Ever since the crash of 2008, Britons have tightened their belts and gone without those special treats that seem make life sweeter. You’re not the only one who feels as if life’s little luxuries are out of reach. Channel 4 journalist Harry Wallop has created a show about how to get something for nothing, setting himself the challenge to “looking good, spending a night on the town, and throwing a massive party for his local community – all for absolutely nothing.” Whether it’s free films or beauty treatments or getting life’s essentials for free, Harry joins the ranks of Brits who are looking for ways to live it up on the cheap.
When you’re on a tight household budget, eating in restaurants is one of the first things to go. But there’s no need to wipe all those lavish dinners off the agenda just yet – there are a host of ways to indulge your foodie fancies without splurging. You needn’t resort to a diet of cheap high street chains and fast-food outlets, either – some of the finest establishments offer serious value options. When you know a few insider tricks, even the most decadent dinners can be within your reach at a fraction of what you’d imagined.
1. Blag with a blog
These days every man and his dog has a blog, and it’s arguably the quickest route to freebies if not fame. Becoming a blogger allows you to blag allsorts – and that includes free review meals. It’s an easy skill to master even for those not particularly web-savvy, and you can get your site hosted for free via platforms like WordPress or Tumblr.
You’ll need fairly strong writing skills and a knowledge of your subject in order to gain credibility. Once you’ve established the blog with a few strong posts, approach restaurants which ‘fit’ with your theme – if you blog about local life go to neighbourhood restaurants and offer to promote them with a post in return for a meal.
Initially, it’s a good idea to establish your ‘name’ by guest blogging or reviewing for free on behalf of respected established sites – venues are more willing to provide hospitality to bloggers with strong followings and proven site stats.
2. Clip coupons
Vouchers are fast becoming the new currency when it comes to paying the bill at the end of a meal, and can net some fantastic savings. National newspapers often run tie-in schemes with fine dining establishments, making even a three-course meal a realistic preposition. Many chain restaurants offer vouchers to email subscribers – check websites of your favourites. Local print publications are also worth keeping an eye on as neighbourhood restaurants frequently run promotions. Also trawl the numerous websites which collate all the voucher codes and offers in one place.
3. Mystery dining
Sign up with agencies who provide restaurants with mystery diners (for example http://www.mysterydining.net/) and you’ll not only get to eat for free but sometimes also have travel costs covered or get paid a nominal amount. You’ll need to have some time to invest in providing detailed feedback – but the more you put into it, the better the review offers you’ll be given. Assignments are usually allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so be fast when there’s one you like the look of.
4. Studious eating
All those top chefs have to learn somewhere – and colleges offering culinary qualifications often have in-house restaurants where you can dine exceptionally well for very little money. Students work with skilled tutors and use fancy ingredients that would usually sell at a premium price – you’re essentially a ‘pampered guinea pig’ for the new wave of British talent. If you’re lucky, you might even discover the next Heston Blumenthal!
5. Time to dine
Go against the grain and have a late lunch or early dinner, or dine out on Mondays and Tuesdays rather than on a Friday night or a weekend. Many establishments have established that these are ‘dead times’ and so, to draw in custom, offer great cheap dining deals for those willing to eat ‘off peak’. Deals range from freebie bottles of wine, to good-value themed evenings or buffets, to deep discounts on the overall bill.
6. Social media secrets
Follow and ‘like’ all the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the venues in which you aspire to dine. Increasingly, in order to boost their social media ratings, restaurants are advertising last-minute ‘secret’ offers exclusive to followers and fans. You might have to perform a token action such as commenting on a post or re-tweeting, but the savings more than justify your investment. Also use social media to engage with the venue – some places offer active online supporters preferential treatment in the flesh!
7. Soft launches
When a new place launches there are almost always teething problems. Restaurants remedy this with a ‘soft-launch’ – affording it a grace period of a couple of weeks to find its feet. This also affords you the luxury of dining for less- typically at 50% discount. Keep an eye out for new openings in your area; sometimes they’ll invite people in for free tasting events, too.
8. Get set for a bargain
Your budget may not stretch to a starter when it comes to a la carte, but if you go for the set menu you could be in for a cut-price feast. Your dish options will be reduced (often along with portion size), but any decent restaurant’s set menu should still offer the same quality produce prepared in a manner which reflect the venue’s signature style. Dishes on a set menu are often a little bit innovative or experimental, and make sublime use of cheaper meat cuts and lesser-used foodstuffs.
9. Chefs’ diffusion venues
Like what a particular chef does but can’t afford their high-end prices? Check out whether they also have a mid-range or high-street outpost, or have worked with another cheaper venue for menu consultancy and food development. You’ll get a flavour of their style at a fraction of the price.
- License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://photodune.net
Jessica Bourne has spent years writing about lifestyle topics ranging from health and fitness to travel and food. With the financial pressures of modern life, Jessica is mindful to keep her articles focused on saving money and staying out of debt. She frequently contributes to the eccount money blog, click here for her latest article “How to cook a great meal without it costing the earth”.