Financial advisors and columnists from across the web are quick to tell you to avoid eating out if it’s not within your means, but let’s face it, it can get a little bleak prepping money-saving meals day in and day out — which, for the record, we totally support, but everyone needs something to look forward to every now and again.

Many of us maintain some of our most treasured relationships by going out for drinks or trying a new restaurant with a group of friends.

It can be hard to forgo this ritual we’ve come to value so much as social beings, but when you’re on a budget, it can feel like you’re stuck pinching pennies and missing out on some of life’s great pleasures. But we think you should reconsider this line of thinking. Of course, it’s easy to rack up a couple hundred dollars in drinks and cocktails before your steak even shows up, but we’ve got a few tips and tricks on how to make fine dining affordable so you can taste your way through the city without the financial guilt.

The finer things in life shouldn’t be restricted to the highest income brackets, and we all deserve a meal out to experience the true pleasures of great food. Nice restaurants are typically associated with exorbitant price tags — pricy cocktails, and decorative entrée. We’ve assembled some quick tips to make fine dining on a budget both easy and enjoyable. Dive in. We know you’re getting hungry.

Enjoy a Happy Hour Special

There’s no quicker way to drive up a bill than guzzling down drinks at an expensive eatery. Cocktails are the worst culprit, though if they are made with plenty of fresh ingredients and decent alcohol, they can sometimes be worth the splurge.2-ussnemo-drinks

If you must indulge, try going to a restaurant during happy hour. A lot of fine dining establishments offer food and drink specials for happy hour, and ordering a few items from the special menu will allow you to try a couple cocktails and make a meal from a variety of starters and specials, while still keeping your budget well within reason. However, if you’re sitting down to dinner at peak dining hours, you may want to reconsider ordering drinks, and just focus on the main event — food.

 On the other hand, maybe skip the alcohol, especially if you’re out to lunch and would rather keep thing light. If you’re not a big cocktail fan, check out the non-alcoholic drink options or try a seltzer water infused with a bit of fruit for a healthy, but refreshing alternative.

Try Small Plates

Many restaurants serve rather large portions these days. If you’re looking for a reasonably sized bite to eat, look no further than the starters for inspiration. Dining out with a partner? Try ordering a couple small plates from the appetizer menu each, and share. It’s a great way to really check out all that a restaurant has to offer, from seafood to roasted veggies, or maybe even a sushi roll. Fine dining is about taking in all the flavors a restaurant has to offer, savoring each bite and taking it in as an experience. Play food critic here — compare and contrast flavors, discuss your favorite nuances, try a new kind of meat. The small plate option will save you a bit of money, and it’s an interactive way to truly enjoy all the best bites at a new restaurant.  More often than not, you’ll be perfectly satisfied, and both your wallet and waistline will thank you later. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

3-ussnemo-lunch Eating lunch out instead of dinner is one option to defray dining costs. More-expensive restaurants generally offer similar dishes at a lower price point during lunch hours. Changing up the mealtime is the easiest way to bring your fine dining prices down several notches, without sacrificing anything in terms of quality or flavor. Since dinner is in higher demand, and people tend to rush their midday dining experiences, squeezing food into lunch breaks or on-the-go missions that are more about convenience than culinary adventuring — the high-end lunch tends to be offered at a lower price point. We’re not talking fast casual, but it’s still considerably cheaper than a dinner of nearly identical components. Though lunch portions are generally a bit smaller, it’s probably a more reasonable amount of food for one sitting, and you’ll still get to try that signature dish you’ve been dreaming about.

Choose Something Special You Can’t Make at Home

Rather than ordering the lowest priced thing on the menu, get something you haven’t tried before, or that you’ve never been quite able to master in your own kitchen. Ordering a simple pasta dish or a hamburger or sandwich can be tempting for those of us dining out on a budget. If you find that you keep coming back to that item priced well below the other options, you may want to ask yourself why you’re dining out in the first place. Often a dish like spaghetti with red sauce is one of the lower-priced options at a nice restaurant, but keep in mind — you really can make that on your own in less than ten minutes. You don’t have to order the steak or a premium piece of fish, but it’s a better plan to order something the restaurant is known for.

Do know that when you go out to eat, most of the cost you’ll be paying is for the service and the experience of dining out, not necessarily the food itself.4-ussnemo-service

Go Out During the Week

Still looking for a nice evening out on the town? Try dining out after work on a Tuesday night. It’s a great way to break away from the slog of the weekday routine and gives you something to look forward to during the work day. Moving your usual Friday night dinner date to another day of the week means there may be specials you can take advantage of as a way to entice diners on slower nights.

Another plus side to going out on a weeknight is the extra space you’ll enjoy because everyone else is dining at home.

Dining Out in Florida? Make a Reservation at USS Nemo’s

If you’re looking for fine dining on a budget in Florida, look no further than USS Nemo’s, home of the best seafood in the Naples area. We’ve got a lineup of great entrees, like our signature Miso Glazed Sea Bass, appetizers and cocktails for every budget. Whether you opt to split an entrée or try just about everything on the menu from grilled iceberg salads and yuzu shrimp to coconut cream pie & chocolate decadence, we’re happy to have you.