by Toula Nikas
It was my nineteenth birthday when I had my first experience dining out as a university student. All of my friends and I were originally from out of town and didn’t think twice about the restaurant’s location in the heart of Toronto’s business district. It turned out that even the cheapest item on the menu was steep for our student wallets, and the night was dedicated to calculating what our bills would amount to rather than celebrating my ability to legally drink.
Needless to say, we could have saved a lot of trouble had we been a little more savvy.
Having lived in Toronto for almost five years now, I am confident in my ability to choose a restaurant without having to worry about crunching numbers under the table. Here are a few tips when it comes to planning your special dining occasion:
Ask your fellow classmates, residence dons, or TAs for suggestions. Chances are if they’re students, they will also be operating on a budget and thus suggest affordable yet tasty cuisine. To me, nothing beats word-of-mouth suggestions, especially when it comes to food. Often times, the person you ask will also recommend a particular dish they enjoyed, helping you narrow down your choice should you choose to go there.
While visiting my family in San Francisco, I asked a local where I could find delicious yet affordable Mexican cuisine. Without hesitation she said, “Go to Papalote’s and get the chips and salsa, then get the burrito. You will not be disappointed.” And I wasn’t.
Do your research
Though word-of-mouth is a great way to help guide your decision, doing a little bit of research won’t hurt either. Whenever someone suggests a place to eat, I still look it up on my phone to see what the Internet has to say.
However, it’s always important to take the opinions of online sources with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that the people who tend to write online reviews are those who were either ecstatic with or entirely underwhelmed by their experience. It’s important to remember that experiences on both ends of the spectrum are normal at any establishment and that no restaurant is perfect.
Share with friends
One of my best friends and I love celebrating special occasions at Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington in Toronto. We like to save money (and calories!) by splitting a salad, then a pizza and having one glass of wine each. We then ask to split the check right down the middle, resulting in a very affordable night out.
Indulge your sweet tooth somewhere else
Of course, a meal isn’t complete unless you have something sweet at the end, but desserts can be pretty overpriced at restaurants. Consider venturing down the street to your local ice cream store, bringing your friends back home for coffee and cookies or, if you’re me, resort to the emergency Starburst reserve in your purse.