With just a little planning and a few strategies, you can save a pile of money on your vacation meals. Check out these seven practical ideas that will have your wallet saying thank you:
1. Limit/avoid the hotel breakfast buffets.
I’d estimate that the average resort breakfast buffet costs $25 per person. For a couple on a week’s vacation, you could easily rack up a $350 bill (plus gratuity) on breakfast alone. If you extend that cost to a family of four and eek! It’s a treat to enjoy the resort’s breakfast buffet on a limited basis to keep save some cash and calories, too!
Now I’m not suggesting that you skip breakfast, however I recommend that you opt for for more cost effective breakfasts. Consider these alternatives:
- Ask if the hotel restaurant serves an à la carte breakfast menu. You’ll probably save $10 or more per person just by ordering off the menu. For example, instead of paying $25 for the macadamia nut pancakes and bacon that you want off the buffet, order that breakfast option from the menu for less than $15. In many cases, you’d also save money over the buffet option just by getting room service and enjoying breakfast from your lanai. It sounds decadent, but it’s true.
- Many Hawaii resorts have a coffee shop with fruit and pastries. Scope out your resort to see if they have a coffee shop or if there’s a shop nearby.
- Pick up some breakfast items at a local shop or bring them with you from home. We have brought packets of instant oatmeal with us several times. (Note: don’t bring any fresh fruit or vegetables from home, they’re forbidden by agricultural laws. See Be Prepared to Complete the Hawaii Agricultural Declaration Form.)
2. Eating la vida local.
There’s two really simple ways to try Hawaii’s flavors while truly enjoying a slice of local culture.
- Go to a farmers market where you’ll find all kinds of ono grindz (good local food).
- No matter where you travel, the locals know where to find the best food at reasonable prices. So, find the locals’ favorite restaurants and bakeries. See this list of local favorite restaurants across Hawaii.
3. Have a picnic.
There’s plenty of great restaurants around Hawaii that tout sunset ocean views, but you can’t get any better sunset view than having a picnic on one of Hawaii’s golden sand beaches. You’ll pay around $30 or more per entree at the restaurants, but a picnic will cost much less. You can buy a lot of yummy picnic supplies for $30, can’t you?
4. The early tourist catches the restaurant deals.
We almost always try to enjoy a sunset while having dinner in Hawaii. Being from the East Coast, we’re also fairly jet lagged, especially early into our Hawaii vacations. So, we’re normally ready for dinner at 5:30 or 6pm – just as the top restaurants are opening for dinner and right before sunset. We’ve found a number of very good restaurants across Hawaii that offer “sunset dinner menus” (e.g. “early bird menu”) and/or well-priced prix fixe menus. The catch is that you need to be seated by 6pm in most cases, but for us that’s not been an issue. To find these special restaurant deals and/or coupons, look in local newspapers, Hawaiian Airlines magazine, and those free coupon magazines in the baggage claim area of the airports. Here are some examples:
- Roy’s restaurants all across Hawaii offer a great three-course prix fixe menu for $36.
- We found a great three-course sunset menu from Pineapple Grill on Maui for $32.
- Sansei is one of our favorite restaurants on the Big Island, Maui and Oahu. They usually offer some sort special pricing for early or late dining.
- On Kauai, the Hukilau Lanai offers a special multi-course dinner for $28 for food only or $40 with wine pairings.
Many restaurants and bars across Hawaii offer great specials on drinks and appetizers with happy hour deals. (Happy hour is also known as pau hana in Hawaii.) Check HappyHourHawaii.com for a good listing of deals.
5. Take advantage of the grocery stores, coupons and cheap eats.
- Occasionally, you can find good dining coupons at Bank of Hawaii’s Online Marketplace
- Pick up a copy of the local newspaper which advertise dining specials — some with coupons and some without.
- Check Oahu (Honolulu) Groupon Deals that offer both restaurant and tour deals.
- The Hawaii Entertainment Book offers quite a few dining coupons that are predominantly for Oahu. Their Oahu luau coupons are more than worth the price!
- Have a Costco membership? Bring your card for access to Costco on all the four major islands.
- See a few more ideas from this Maui coupons and discounts post.
- For Kauai, see this list of the best Kauai cheap eats.
6. Bring a few snack from home.
It’s helpful to have a stash of your favorite snacks to keep you from paying resort sundries shop prices. I asked our savvy Go Visit Hawaii facebook community for their input on snacks and food that they bring to Hawaii to help save money. See all their suggestions here.
7. Stay where you have kitchen access.
Yesterday, I shared advice on how to save money on Hawaii vacation accommodations, mentioning that staying in a condo or vacation villa is a great way to save money. I’ll add a studio with a kitchenette is a great choice, too. If you have the ability to make a few meals in your accommodation, you can really save compared to continually eating out. This idea makes breakfast time especially cheap and easy for families.
So, those are the seven major strategies we’ve used to save money on our Hawaii vacation dining. What other ideas would you suggest?