win situation.

Join a diner’s club

If you plan to eat out more than five times a year then you will have already saved a great deal with a dining card such as Tastecard or Hi-Life. For £79.99, you can get a Tastecard for a year which allows you 50 per cent of your bill (often doesn’t include drinks) or 2-for-1 on all courses. It might be a big chunk of money to begin with but you will make it back in the amount you end up saving. If you decide to carry on your membership, you will most likely get a reduced rate.

Pretend to find a hair in your meal.

No actually don’t do this. You’ll probably get less-identifiable spit in your food next time...