Food & Travel

The College Guide To Eating Out: Some Food For Thought

It’s Thursday night and the dining hall options are terrible. You’re sick of eating campus center pizza. What you really want is a nice meal where everyone isn’t yelling or staring at their biology textbooks. It’s time for a night on the town.

But before you pick up your friends and head to the restaurant, you’ve got some work to do. Tuck in your shirt, polish your manners and check your budget – here’s what you need to know in order to have a great and affordable restaurant experience.

Consider Your Finances

While it shouldn’t be hard to get a nice meal at a reasonable price, college is the time where you need to master the art of budgeting. Even if your parents are still sending you money, you need to prioritize – textbooks, activity fees, the occasional new item of clothing – there are certain things that need to come first.

Taking all this into account, before you go out, take a look at your bank account and set a limit. Include the tip in this amount and then you can make your decision. Look online at menus to determine where you can afford to eat, and not just off the kid’s menu. Don’t choose a restaurant where you’ll be tempted to overspend. You’ll have a better experience if you choose a restaurant where you’ll have options at your budget level.

Be A Coupon Clipper

Coupons are a college student’s best friend and your wallet will thank you for looking for local deals. While it can be easiest to find coupons for chains, plenty of websites have coupons for local eateries.

Local restaurants will likely have higher quality food and offer a nicer experience than chain establishments, so coupons for restaurants are especially valuable. They may also offer entertainment like trivia nights or local bands. These are the nights you’ll tell stories about after you graduate – take advantage of coupons that let you experience the local scene.

Mind Your Manners

Dining hall eating can do terrible things for your manners. It’s easy to forget how loud you’re talking when everyone is competing to be heard or to start talking with your mouth full when you’re hurrying to get to the library between lunch and chemistry. None of this will do when eating in a restaurant.

Before you head out to eat with friends, tidy yourself up and scrounge up those social niceties your parents taught you. If you’re eating somewhere with cloth napkins, remember that they should be placed in your lap before your meal. Push in your chair when you get up and speak at a reasonable volume. Most of all, be respectful to the staff.

Learn The Rules Of Tipping

Tipping is an art form, and it’s one that you should work to master during your college years, in all appropriate contexts – haircuts, tattoos, taxis, and so forth. But restaurants are where you’ll leave tips most often, so focus on those rules first. The most important rule: Tipping when you eat out is mandatory.

With few exceptions, such as when eating out with a very large group, tips are rarely included in your bill. Also, if you’ve never worked as a waiter, know that staff members typically don’t make minimum wage – they rely on tips to make up the difference. This is the main reason why you should always tip.

It’s also important not to penalize waiters for food quality – they don’t control the speed your food comes out, whether your steak is undercooked, or much beyond taking the order and refilling your drinks. When your waiter does go out of their way to help you, however, like keeping track of five separate checks, make sure to tip extra. College kids often have a reputation for tipping poorly – break the mold by doing the right thing by your servers.