“Let’s do dinner” is undoubtedly my single most used phrase, and I know I’m not alone. There’s something about catching up with an old pal, cocktail in hand, over a plate of colorful sushi, homemade pasta, Insta-worthy tapas, you name it, that us millennial women can’t resist. Dining out is as much about socializing with our friends as it is about satisfying our hunger, but once you realize a good chunk of your disposable income is dedicated to the activity (whoops!), you’re forced to acknowledge it’s also about to drain your bank account. Eating at restaurants, if done right, doesn’t need to be all that spendy, no matter the establishment’s accolades, Yelp rating, or celebrity sighting count. Here are eight ingenious ways to dine out without lightening your wallet.

friends eating out at a restaurant

1. Go during the deals. Whether it’s half-priced happy hour apps or weekly Taco Tuesdays, many restaurants offer discounts on certain days (especially Mondays and Tuesdays to draw in crowds when it’s typically dead) or during certain hours. Taking advantage of these deals (and the free chips and salsa, of course) can seriously cut down the bill.

2. Lunch it instead. You and your bestie work close by each other? Take an extended lunch break for a quick midday bite rather than waiting till the post-work or weekend rush. Restaurant’s lunch menus often feature cheaper fare, and there isn’t the added pressure to order drinks, apps, and the rest. Plus, places are usually less crowded, making for a much more relaxed and quiet setting.

3. Skip drinks and desserts. Your entree is $18 — that’s doable. But with the drink and dessert, you’re up to $35. Add tax and tip, and this has quickly become quite the outing. Making a point to not show up starving can help subdue the desire to order multiple courses, and opting for even a tea, soda, or juice can save some serious bucks. If you’re set on a boozy sipper, ask for it to come out with your meal so you aren’t as likely to order more than one.

4. BYOB (if possible). Fine, we admit it: We hate the idea of not ordering drinks alongside our friends. Here’s where the new and ever-handy BYOB trend enters. Lots of eateries, especially those in big cities, have become more lax about guests bringing their own alcoholic beverages. Sure, you might still need to stop by the supermarket for a bottle of wine, but that Two Buck Chuck is a heck of a lot cheaper than a $15 cocktail.

5. Order an app as an entree. Hors d’oeuvres should be their own food group, so why not make them your whole meal? These plates are intended to be split among three or four people, so they’re certainly enough for one person’s main course. And, if you compare the prices to those of the fish fillets, fancy risottos, and steak dishes in the “entrees” section of the menu, you’ll likely find the apps are much cheaper anyway.

6. Split your meal. If you can often be seen strutting out of a restaurant styrofoam box in hand, then this is the option for you. Restaurants, especially in the US, are notorious for serving monstrous portions. So ask your BFF to go halfsies, and sure enough, your bill will be cut in halfsies too. This works especially well with pizzas, sandwiches, and breakfast sweets (think pancakes, waffles, etc.).

7. Ask for a to-go box. And do it at the start of your meal. Simply stick half of what’s on your plate in the container right when it’s served, and you’re good to go. Although the final price on your check will be the same, you’re essentially getting two meals in one. Just be sure that if you have a food item that spoils quickly (yes, we’re talking about guac), you dig into your leftovers as soon as possible.

8. Actually get it to go. It’s hard to say no to a succulent-adorned patio, white tablecloths, and the works, but sometimes, chowing down on the same delicious food on your couch in your sweats can be just as, if not more, satisfying. Although we’re all about tipping (seriously, please tip the wait staff!), it’s not expected you tip as much when you purchase meals for pickup. If you’re ordering from a pricey place, an 18-20 percent tip on an already high tab adds up. This expense can be reduced simply by, well, waiting on yourself.

RELATED: Into Dining Out? Take This Michelin-Starred Road Trip.

(Photo via Getty)