If you're a foodie, you know how hard it is to stay frugal. And while dining out is often a treat for your taste buds — not so much for your wallet.
However, a few times a year (usually in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer), cities and towns across America offer consumers the opportunity to dine out for less, during what is often dubbed "Restaurant Week." The promotion typically offers patrons at participating eateries a three-course, prix fixe menu ranging from $22 to $44, depending on locale. In New York, for example, it's three courses at $29 for lunch and $42 for dinner.
But don't get distracted by all those divine looking dishes at seemingly deep discounts. Restaurant Week is sometimes criticized for limited menu options, sub-par entrees and skimpy service.
With Restaurant Week underway in cities like New York City, Chicago and Savannah, Georgia — and quickly approaching in other locations — it can be hard to figure out which participating businesses are actually offering a good deal.
Here's how to approach Restaurant Week, so you get the most for your money.
Compare the Restaurant Week menu to the general menu
The first step to hacking Restaurant Week? Doing your homework. Instead of following wherever your taste buds take you, spend some time looking at menus online.
Do a side-by-side comparison of the Restaurant Week prix fixe with what the eatery typically offers, food writer Sarah Zorn tells CNBC Make It.
"Ideally, the menu should be almost exactly the same," says Zorn, author of "Brooklyn Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes From Coney Island to Brooklyn Heights."