California on a Budget: Find a Family Style Restaurant

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We love to eat around here. And we love to eat out. But with six kids and the high cost of living in California, not to mention a middle income, well, ya gotta be creative. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve figured out how to be Dollar Menu-aires and can drive through a fast food joint for our family of 8 for less than $20.

But, we’re trying to cut out the fast food. And while I’m fairly adept at cooking from scratch and freezer cooking, some nights I just want to eat someone else’s cooking.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Find a Family Style Restaurant

Certain types of restaurants lend themselves toward buying several dishes that can be served “family style” at your table. Rather than receive a preportioned serving, when you order family style, the plates come piled high so that each diner can serve himself. There’s less waste this way — provided you order the right things — and everyone can enjoy a little of everything.

Take-out Chinese food is one obvious choice, as is pizza. Pizza places abound, but some are certainly better than others. Here in Southern California we’ve discovered Pat and Oscar’s. It was by accident that we ever went there in the first place. But, we’re so glad we did. It’s not a fancy place by any means. But the food is good, plentiful, and not terribly expensive. We’ve been twice in the past few months, and the kids have enjoyed it immensely. They stuff themselves, and yet there are always leftovers to take home.

One of the greatest things about Pat and Oscar’s menu is the Family Value choices. These are combinations of pizza, breadsticks, salad, ribs and/or chicken. And the portions are very generous. We recently spent $45 (plus a $5 coupon from the Entertainment book) when family was visiting and we fed seven adults and six kids with a few leftovers to take home.

Seriously, this is a great way to eat out on a budget.

Family-style dining is obviously nothing new, nor is it exclusive to Southern California. I bet, no matter your locale, there’s a place in your backyard where you can find good cheap eats to feed a crowd.

How do YOU save money eating out? Do you have this kind of restaurant in your city?

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  1. Love family style restaurants! Our favorite was the Salt Lick in Austin, TX. They served “family style”, which for them also meant “free refills of the best barbecue you’ll ever eat”!

  2. Hi FishMama ~ Where at in So. Cal are you guys living? We’re in Riverside County (Riverside) but we’ve lived in San Bernardino County (Redlands, Highland areas) and we’re always out in Orange County and San Diego for family fun days or short weekend trips! I’d LOVE to give you some of our favorite “less expensive” places to eat out since I’m a lot like you in the “must feed an army for as little as possible”. We’re a family of 6 (Myself, my husband, our 9 yr. old daughter and 20 month old triplets G,B,B who all happen to eat like grown men)! I’m always looking for fun, kid friendly, on a budget places for us to eat that has YUMMY food! ; ) By the way, we haven’t been to Pat and Oscar’s in years and I’m not sure why… We love that place and just never think about it! Thanks for giving me the chance to “rethink” that wonderful place! : )

  3. We also only rarely eat out, and when we do, it is usually on a gift card and with coupons! One of the ways that we can significantly reduce our bill is by simply ordering water to drink and skipping the appetizers and desserts. We are usually too full for more than an entree anyway, and we have decided that we generally prefer the desserts that I make at home over restaurant desserts (ice cream and Olive Garden’s Black Tie Mousse Cake excluded:)). As for the beverages, we usually drink milk, juice, or water at home, so we don’t miss the soda! We also can currently benefit from the “kids under 2 are free” policy held by many buffet restaurants.:)

    One restaurant that we do tend to eat at on an almost regular basis (about once a month) is Chick Fil A. Our Chick Fil A has a weekly “kids eat free” promotion on Tuesdays. Which means that for our current family of 3 we can order a value meal “large” with an additional sandwich and a kid’s meal for the price of just one adult meal and an a la carte sandwich. Chick Fil A is also wonderful about having different promotions for free sandwiches or value meals on a regular basis, which means that we often eat for less than that! They also have a “frequent flyer” card for kid’s meals that makes every 7th kids meal free. You can’t beat that!

  4. we often split entrees. chili’s is one of our favorite places and we can easily split a fajitas for 2 to feed 4 if we all have side salads as well. not only does it save money but it also saves calories.

  5. One option that we really liked before our oldest 2 turned 6 was Soup Plantation. (We would always go there with friends every 3 months after our big freezer cooking day!) Our family of 6 could eat for about $20 with a coupon. I think our meal was about $7.49 each (w/coupon), my 2 five year olds were $1.49 and the 3 and under set is free. (to my best recollection) It’s an all you can eat salad, soup, pizza, pasta type bar. And it includes soft serve for dessert. Unfortunately, when the my oldest 2 turned 6, their price jumped to$5.99 (I think) which makes a difference. Still not a bad deal but not as good. . .

    I have noticed coupons for a family meal for $19.99 Sun-Th. We usually go Saturdays though.

    I’ll have to check out Pat & Oscars. We went once pre-kids and really enjoyed it.

  6. Also, be sure to join pat and oscar’s club. You get coupons emailed every so often and get points towards some free food in the future so every dollar helps! Also, at souplantation you bring back the kids cup and the drink is free so that really helps on the price. My son is 12 and doesn’t want the kids special tray so he uses the regular tray but we still get the discount for him. It is a nice place to go when we have family come into town and they want to take us out so everyone is happy with the choices. We even go to panda express and use the coupon from the receipt for a free third entree. I get one and ask for some extra plates and silverward and my son and I can split one meal which saves some money plus I love Panda Express! One more suggestion, check out the round table pizza lunch buffet and see if it is reasonable in your area for a nice lunch out. They sometimes email coupons and some have a frequent buyer card.

    1. I saw that when I visited the P&O site earlier. Thanks for the tips!

  7. We just did a dinner for dessert night at Costco. $7.36 for five frozen yogurt cups. My youngest two couldn’t finish theirs because it’s so much. Even with a tight budget we can afford that kind of treat!

  8. We miss Pat and Oscar’s so much! If you ever figure out how to duplicate their breadsticks, please share!

  9. Growing up in a family of seven kids, we found Mexican restaurants to be very family-friendly. My parents would order a couple of fajita platters, ask for extra tortillas, and we had all we wanted. And until I became an adult, I thought it was normal to only put two slices of meat in a fajita. =)

  10. I live in So Cal…if you visit here….be sure and hit Whole Foods. On the weekends they offer buy 2 pizzas get one free. Can you believe that’s less than the Costco price for fresh healthy pizza? There’s one if Irvine off Jamboree. We love the pesto and the pepperoni-you can choose white or wheat crust too.