Learn how to dine out in Hawaii while saving money.
General: DIY / How-To
Dining out in Hawaii can be expensive and meals, especially with a family, can really add up fast. If you've read Hawaii Living: The Paradise Tax, you know why things are so expensive and dining out is one of the more extreme examples of our Paradise Tax.
Fortunately, we love to save money and we want to help you save money. We talk a lot about saving in other articles like Make Your Impossible Trip Happen With These 10 Tips To Save Cash, Hawaii Vacationing On A Budget, and Top 13 Ways To Save Money Living In Hawaii but now we want to cover the topic of eating out and show how you can save big. Follow along as we outline the top tips for saving money while eating at restaurants in Hawaii.
Skip Soft Drinks
Ordering sodas (or pop for those in the midwest) can add a lot of extra money to your dining bill. Many restaurants charge anywhere from $2 to $6 for a single soda or iced tea, with most at $3-$4. For a family for four, this can easily add another $8 to $24 to your bill. On top of that, you'll be taxed on that amount and be expected to tip on it as well (see Tipping). Skip the overpriced sodas you can buy for pennies on the dollar at a grocery store! Many of us don't drink enough water anyhow so use this opportunity to hydrate with free water instead.
When on vacation, sometimes you just want to relax with a nice, cold adult beverage. Maybe it's a locally brewed beer, a glass of wine, or you're seeking the perfect Mai Tai. We get it. But these types of drinks really add up as restaurants have a huge markup on alcoholic beverages. We're not suggesting that you smuggle in your own booze #ad or even skip these tasty delights. But reducing the amount you order can save big bucks.
Lunch Over Dinner
Rather than eating out for both lunch and dinner, choose lunch over dinner. Lunch prices are often less than dinner prices while the meals are usually the same. If your budget is really tight and you're here on vacation consider quick bites (like a pastry or fruit) for breakfast, dine out at a restaurant for lunch, and then make sandwiches (or something light) for dinner. Even if you're staying at a hotel you can store deli meats and cheese in your mini-fridge.
Most restaurants offer kid's meals that, just like adult meals, provide way more food than a normal kid can eat. Or, at least more food than a normal kid should eat! If you're not a big eater consider ordering off of the kid's menu (or keiki menu as it will be called in Hawaii). Some restaurants have rules like "12 and under" on kid's menus but most servers will order whatever you ask for since they're working on tips (see Tipping).
The Dessert Scam
Isn't it annoying how servers push dessert like a drug? You're not even done with your meal and they're already dropping off the dessert menu. Dessert is an annoying upsell. Why is a piece of cake $10? If you need dessert consider ordering one and splitting it. Better yet, skip the pricey restaurant desserts and grab some ice cream at a grocery store for a fraction of the price of a restaurant.
Sharing Is Saving
Most of us overeat when we dine out. This is especially true when you're in Hawaii on vacation as you'll want to try new foods and overindulge yourself. Instead, try sharing a sandwich. Or, share a salad and an entree with your dinner partner. Salad not your thing? Then share an appetizer and an entree. This will often save a fair amount over two entrees and you'll have the bonus of eating less and not feeling like a stuffed pig for hours after you're done eating.
Eat Local Foods
As we cover in Hawaii Living: The Paradise Tax, pretty much everything in Hawaii is more expensive than on the mainland (or in other countries). This becomes even more true for foods not grown in Hawaii as they have to be shipped in. Perishable foods are an extreme example of our paradise tax which makes dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream unusually expensive. Even fresh fruit and veggies are often quite pricey. Not everything grown in Hawaii will be cheaper than those flown in but it is often the case. Eating locally produced food also has the side benefit of supporting local farmers as well as eating fresher, and often healthier (organic), foods.
With all this talk about savings you're probably expecting us to tell you to skip tipping. Quite the opposite actually. We do suggest that you go for counter service restaurants when possible and then tipping isn't an issue at all. Sorry Mr. Sandwich Artist, you're not getting a tip. But if you are dining at a table service restaurant you are expected to tip. We cover this in detail in our Tipping article, which talks about when and when not to tip, but the best way to save on tipping is to avoid a table service restaurant. The bonus here is that counter service restaurants are often much cheaper than table service restaurants overall.
Discounts & Coupons
A great way to save is to look for deals when dining out. If you're in a touristy area like Waikiki on O'ahu (see Waikiki Guide) you can pick up various free newspapers and magazines filled with coupons and discounts. These aren't always true deals but often they have "buy one, get one" meals or a dollar/percentage off your meal style coupons. It's worth looking through when you see them! If you happen to be living in Hawaii and have a valid Hawaii driver's license or state ID you should also ask to see if the restaurant offers a kama'aina discount. You'll also want to read Top 13 Ways To Save Money Living In Hawaii.
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