A Thanks For Inexpensive DFW Dining Ideas

Sometimes a fun coffee shop conversation leads to some great tips for saving money on dining in DFW!  Recently, I had a chance to talk with Shawna about some ways to get out and explore more of Dallas while on a budget.  She mentioned an old D Magazine article about several ways to save money while eating out across the region.

It took a while, but here is the article:

 

It has some great ideas about dining in Dallas.  Even though the article is from 2009 it still has some valid suggestions plus it leads to new concepts today.  By combining the suggestions in the older article along with today’s coupon sites and food/restaurant apps (not just a Restaurant.com coupon app), you very well may be able to save money and have a great time exploring Dallas in the process!

Making Use Of Condiments

One thing which often gets overlooked at self-serve eating locations such as coffee shops, grocery store eating areas and small restaurants in the Dallas region is the intelligent use of condiments for various benefits.  Some of these benefits can help the frugal “foodie’ get more for one’s dollar, such as:

  • Needing to add calories to one’s diet to maintain body weight or grow
  • Turning otherwise bland food into something tasty
  • Being able to feel like you have a unique food combination that no one else has in the location
  • Any other number of benefits

 

Here are some of the things you can do with the condiments and other available options when you are in such an establishment:

  • Add oils like olive oil to your “boring” (hopefully inexpensive!) food purchase to boost calories if needed
  • Play with the various spices, salts and sugars available to come up with your unique flavoring depending on what you decided to eat
  • Add other flavorings like vinegar, soy sauce, or whatever else is available
  • Flavor your coffee with things like honey, vanilla, cinnamon or other sweet/spice combinations
  • If you see a particular spice being offered on a different food item then ask to have that added to yours if you think that you might like the flavor combination

Again, these are just little tips to help you get more for your dollar whenever you go out to eat.  Nothing fancy here, but remember that these condiments usually are built into the price of the food for which you are paying; and you are welcome to maximize your value for the money you are spending.

Thanks to a friend for some of these tips and to another for the encouragement to keep this blog going.

Bishop Arts

Some friends in the Bishop Arts area brought to our attention some hidden gems for food.  While there are the obvious high end restaurants, there also are a few low-cost places which have some delicious food as well.

On Davis Avenue there is a nondescript Mexican food place which actually has some great tasting tacos.  About 1/4 mile away there is a sole-operated coffee shop which has some terrific-tasting snacks.  Both places don’t have a ton of publicity, but both deliver some solid food.

We were introduced by friends who have a marketing and advertising design studio in the area to the places mentioned above.  Even some of the high-end restaurants have some delicious choices which aren’t cost-prohibitive.  Check their menus and offers on some of the coupon/daily deal sites, and you well may be able to have some terrific food at favorable prices.

Let us know your thoughts on Bishop Arts food establishments, especially some of the out-of-the way places which have great prices and terrific service.

 

Frugal Ways To Eat Healthy

Longtime strength athlete in the Northeast, Heather, found ways to be a practicing attorney while still eating healthy for various strength and bodybuilding contests.  While most of the eating needed for such contests requires hours of food preparation at home and various ways to cool and heat the needed amount of protein and healthy carbohydrates while at work, she often had to eat healthy while in the intense world of New Jersey legal dealings.

The question is if someone can replicate that type of eating while in high-pressure professional jobs in the Dallas area.  Luckily it is!

Thanks to Richard and Ben, there are some suggestions for relatively inexpensive ways to do this besides cooking for hours each week at home to prepare several healthy meals.  Richard ran several orthodontist practices in the DFW area and Ben runs a non-profit charity plus works in the competitive financial services industry.

Some of the suggestions include having a printed (or on your phone) list of healthy combinations of snacks and meals you can get while around town.  With such a list, a visit to any of the healthy grocery stores can yield a great meal while driving between clients or business locations.  You also can get combinations of healthy snacks which are relatively inexpensive such as making your own combination of preferred nuts, seeds, vegetables, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, protein powders, and other healthy items consumed by elite athletes.  The meals, once you know what you are doing, often are less expensive than those you can buy out in public and usually are better for your health and athletic pursuits.

Of course, talk with your doctor and licensed nutritionist for specific needs you have.  These could range from dealing with allergies, food preparation and washing/cleaning, ways to store and cool/heat food properly, and how to choose food properly when out in public to maximize food safety.

While the suggestion of having a printed list (or on your phone) isn’t very innovative, it is one way to ensure that you have minimal confusion and that you know what is happening with your body as you pursue health and athletic endeavors while maintaining your budget.

Office Park Food Sources

In Collin County you often can find office parks.  These are commercial properties with several buildings that have small offices in them, usually with a wide range of industries.  Some of these complexes have certain tendencies to attract specific kinds of tenants, such as businesses which support industrial production.

One such business is run by a friend whose company offers design services for GPS, GNSS and custom LTE antenna work.  This is tied to the semiconductor industry.  Many of the other offices near his are in similar industries.  Being in close proximity with these kinds of high-focus businesses usually means that everyone in the area spends a good amount of hours in the office including mornings, evenings and weekends.

What does this have to do with food?  It means that those who support these kinds of commercial properties with food often have a few hidden gems inside them!

In this particular area east of 75 in Plano there are convenience stores, restaurants, and of course the wide range of food options near Central Expressway.  Occasionally, however, licensed food trucks come by to support those who just can’t get away from the office.  There are some hidden treasures in these assuming that the prices are fair.  Delivery services also do well when people have to stay in the office and can’t take even a few minutes to go out for something to eat.

All of this competition often leads to price incentives to earn business from high-dollar offices and their employees. If you are looking for bargains in your dining, consider finding those who serve these office complexes.  You often can find coupons, or other incentives, often tailored for people who work in those buildings.  You may be able to find unique offers that are tough to find elsewhere; and you often can try out new places to eat without having to spend a lot of money doing so.

If you have any specific thoughts on this then please let us know.

Impressing Clients While On A Budget

Many small business owners across Dallas Fort Worth have to entertain clients.  This often leads to paying for meals at nice restaurants in order to gain business or keep business.  When steak, fish or other higher-end restaurants come into the equation the costs can make a small business owner hesitant at first.

While it is possible to use coupons or other discounts at the time to pay, it may make a business deal awkward.  Here are a few suggestions to achieve the desired outcome (keeping the client happy and well-fed!) along with keeping an eye on the budget.  Thanks to friends who made the recommendations:

  • Find “hidden treasure” restaurants which do not cost much money but have some terrific food, atmosphere, customer service or other elements which would be favorable to the client.  For example, if you have a business in McKinney then you may find one of these hidden treasure establishments in Celina.  This allows for some drive time to have a business conversation, anticipation of the restaurant, and (if all goes well) the sense of adventure.
  • Use the restaurant guides online to find out when there are specials so that you get a great meal at a decent price
  • Embed your discounts as part of a QR code or code on your phone which you show to your server or cashier
  • The same applies to any “credit card” type of discount service to which you are subscribed
  • If you can get a great price, then pay AHEAD of time and take the client there.  Then just leave telling him/her that the meal is already taken care of

Feel free to leave your thoughts for other suggestions.

 

Packaged Healthy Food

A friend of mine works around concrete and other construction materials all day.  One of his newer services is that he deals with gravel, sand, and saw cut concrete — all of which generate lots of particles and dust in the air all day long.  If he has an open sandwich or other food then he may risk getting some of these particles on his food and ingesting them.

How does he eat healthy, at low cost, and with minimal ingestion of these fine particles of construction material?

One of the ways is by eating food that is packaged but still healthy.  Some of the food he can make on his own and others are store purchased.  Assuming he has coupons or can buy in bulk and save money, here are some suggestions for meeting his objectives (assuming no allergies):

  • buying nuts and seeds in bulk, which can stored in plastic containers that have a small spout or opening for him to eat and quickly close the lid
  • MRP or pre-packaged protein shake meals.  He puts one in a plastic shaker cup, adds water and drinks quickly.  This, obviously, needs to be approved by his medical professional and licensed nutritionist first
  • canned meats like fish or chicken, but he has to be careful due to the risks of canned food and the metals in those containers
  • healthy snacks like dried vegetables and dried fruit that are packaged and can be eaten without risking the particles from entering the packaging
  • homemade foods which can be brought in a cooler with tight lids

In all, he has some flexibility in terms of eating healthy while minimizing particle exposure on his food.  Feel free to add your suggestions for healthy, inexpensive, protected food strategies for lunches and snacks when working outside all day around construction materials.

Borrowing From Minor League Baseball

One of the fun times that most guys have when working in the lower levels of pro baseball (the minor leagues or the independent minor leagues) is the ability to eat enough to survive for a fraction of what their peers spend on food.  For example, a player often reals a “per diem” (aka “meal money”) when traveling.  This translates to $15-$20 per day on average.  Since players want to keep as much of that money as they can for when they come back home, they find ways to eat enough to stay in shape but still keep some of the cash.

Here are some of things that they do:

  • wake up at the hotel which has a complimentary breakfast right before the breakfast is over.  They get as much food as they can and take it back with them to their rooms.  This saves money for one meal
  • if they are smart, they shop at late-night grocery stores after games and bring some sort of cooking devices like a rice steamer, portable grill or other device.  This way they each can spend no more than $5 to have a meal of chicken, rice, vegetables, dessert and a drink because they pooled their money together
  • be nice to fans who, in turn, buy them lunch or a chicken sandwich at the ballpark

This mindset also crosses over the team front office and league office when traveling.  While the Major Leagues may have fancy dinners for its executives when on the road, a former low level minor league commissioner for a Dallas based league – now practicing as an elder law attorney – kept his costs low.  Post-game league meetings may have been held at fast food or late-night pancake places.  There were no major bar tabs or extraordinary steak dinners to celebrate anything.  Post-game celebrations took place at local sports bars, etc.

Yes, even league officials kept it lean when the funds weren’t big.  Surprising to some, but that is life in the minor leagues!

Another Franchise Late Afternoon Coffee Meeting

I had a chance to see my friend Heather yesterday.  She had a major problem with her website and needed my help to “unsnarl the spaghetti” of various things that a previous friend attempted to fix (but didn’t, in reality).  We had to meet late in the afternoon due to our schedules so we needed a place that was convenient, relatively quiet, had WiFi and had some variety in what we wanted to eat.  Plus neither of us wanted to spend a lot of money on this particular meeting as it was more of a brainstorming and fixing things meeting, rather than something celebratory.

The other reason why we wanted quiet and out of the way is that she has a terrific energy and charisma, which tends to attract strangers who just come up and start talking to her.  This, normally, is a good thing because she can talk with just about anyone.  That trait helps in her businesses which is working on hair styles at a women’s and men’s hair salon in McKinney.  The drawback to her gift is that, when she needs to go over more gritty details of business (when out in public) this can be a distraction.

We went with one of the many franchise food locations near McKinney and Fairview, off Central Expressway (highway 75) and near highway 121.  At 4:30 in the afternoon is was quiet, had a full-speed WiFi, and we weren’t pressured into ordering anything big.  We simply ordered tea and coffee and had a one-hour meeting which was productive, fun and will help her… all to the tune of less than four dollars spent!

When people are looking across DFW for cheap places to eat, don’t overlook the franchise locations when you need specific scenarios such as we needed yesterday (quiet, WiFi, able to spread out papers on a table, etc.).  Most of the “frugal” food places in Dallas that you likely will want to try are individually-owned, and you likely will want to go for the experience, unique food combinations, and unique flavors.  Again, keep the mainstream franchise spots in your “back pocket” just in case you need a cheap place to drink or eat when you have specialty needs like we did.

Hope this helps!

Cheaper Coffee Meetings

I have to give credit to my friend Ryan.  We had to go over some ideas to help him with his business’ marketing plan, and we were going to meet later in the afternoon.  Both of us needed some coffee in the area of Frisco & McKinney, but the nearby traditional coffee places were packed with people and the music was loud.  We looked around and chose, of all places, McDonald’s!

To the surprise of both of us, it was clean and the coffee was surprisingly better than we expected…. especially later in the afternoon!  It also was nearly 50% cheaper than the nearby coffee shop.  The WiFi worked fine and the people in there around 3:30 in the afternoon were rather quiet.  Of course, we met in the summer when school wasn’t in session, so if we go back to McDonald’s then we might meet earlier like around 1:30 to 2:30 to minimize the after-school rush.

Having been to other fast food places for coffee during the day, I always found it nearly impossible to have an actual business conversation.  Ryan runs a lead management and marketing automation software company in Dallas, so we have to talk about percentages, conversion rates, technical issues and other topics which are tough to discuss when little kids are screaming and yelling while on the playground area!

For those of you trying to save money for casual times when out needing food or drinks, consider one of your local fast food places during the quiet times.  If you have a coupon on top of it, you just may have a productive meeting, some decent coffee (tough to mess that up!), decent WiFi, and save some money.  You then can save your dining budget for the meals that really matter or test out those restaurants you have always wanted to try when they have specials or have a savings coupon through the Entertainment Guide or a Restaurant.com special.

Discovering Cool Eateries From Those In The DFW Food Business

I was able to learn about some fun places to eat inexpensively in the Allen area from two guys who are involved in the food business.  Who knew?!?  Ha!

They have been involved for years in the meats business.  Both have decades of experience with pork, beef and similar products which were sold in DFW including through markets and specialty meat shops.  They then took their experiences and became a retailer offering specialty ham, bacon and sausage by mail order in recent years.

One day we met to go over some strategies, and we decided to eat.  Knowing their years of experience in the industry I asked for some suggestions.  We went to an out of the way place in Allen which you wouldn’t normally expect, and it wasn’t talked about by the locals very frequently.  Well they should have because the food was terrific!  Most places selling typical American cuisine are either overpriced, have bland (not bad, just boring) food, show poor service or are not the cleanest of places.  Luckily, none of those was the case. Oh… and the portions were a good size because all three of us like to eat!  There’s not much worse in terms of dining experience when it comes to paying a premium for undersized food portions, especially when all three guys are over 200 pounds!

I want to thank them for the suggestions.  Here is one of their videos showing a portion of their mail order meat offerings:

Inexpensive Wake Up Meal In North Dallas

I want to thank my friend Jess for an eye-opening experience when it comes to waking up after feeling groggy.  Of all places, we met at Whole Foods in the North Dallas/Addison area.  She showed me how to wake up without coffee by knowing how to purchase an inexpensive energy drink/smoothie… without any by-products nor any chemicals.

To me, Whole Foods is extremely confusing so it was wonderful to have someone who knows about nutrition guide me through the maze of products.  We were talking about how she knew so much about the topic.  Apart from her longtime passion for the subject, she works for a company that deals in advanced natural nutrition products and her background truly complemented the subject.

We met upstairs in Whole Foods where she was talking with people who wanted to find opportunities to work from home in North Dallas and Addison.  She was fun to talk to from a business perspective because she actually is one of the few people in the direct sales industry who understands REAL business such as display advertising, conversion rates, SEO, and business building instead of “Rah Rah” sessions in someone’s living room!!  Woo hoo!

I want to thank her publicly for introducing me to new subject matters in nutrition as the expansion of alternative health demand by the average citizen causes the opportunity for confusion and being manipulated.  She really knows her stuff…. including how to wake up for cheap in the higher-priced area of North Dallas and Addison.

 

Wendy

I have to thank Wendy to help me better understand the safety concerns when going to any restaurant.  When it comes to restaurant food safety most people know to look out for:

  • signs of unwashed kitchens
  • wait staff that seems to be “dirty”
  • signs outside the back of the restaurant that food is piling up
  • bugs on the floor or walls
  • etc.

What I didn’t know is to watch for something that only is gaining awareness.  When a restaurant changes ownership it often changes the type of food and brand names.  If the previous owners, however, allowed smoking (such as in a bar area) then the smoke very well may still be on the walls and in the ceiling.  This residual smoke can affect air quality and food quality even years later.

She told me this because she runs a Dallas third hand smoke removal company; and she knows the questions to ask before going to a restaurant that she knows had a previous theme/ownership.  Here is a resource she told me about that goes more into third hand smoke and the causes for concern:

She said that this is her “filter” (pun intended!) to determine whether or not to take her kids to a specific restaurant location.  When I asked her if the concern is consistent across a particular chain of restaurants, she said that it really is a case-by-case basis.   Franchise location # 1 may be fine, but its other location in the next town over may be a concern.

With that said she gave me some great locations that have passed the type of thorough cleaning where smoke once was present.  There are specific types of cleaning and chemical/residue removal that can be performed.  Her concern is over the kids and their susceptibility to smoke-related chemicals, even years after the cigarette has been smoked.

I figured that this was worthy of putting on a DFW food related website.  Food safety is paramount when going out to eat, even more than getting a bargain at restaurants in the area.

Larry

I want to give credit to Larry as he pointed out some terrific out of the way places to eat in Lakewood.  There really are some great restaurants and other eating establishments which, if you time it right, don’t cost a lot of money.   Some of the places in the area have happy hours, others offer coupons, and some have last-minute e-mail/social media specials that are two-for-one or other incentives that don’t require the purchase of a Groupon or other daily deal.

He pointed these out to me when I last visited his office.  Since he sells brand name eyeglass frames and contact lenses in Dallas, he gets to meet a lot of brand representatives.  These reps travel all day long so one of the conversation topics he has during discussions between patients is about places to eat.  Not only does he suggest various places, but the reps who come to him also talk about places that they found enjoyable nearby.  He then talks with his patients and they, in turn, share their suggestions for nearby places to eat.

Over time he has accumulated a lot of good suggestions for Lakewood, East Dallas, and the White Rock Lake area.  Many of these are “unknown” to most people in DFW, but they are well-liked by the locals.  As before, the best part is that they aren’t franchise-type places!  This means that they can run their own specials to get people in the door, and you can take advantage of some terrific bargains to eat great food at rock-bottom prices.

Donovan

I have to give thanks to Donovan for his suggestions about inexpensive places to eat in the area of Princeton/Blue Ridge/Lowry Crossing/Melissa.  These towns aren’t normally on most people’s radar screens when it comes to good food, but he found quite a few out-of-the-way places that have awesome taste, great service and terrific prices.  Some of the places are hamburger joint-type restaurants, and others are more family-style cooking.  All of them though made you feel at home, and I got a chance to learn a lot about the area by talking with the locals in each establishment.

I asked him how he found these places.  Since he does a lot of restaurant equipment repair and commercial HVAC repair in McKinney, he gets to travel to lots of restaurants each week.  When talking with the employees as he goes to and from his truck to get parts & tools, he finds out from what part of the area they live.  They often talk about the food service industry, and he finds out about these “golden nugget” places to try out and eat.  He is often shocked out how good the food is versus the price he pays, and he makes recommendations based on the food quality, service of staff and price.  Obviously, he knows his way around a restaurant kitchen area as well so he knows where to stay away from in terms of kitchen cleanliness.

I have to thank him for his suggestions!

JB

I have to give credit to JB.  He gave me some great ideas for out of the way places to eat, which have good food and great prices, in the area of Frisco/McKinney/Prosper/Little Elm.  Most of these places were not on the main roads, but had been there a long time and were trusted by the locals.  When I asked him about how he keeps finding these places he says that it is a result of his customers.

He runs a moving company in Prosper, so he gets to meet people all over Collin County all the time.  When he talks with them, one of the common topics of conversation is food and good places to eat.   Since he has a big family and likes to treat his employees every once in a while, he has to be conscious of the impact to his wallet.  He knows of some great recipes to cook at home and save money, but it is even more impressive that he knows of the inexpensive places to eat which don’t even require a coupon!

Some of the places are BBQ, some are Mexican food and some are good-ol’ down home Southern cooking.  All of his suggestions were great, and the best part is that none were franchises.  Nice!