Consumer Reports: Dine out Savings

Americans sure like to eat out! We spend about $1.7 billion in restaurants every day. But dining out doesn't have to break the bank. Consumer Reports has ways to find some of the best restaurant deals.

One of the first things you can do is to go to a restaurant's website to find out about any special offers. Take Chili's. It has a $20 steak dinner special for two. And Bob Evans has an "Endless Farmhouse Lunch" for $6.99. You can also sign up for e-mail alerts and join an e-club to learn about even more deals.

By joining California Pizza Kitchen's e-club, you get $5 toward your next visit. And on Facebook, liking Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants can also lead to dining deals.

Another surefire way to save is to eat when others don't. There's a lot more out there than just an early-bird special. At Applebee's, late-night diners enjoy half-price appetizers. And at Red Lobster you get a discount on some shrimp entres on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Here's another sweet way to save: If it's your birthday, eat at a restaurant that offers free dessert.

Consumer Reports found that you do need to choose where you eat carefully. Its survey of almost 48,000 subscribers gave some popular chains low marks for value among them Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, and Joe's Crab Shack.

Along with value, Consumer Reports subscribers also rated restaurants for food, service, and atmosphere. Among the lowest-rated restaurants overall were Friendly's and Waffle House. Both got low marks for atmosphere and cleanliness.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports' website. Subscribe to