At some point in the future it's expected to become so practical and convenient to eat fast food (as a result of new businesses and technologies) that many will find it almost impossible to avoid. Cooking at home is generally regarded as the healthier, more cost effective solution. In our busy daily lives though, the ease of getting a tasty meal from one of the big chains on occasion is simply too enticing to avoid.
If you find yourself in this situation frequently, then make sure you're at least taking control of keeping costs on takeaways as low as possible. Personally I don’t eat fast food that often, but when I do its normally because I have no other viable solution. I'm also not a fan as I find the value for money tends to be terrible. So I hope you will find the following tips useful in helping you lower your bill the next time you need to eat at one of these establishments.
As boring as it sounds, make sure you order a water to drink with your fast food. Our bodies are made up of more than 70% water, so this benefits you far more than a sugar filled soft drink. If you eat in, then often they'll serve you water for free which is a great way to help steer clear of those pricier full meal options. The menus in these establishments are specifically designed to make you believe that you're getting the best value for money by opting for the larger, more expensive meal combos. If you actually consider the mark-ups they charge on soft drinks alone, you're likely to be put off ever ordering another soft drink from then again. If you are dying for some flavour, order a slice of lemon to go with your water.
Kids Eat Free
If you are with the kids and need a quick bite, it pays to know which places serve kids for free or charge next to nothing. Taking advantage of this saving can be the difference between spending within your budget and blowing it. Find out which establishments offer this and at what times, or certain days then go for those options. Pizza Hut, for example, I know lets you eat as much as you want from the salad bar in the afternoons from Monday to Friday.
Certain chains will sometimes provide surveys that even come on the back of your receipt. Always look out for these as generally the chains will reward customers for their opinions with items such as a free soft drink, a BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) offer, a free burger etc. Be wary though, as these freebies usually come with an expiry date so if you want to utilise them you need to be quick.
Splitting your Chips
Normally when I eat a big burger I can never finish a big box of chips so it only gets wasted on me. Plus, it must do me some good not to eat all those dead calories. It's fine to leave them when I’m on my own, but when I’m with the family and there are two or three of us doing the same thing, it makes far more sense to share a larger box of chips between two. This helps you reduce costs, be less wasteful and consume lower amounts of calories too. I know the big chains make the burger or main part of the meal the most expensive, whilst the fries and drink will generally only cost a fraction, but a saving is still a saving. To what degree though depends on which chains you are visiting as they vary widely. However, I usually manage to save about $10 when feeding the family in this way.
Waste Not Want Not
If you have been given a surplus of ketchup or any other type of sauce with your meal, don’t just throw it away, keep it and take it home. Mini ketchups and mini mayonnaises are an ideally sized for a work lunch meal. Napkins are another great thing to take with you if you receive a surplus, but ideally not to go on your dining table. They are great for storing in the car for emergency tissues or spills.
Think Outside the Box
Fast food chains help people grab food when needed in a convenient and simple way, however, their pricing can let them down sometimes. Just because there are three different types of burgers, it doesn’t mean you have to eat what they say, you can mix things up a little to your advantage.
At Subway for example, it's more cost effective to order a foot-long and split it in two than it is to order two separate 6-inch sandwiches. Try this out the next time you head there for lunch with a work colleague.
At McDonalds, if you order a McDouble and ask them to remove the ketchup and mustard, and replace them with some cheese and Mac Sauce which effectively gives you "a poor mans" Big Mac.
Coupons, Discounts and Voucher Codes
Finally, always try to utilise sources such as Buckscoop's Vouchers page where you can find yourself a range of different discount codes, coupons and vouchers for various takeaway chains or services (Menulog or EatNow) to maximise your savings.
[Any other ideas or methods to add? Feel free to comment below.]