Restaurants: Eating Out For Less

With the economic downturn, people have really cut back on eating out. But a just-released Consumer Reports' survey of restaurants says if you want to treat yourself, there are lots of ways to save.

After surveying its subscribers about more than 150,000 visits to 101 restaurants, Consumer Reports has the goods on where to dine well for less.

"The dining deals out there today are incredible. But not surprising, it doesn't matter how good the deals are if the food isn't good." said Consumer Reports Tod Marks.

Twenty-one chains received the highest marks for food, with steakhouses generally the priciest category.

In a steak taste-off, Consumer Reports found that Morton's has an excellent strip steak for $53 that bested the rest.

But consider Outback, which has a very good strip steak for $22.

The strip steaks at Applebees, for $18, and Friday's, for $17, were okay, too. But be careful how much lower you go.

"The fact is, none of the $9.99 "value" sirloins we tested at Applebee's, Outback, and Friday's were anywhere near as flavorful and tender as the pricier counterparts," said Marks.

Consumer Reports' Tightwad Tod says there are plenty of other ways to save money, starting with going online.

"I signed up for e-mail alerts at some of my favorite restaurants, and my inbox was flooded with all kinds of offers for freebies, including a free pound of shrimp cocktail from Legal Seafood," said Marks.

You can also join frequent dining programs at places like Friday's, and get a free appetizer or dessert.

Or consider eating at the bar, where food can be cheaper.

Getting food to go, rather than sitting down in a restaurant, can also be a way to stretch your dollars.

For one, you don't have the cost of a tip.

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