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How to save money on dining out in Vancouver

We just spent two years adapting to pandemic-era dining out. Now diners - and restaurants - are grappling with affordability.
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Still want to dine out in Vancouver but not spend as much? Here are some tips for saving money and still enjoying restaurant meals.

We spent much of the last two years adapting how we experienced restaurants thanks to a pandemic. Now we’re faced with another constraint affecting our dining out: Affordability.

Inflation has caused many a budget to feel a fresh pinch, and for many, the first belt notch to be tightened is the one that finances going out, including dining out.

However, there are still a few great ways to dine out and not have it cost so much. Here are some tips.

Try a service like First Table that cuts your cost when dining earlier

You know the saying “the early bird catches the worm?” Well, that’s pretty much the guiding principle of First Table. Launched in 2019, the restaurant booking service will shave 50 per cent off your food bill when you book the “first table” available, as in if you go when they open - typically at 5 or 5:30 p.m. The deal applies to tables of two to four diners and must be booked via their platform in advance. Participating Vancouver restaurants include Water St Cafe, Nuba (on 3rd), and Cibo Trattoria.

Make it a lunch date

If you are craving a meal out but wince at the prices on the dinner menu, see if you can swing lunch instead. Why? Well, often you get the same, or similar dishes for a lower price, and you might be less tempted to linger over dessert or a second drink. Some Vancouver restaurants also offer terrific lunch deals, and I don’t just mean sushi combos or sandwich-chips-drink situations. My favourite fancy lunch deal is Hawksworth, where you get three courses for $27. French bistros are also a great bet for this kind of meal experience; Jules does a lunchtime “table d’hote” set menu for $33, for example. 

Score sweet take-out deals and minimize waste

Download the app Too Good To Go and you’ll be instantly just a few taps away from getting your hands on discounted restaurant, bakery, and cafe eats and keeping waste out of the green bin. Several Vancouver businesses are signed up and put items, from pizzas and sandwiches to bags of pastries, up for sale for a deeply slashed price on a first-come, first-served basis - via the app, that is. Some put together “Suprise Bags” of whatever is on hand, but you’ll find fantastic local restaurants on there, like Maxine’s Cafe & Bar, Larry’s Market, Flourist, Chickpea, Bel Café, and Marche Mon Pitou - just to name a few. 

Another vote for going early (or late): Happy hour

The most obvious hack for saving money on going out is Happy Hour. And you might immediately think: “But I am at work at 3 p.m. during the week!” But the lovely thing is that several Vancouver establishments also run HH on the weekends, which means if you can make a very late lunch or very early dinner work, then you can access some decent discounts on drinks and bites. Places like H Tasting Lounge, Nightingale, and Homer St. Cafe dish up HH action daily. 

Now, if you can’t swing being at a restaurant in the afternoon, period, you may want to seek out what’s often called “reverse” happy hour. No, that’s not when things are more expensive and make you unhappy - it’s just a funny way of saying “late night” happy hour. Which might also be what it’s called some places. To be candid, Reverse Happy Hours are usually past my bedtime, but I know you’ll find them at most major chains, and some buzzier indie Vancouver spots. Your fate is not sealed with someplace that rhymes with “Schmearls” - for example, Gastown’s most excellent drinks and burgers spot Pourhouse has HH from 3-6 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to “late” (like I said, past my bedtime).