We learned our lesson the hard way. On a budget-minded family getaway in Aspen some years ago, we went into an Italian restaurant and ordered a pizza. It was good – and expensive.
The next day, strolling by the restaurant, we saw the same pizza being enjoyed in the restaurant’s bar for about half the price we paid.
Hmmmm. Were we onto something?
Sure enough, a few years later, I was doing a story about how to afford a trendy vacation on a budget in the posh ski town and several people from Aspen told me the same thing: For affordable eats, go into the bar instead of the dining room. You’ll get the same food from the same kitchen, but without the attentive waiter – and the high prices.
“They figure if you eat something, you’ll spend more money on drinks, which is where the real profits are,” said a young marketing specialist (who has since moved on). “But don’t quote me!”
One of our favorite local brewpubs is the perfect example. In the dining room, three sliders, with fries, cost $10.95. In the bar, the sliders (without fries) are just $6.95 – and cheaper yet on Slider Fridays.
Another local restaurant serves several kinds of tacos in the main dining room, accompanied by rice and beans. Cost for the three-taco platter? $9.99. In the bar, they are three for $5.99 (without the padding of rice and beans) and on Taco Tuesdays, they’re 99 cents each during happy hour.
And that’s another thing. Happy hour can net you some tasty treats for not a lot of dough. Maybe it’s stuffed potato skins (hey, it’s a veggie) or a special price on the salad bar. If you’re with a group, order several well-priced happy hour treats to share – a veggie platter, artichoke dip and a plate of hot wings, maybe. Share them around and for the price of one appetizer each, you’ve all got dinner.
Many restaurants don’t post their bar menus online – just their dining room menus. But check it out next time you go. Ask to see the bar menu and the dining room menu. You might be surprised at how much money you can save by sitting in the bar. Nobody says you have to order a beer or a glass of wine. Unless they’re two-fers – then share them with a friend and split the cost.
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