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This Month's Tip: Splurge Restaurants, Shel-Style--$15 to $20 per Person

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for July, 2005

This issue was inspired by two recent events: in early June, my wife--who is publishing two younger-reader novels with New York publishing companies next year--went to New York and had lunch with one of her editors. She noticed a memo urging employees to be more frugal on business lunches, and set a ceiling of (gasp!) $80 per person!

Even in New York, I can assure you, it's easy to find great meals for a tiny fraction of that. In fact, I've got an article going up shortly on eating cheaply and well in Manhattan--just sent it to my assistant for posting.

Second, I am writing this on my way back from a later trip to New York, and the train schedule didn't quite work out so I had a layover in New Haven. I walked downtown and had one of the most fabulous meals of my life--for the princely sum of $16.97 before tax and tip.

I could have had a $4 burrito in a divey bar, but I'd had a stressful day and wanted to pamper myself.

And I've noticed that there's often a huge difference in quality between restaurants that charge $5 to $10 per person and those that charge $15-$20--but there's not much quality difference, in my experience, between those in the $20 range and those that charge $50 or more.

So how do you pick a good one? These tricks are certainly not infallible, but they steer me right most of the time.
* Take a look inside. The place I chose this evening was beautiful. Elegant tables made of thick bamboo, exquisite pottery and baskets in niches along the wall, lighting dim enough to be soothing and romantic, but bright enough to avoid frustration. The people dining were animated, and the food looked good--both good signs.
* Study the menu. I look for a mix of familiar and different. I'm an adventurous eater, so I gravitate toward exotic flavors and unusual combinations--but I want some clue about what to expect. I saw a number of good choices in the $8 to $20 range.
* Keep it affordable. As a vegetarian who orders water to drink in restaurants, I tend toward the bottom of the scale. But there are many ways to hold the price down; my e-book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook, tells dozens of methods in its very full chapter on food.

Some of my favorite restaurants in this price range: My wonderful choice tonight, Bentara, New Haven, CT (Malaysian),; Hosteria Romano, a fabulous and super-authentic Italian restaurant complete with loudly singing and drumming waiters, Espanola Way, Miami Beach; India House, whose garlic-glazed vegetables are to die for--actually a bit cheaper than the rest, with many choices in the $12-$15 range, Northampton, MA,; the elegant Uzbek Russian Tea Time in Chicago (around the corner from the Art Institute,, Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian), midtown Manhattan, It's a challenge to pick my favorites among so many memorable meals.

For tons more ideas on frugal dining, see the 40-page chapter, "Palatable Penury," in my e-book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook. 280 pages of powerful frugal fun tips for a mere $8.50.

Return to the Frugal Fun Tips Archives
Preview Shel Horowitz's Penny Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook a 280-page e-book that shows you how to save a big pile of money on travel, dining, entertainment, recreation, and all sorts of other fun.
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