Part of the joy of traveling is trying the best food each destination has to offer. Unfortunately, fine dining can also make a pretty big dent in your budget. But with the proper planning and foresight, you can have your fancy cake, and eat it too. Here are 5 ways to cater to your epicurean desires, without breaking the bank.
1. Know the menu
Rather than freak out at the sight of $40 chicken, check out the menu online ahead of time and decide in advance which courses fit into your budget. This can also help you plan the rest of your day. If you know you'll be going to a restaurant where there are few courses below $30, try cutting down on other expenses during the day. Cutting down on coffee and bottled water, and opting for a light lunch are all great ways to save up for an evening treat. Knowing how hungry you'll be and what you think you'll order can help you plan appropriately.
2. Plan your meal
Making a game time decision is kind of like grocery shopping when you're hungry—you're bound to make bad decisions. If you're trying to get the most bang for your buck, take the time to plan out your meal before your order. For example, if you know you want to try dessert or a special offered that night only, opt for a smaller entrée or consider splitting your main meal. If the dessert or specials menu doesn't appeal, choose something else to splurge on. You may also want to look up some reviews of the restaurant ahead of time, so you know which courses are definitely worth trying, and which courses you can probably skip.
3. Consider time and place
Fine dining doesn't have to be at dinnertime. Lunch and brunch menus usually have less pricey items, like salads and small plates, that are equally as tasty. Dining at the bar is also a great option, whether for lunch or for dinner. Bar menus often have a greater selection of small plates, and you are usually guaranteed the same great service. Also, be sure to figure out whether your restaurant of choice has a happy hour menu, which can include drink as well as appetizer specials.
4. Skip the alcohol
Alcohol is often prohibitively expensive at fine dining establishments, and ordering even one drink at dinner can be as expensive as an entire appetizer, or more. If you must have a drink, check to see if there are any drinks your restaurant is known for, or consider sharing a glass of wine.
5. Choose casual spots with 5-star chefs
It's getting more and more common for fine dining chefs to open casual restaurants that don't skimp on quality. Danny Meyer started the trend with his now world-famous Shake Shack, but the options keep getting better and better. A chef from the 3-Michelin-starred NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park opened a casual soup and salad spot, called Made Nice; the 2017 James Beard Chef of the Year Michael Solomonov now has three Falafel Shops in the Philadelphia area; and Mark Ladner, formerly of Del Posto, recently opened up Pasta Flyer, also in NYC, which earned a starred review from the New York Times. If you want fine-dining quality, but don't necessarily care about losing fine-dining atmosphere, these casual spots are worth checking out.
The most effective way for you to fine dine smart is to do your homework: check reviews for recommended dishes, check online menus for prices, and go in with a plan. With all the work done ahead of time, all that's left to do is enjoy.