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According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans are projected to spend more than $660 billion at restaurants this year. That's a lot of cash. And if you, like many Americans, are spending more of your paycheck on the increased costs of insurance, healthcare, and gas, you may be eager to learn how you can reduce the expense of dining out. We’ve rounded up ten ways to save money when dining at restaurants.

It pays to remember that a restaurant, just like any other business, opens its doors each day with the goal of maximizing its bottom line. The savvy restaurant owner applies a variety of methods to get you to spend more, and there are likely times you are not even aware that it's happening. Generally speaking, it starts when you walk in the door and read a tantalizing description of one or more nightly specials.

Next, you encounter a server who offers you every side dish, extra topping, and expensive alcoholic drink on the menu. Finally, he or she brings a tempting dessert tray display to your table (possibly a dessert drink menu as well), further enticing you to spend more money. It takes a keen eye and a bit of restraint in order to decline the offerings and keep your costs low. But it's this awareness that benefits your bottom line.

Because of higher foodprices, less consumer spending, and a weakened economy, profits are down at many eateries, which means restaurant owners have ramped up their efforts to boost check averages. To spend less, you could eat out less. But dining out is a favorite American pastime, and often a well-deserved respite from daily stresses and duties. Instead, cultivate the right mindset and strategy so you won't have to take that drastic step. Consider these 10 ways you can more easily afford the luxury of eating out - without falling prey to restaurant tactics.

  • 1. Skip the Appetizer

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    The pre-meal snacks offered by most restaurants, such as bread and butter or chips and salsa, should be enough for you. Buying a few appetizers can easily add $30 to your tab at the end of the night - not a small sum.

  • 2. Order Water

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    Drinking water with your meal allows you to save money and enjoy the flavor of your entrée more. Just make sure you specify tap water so the server doesn't bring you expensive bottled water.

  • 3. Skip the Featured Special

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    Featured dinner specials usually sound like a great idea, but they're often expensive. If the special comes with a lot of food, consider splitting it with someone else. Otherwise, just buy a cheaper regular menu item.

  • 4. Watch the Add-Ons

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    Servers are often encouraged to up-sell and push "extras" on customers. Therefore, be careful whenever they ask if you want bleu cheese crumbles on your salad, sour cream on your baked potato, or cheese on your burger. If you bite, you may find your bill to be a lot higher than expected.

  • 5. Get Dessert on the Way Home

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    It's tempting to choose a dessert from the restaurant's display case, but when you compare the cost of such a treat to a gallon of ice cream from the grocery store, you'll see that you can save a bundle by buying your dessert away from the restaurant.

    See all 10 ways to lower your tab at The Daily Meal

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