Families can eat out without overpaying

Shannon Brigham is the editor of Lowcountry Parent magazine and a Savvy Shopper columnist. After working in various roles at a newspaper group on the Florida Golf Coast, the Lowcountry native returned home to be closer to her friends and family.

My family's health is important to me, so we eat a lot of home-cooked meals. This not only saves money, but it also ensures the food we eat is nutritious.

I do what I can every day to save money. I watch what I purchase at the grocery store and use coupons. But sometimes, I believe my family deserves a treat, so we go out to eat. This can be tough for us financially, but dining out does have meaning and purpose. It creates memories and gives us a change of atmosphere and me a chance to relax.

Let's face it, dining out can be expensive if you don't order strategically and thoughtfully. Here are some tips to eating out affordably:

Order water. Even nonalcoholic drinks can be pricey and drive up your bill considerably. They offer free refills, but does that make it worth it?

Split a meal/order appetizers. Portion sizes sometimes are borderline ridiculous. It's worth it to spend the split-entree fee or don't split, eat half and take the rest home for the next day's lunch or dinner. My girlfriends and I often have appetizer parties, where we all order an appetizer and share.

Eat early. Go out for lunch instead of dinner. Also, many establishments have awesome happy hour food specials if you visit before 7 p.m. Read next week's column to learn about local food and drink specials.

Don't scrimp on the tip. Being a former food and beverage worker, I always, always make sure I have enough money to tip a minimum of 20 percent of the total check. To me, this is part of the bill -- not optional. They work hard and deserve it.

Dine out locally

Wild Wing Cafe on Oakland Market Road in Mount Pleasant offers Momma Mondays, where moms eat free 4-9 p.m. (up to $9.99) with the purchase of a kids meal.

Diners can eat at Parson Jack's (West Ashley) for around $8 each. They offer large portions, so splitting is possible and can lower your bill. Kids meals are $1.99 and come with ice cream and a balloon friend for each child.

Both Jason's Deli locations (on Savannah Highway and Northwoods Mall) let two kids 12 and younger eat free 5-8 p.m. weekdays with the purchase of one adult meal. They offer a variety of organic items and free ice cream.

OutToEatWithKids.com is a website locally run by my pal, Jennifer Bilbro. It is a great way to find out when local restaurants offer kids-eat-free specials and more.

Visit postandcourier.com/savvyshopper and let us know how you save money or follow @chssavvyshopper on Twitter or Facebook.

Email Shannon Brigham at charlestonsavvyshopper@postandcourier.com.