Food is a big part of my life (and this blog). Eating at home, eating out, eating in general, I just love it. It just fills me with so much joy and pleasure. London is expensive, however, I didn’t want that to get in my way of experiencing and living in this city as best as I possibly can. With a few tricks I’ve learnt over the years, I have been able to have great foodie experiences in the most delicious way I can while living to a set budget every month.
Below, I have shared 12 of my best tips for eating in London on a budget. Not just eating, but eating WELL!
Have you heard of an app called ToGoodToGo? ToGoodToGo gathers leftover food from different establishments around London and sells it through their app at a knockdown price. The words ‘leftovers’ doesn’t sound too appealing I know but what they mean by that is when places have made too many sandwiches or boxes of sushi or baked too many doughnuts that can’t be eaten the next day, they give them away at a discounted price so they don’t go to waste. All you have to do is download the app and be ready to collect from the store when things become available. Isn’t that a great concept? You’ll be helping your wallet and also doing your bit for the food waste and the environment.
If you haven’t heard of Approved Food before they are an online supermarket that only sells products that are near or past their best before date at a knockdown price. Yes, that sounds bizarre and who on earth is going to want to buy them but every year in the UK over 7 million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away, a lot of which has past its ‘best before’ date, but is still perfectly good to eat. Another great concept that could potentially save you money off your weekly shop.
3. Take advantage of set menu’s, vouchers and offers & promo codes
Eating out can get expensive but there are a few tricks you can use to dine out a bit cheaper…
Early bird menu’s – Many restaurants in London offer a cheaper version of their menu if you can get there a bit earlier or eat later. When I say earlier/later, that’s usually anytime between 5 – 6:30 pm or 9:pm -10:30 pm.
Pre-theatre menu’s – This is where a restaurant offers a set menu (usually 2 or 3 courses) for a cheaper price than if you bought from their regular menu. Remember, you don’t have to be going to the theatre to take advantage of the pre-theatre menu.
Offer websites – Always have a look at websites like TimeOut, OpenTable or Bookatable. These websites usually have offers and set menus at a reduced price which are exclusive when you book through them on their website
4. Find London’s best budget eats
It’s important to know that London is notoriously expensive and therefore most things classed as a London ‘cheap eats’ on the internet might not seem cheap to you if you’re from another part of the UK or another part of the world but they are cheap to us Londoners. Find some of London’s best cheap eats here.
5. Discover what type of eater you are
This sounds like an odd one but trust me on it. Finding out what type of eater you are will really save you money.
1. If you stay in a lot – Plan your meals for the week. You can afford to buy fresh fruit & veg because you know you will use it. Try and buy ingredients that can be used in multiple recipes to save money & food waste.
2. If you’re out a lot – Don’t do a bulk shop of fresh things because it’ll just go to waste. You should buy food adhoc for that day only.
3. If your schedule is all over the place and you don’t know if you’ll be home or not – Batch cooking is the way forward for you. Spend a Sunday afternoon making chilli or risotto or a spaghetti bolognese then whack them in the freezer. Every day you know you’re going to be in, pull one out to defrost. That way you don’t waste food and have good hearty meals fast!
6. Plan and budget
If you have figured out that you are a type 1 or type 3 eater the next step is to PLAN! This may sound like an obvious suggestion but you have no idea how much planning your week of eating will save you money. Think of your meals, make a list of what you need and stick to it. By doing this it means you won’t be spending a random £5 in the local supermarket on random crap that adds up at the end of the month. (I’m so guilty of that!)
First Table seems too good to be true, but it’s not! The idea is you book the ‘first table’ of the night and you get 50% off your food bill. It costs £5 for the privilege of signing up, but what’s a fiver when you could potentially save a lot of money. There are so many good restaurants available too and the process is very simple.
8. Ask for a doggy bag!
Asking to box up your leftovers isn’t really a thing in the UK. As a society, we tend to get really embarrassed and very politely thank the waiter while he bins half of the pizza we didn’t eat when we know we could have had it for lunch tomorrow with a bit of salad. Moral of the story is don’t be so proud and next time you have leftovers ask to take them away. It could save you a meal the next day!
9. Seek out VALUE & research
I think this a really important tip for everyone – do your research & make sure you spend your money wisely! One can assume that chain restaurants or fast food establishments are cheaper to eat in but that’s not always the case. I always use the example of somewhere like Pizza Express (which I do love by the way) where a pizza or salad will set you back £10-£15. Instead, you can go somewhere like Homeslice which is a really cool independent pizza place in London and you can get a giant 20-inch pizza for £20 that will feed 2-3 people. Another example would be breakfast at Duck & Waffle; one of London’s most desired breakfast spots due to its views over the city. You can book at Duck & Waffle and have a very extravagant and expensive breakfast … or you can just go for eggs on toast and a cuppa tea which will set you back about £10-12. It’s HOW you order that’s the most important thing and remember if you’re going to spend your money spend it wisely!
If you like to eat out at chain restaurants like Pizza Express, Zizzi’s and Bella Italia, Taste Card is for you. For £5 a month, the card entitled you to 241 meals or 50% off your bill at many restaurants. In just the one meal you will have gained your £5 back and saved money off your meal. Note: You’d have to use the Taste Card at least once a month or multiple times every few months I’d say to get value from it. T’s & C’s apply for what days of the week you can use it and how many can be in your party. See here for my details.
MealPal is a subscription-based service that gives you access to takeaway lunch at some great restaurants for less than £5 per meal. You find your restaurant, choose your meal, reserve it, then skip the queue to pick it up. They offer two kinds of subscriptions:
- Lunch a Lot: Up to 20 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.39 per meal
- Lunch a Bunch: Up to 12 meals per 30-day cycle, £4.79 per meal
If you take your own lunch to work (which I highly recommend you do) this won’t help you save money. However, if you buy lunch out a lot (which on average is £5-10 for London) this will be great for you.
12. Invest in Recipe boxes
Read this one carefully because there are some T’s & C’s! Recipe boxes from companies such as Hello Fresh and Gousto are great BUT they will only help you save money if you fall in either of these two categories.
1. You cook as a single person – Recipe boxes aren’t typically made for one person, so my tip would be to order a regular box for two people, cook the meals and have them over two nights. That means if a box comes with 3 meals for 2 people, you can have 6 meals for 1 person! Hurray! Don’t worry, if you’re worried about the ingredients going out of date, another trick would be to cook the whole box of meals and freeze them for later on in the week. Cheap & convenient!
2. You eat at home a lot – Recipe boxes aren’t going to work for you if you eat out a lot or aren’t home most nights. If you tend to be at home most evenings they can be a great way of eating healthy, having controlled portions & best of all they are a great way to stop you from heading at the local shop on the way home from work and spending £10 a night on random ingredients that will sit in the back of the fridge for weeks!
A mystery dining guest is someone who is ‘employed’ to eat out and give feedback about their visit usually via an online report. Sometimes they even pay you for the ‘work’ you’ve done as well as your free meal. You can apply to do so via a website such as Mystery Dining and Market Force. T’s and C’s apply!
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