Finding the best deals at restaurant chains

June 28, 2012 2:45:09 PM PDT
Americans sure like to eat out! We spend about one-point-seven billion dollars in restaurants every day! But dining out doesn't have to break the bank.

You probably love to eat out but HATE to see your bill. Good news! Consumer Reports says there are plenty of deals right at your fingertips.

"One of the first things you can do is to visit a restaurant's website to find out about any special offers," Tod Marks of Consumer Reports said.

Take Chili's. It has a 20-dollar steak dinner special for two. And Bob Evans has an "Endless Farmhouse Lunch" for 6.99.

"You can also sign up for e-mail alerts and join an e-club to learn about even more deals," Marks said.

By joining California Pizza Kitchen's e-Club, you get five dollars toward your next visit. And on Facebook, liking Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants can also lead to dining deals.

Consumer Reports found you do need to choose where you eat carefully. Its survey of almost 48-thousand subscribers gave some popular chains low marks for value - among them Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Joe's Crab Shack, and Hooters.

"Now, another surefire way to save is to eat when others don't. There's a lot more out there than just an early-bird special," Marks said.

At Applebee's, late-night diners enjoy half-price appetizers. And at Red Lobster you get a discount on some shrimp entrées on Mondays and Tuesdays.

"Here's another sweet way to save. If it's your birthday, eat at a restaurant that offers free dessert," Marks suggested.

Along with value, Consumer Reports' subscribers also rated restaurants for food, service, and atmosphere. Among the lowest-rated restaurants overall were Friendly's and Waffle House. Both got low marks for atmosphere and cleanliness.

Nine chains received top marks across the board in Consumer Reports' survey:

Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano
Black Angus Steakhouse
Bravo Cucina Italiana
First Watch
J. Alexander's
Le Peep
Bob Evans
Fatz Eatz

Get more information by visiting Consumer Reports online.

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