How to save on going out for meals and shows

From a trip to the cinema, pub or restaurant to a family day out, there are lots of ways to cut costs

Going out doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Whether you fancy the cinema, theatre, a meal, a few drinks at the pub or are planning a day out with the family, there is usually a way to enjoy it without having to break the bank. Here are some of the best ways to save.

Loyalty and discount cards

Loyalty card points can be a useful way of getting a discount if you regularly shop at certain stores. Tesco Clubcard members, for example, can turn points (one point for every pound spent in store and online) into vouchers to use at restaurants and the cinema, and it is often better value than spending them at the supermarket. It has partnered with chains including Bella Italia, Zizzi, Café Rouge and Pizza Express, where 50p worth of vouchers gives £1.50 towards your meal (although watch out for location and date exclusions).

Shoppers can also trade in Clubcard points for days out at theme parks, museums and other attractions.

Clubcard branding is seen inside a branch of a Tesco Extra supermarket in London
Tesco Clubcard holders can turn points (one point for every pound spent in store and online) into vouchers to use at restaurants and the cinema. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

If you like eating out, it’s worth looking at whether the restaurant discount card Tastecard could save you money. It offers two-for-one meals, or 50% off food, at thousands of UK restaurants. At the moment it is offering a 60-day free trial (you can cancel at any time) but this then renews into a plan costing £47.88 a year (£3.99 a month). So don’t forget to cancel the subscription if you don’t want to be charged when the free trial ends.

If you are thinking about something you can do with the family, consider the Kids Pass scheme. Try it for £1 for 30 days, and time it for the school summer holidays. You will get “kids eat free” deals and discounts for adults at a range of restaurants, as well as offers on attractions.

Thrill-seekers ride the Land of the Dragons ride at Chessington World of Adventures Resort in Chessington, Greater London on July 4, 2020
Shoppers can also trade in Tesco Clubcard points for days out at theme parks, museums and other attractions. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

There are also apps specifically tailored towards getting free drinks, including Dusk, which operates in London, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool.

Download the app, link your card and earn points when you spend money at partner bars.

The points can be traded in for free drinks and other discounts at bars and pubs.

Check your contracts

If you have a mobile phone contract, it is likely you will be eligible for some freebies.

Depending on the network, you might be able to get free or discounted cinema tickets.

For example, O2 offers customers one free Odeon adult cinema ticket each week on a Sunday or Monday, while many Vodafone mobile customers can get two Vue adult tickets for £7.

Download your network’s rewards app to check what you are entitled to. Naturally, watch out for exclusions.

You may also get perks when you buy insurance. For example, Comparethemarket’s Meerkat Movies scheme gives customers two-for-one cinema tickets on a Tuesday or Wednesday for a year if you buy a qualifying product after comparing prices through the site.

People in a cinema
Some mobile phone networks offer free or discounted cinema tickets to its customers. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Other freebies are available depending on which company you have signed up with. For example, you can often get free alcoholic or hot drinks from various companies with the O2 perks app.

Get more from your ticket

If you have already bought a ticket for something, check whether you can get discounts at nearby restaurants and bars.

For example, theatregoers who bought West End tickets through can access restaurant and cafe deals, as well as 50% off at certain car parks.

Sign up

If you sign up to newsletters for your favourite restaurant and pub chains, chances are you will occasionally be sent a freebie – particularly around your birthday.

You might want to open a new email address especially for this to avoid your main account getting spammed.

Some theatres run ticket lotteries and similar schemes for popular shows, so if you are able to leave your plans to chance, that could be a good option.

One of London’s priciest shows, the award-winning Cabaret, runs a £25 ticket lottery, while the London production of Hamilton has a £10 one (both via the TodayTix app).

Ticketmaster has a special deals page where you can find its latest offers, and it runs flash sales throughout the year.

If you have an account with the website, you should get an email when there is a sale on.

Look out for free events in your local area, for example, free film screenings or gigs, by signing up to the mailing list for venues in your neighbourhood.

Time it right

You can often save money by either booking in advance or at the last minute.

You will often get your pick of the cheapest tickets if you are one of the first to book. Many gigs and club nights offer staged ticket releases, with cheaper “early bird” deals.

But you can also have a spontaneous night out by booking on the day. Dynamic pricing means prices on the ticket websites will sometimes drop at the last minute.

Many theatres offer cheap day seats, so if you have the time, you can head to the theatre on the morning of the show to try to get your hands on some.

Remember, however, that you might have to queue for a while, and you are not guaranteed a seat.

If you can be flexible about when you go, choosing a less popular time might allow you to get cheaper deals. Midweek and early evening are often quieter times, so there might be deals then.

Set lunches, or fixed menus, can be a cheaper way to try top-end restaurants at a lower price.

Food at a restaurant
Try set lunches at top-end restaurants because they can be cheaper. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Use concessions

Make sure you are using any concessions or discounts you are entitled to. If you are older, on a low salary, disabled, a student or an NHS or emergency services worker, you might be able to get money off.

Many venues have young people schemes, offering much cheaper access, typically for people aged about 25 and under.

If you have children, keep an eye out for special offers – particularly during the school holidays. For example, many London theatres are giving out a free child ticket with every full-price adult ticket this summer. It’s called Kids Week but runs for the whole of August.

If you work for the NHS, emergency services, social care sector or armed forces, a Blue Light Card can get you discounts at lots of venues.


Jess Clark

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How to save on car hire – and avoid getting ripped off
From just saying ‘no’ to the hard sell, to taking photographic evidence of every possible scratch or blemish

Miles Brignall

28, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
How to save money on pet care as the cost of living rises
You could spend £30,000 over a dog’s lifetime, £24,000 for a cat

Sandra Haurant

10, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘I owe £600 and can’t get a mortgage due to my mother’s fraud’
Victim says his credit rating has been ruined and he is unable to get a mortgage

Miles Brignall

06, Jul, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Travel money: how to get the best deals on cash, cards, mobiles and more
As the summer holiday season nears, we look at ways to get more bang for your buck abroad

Rupert Jones

09, May, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Mobile deals: how to buy a smartphone for less
They are essential tools but can be expensive. From trade-ins to refurb there are ways to get a better deal

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

27, Jun, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
How to save money on buying books – or get them for free
From using your local library and supporting independent bookshops, to borrowing virtually

Donna Ferguson

31, Jan, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
How to save money when you buy video games and consoles
Consider getting physical products, head for sales and beware dodgy resale sites

Keza MacDonald

24, Jul, 2022 @3:05 PM

Article image
How to get a good deal on travel insurance
The lowdown on how much cover you need, global health insurance card and Covid-19 factors

Jenn Selby

04, Apr, 2022 @6:44 AM

Article image
Car insurance: how to get the right policy at the best price
It’s worth planning ahead when you renew. Here’s how to make sure you cut cost of your premiums

Harriet Meyer

07, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
How to book a holiday during the Covid pandemic
Read the small print, particularly about cancellations

Helen Dewdney

17, Jan, 2022 @7:00 AM