Everybody wants a "good buy," whether it's based on issues that are important to you, pinching a penny or two or just avoiding buyer's remorse. "Value should be based on a number of factors, not just how cheaply someone can fill up," says Taste of Nova Scotia's Doug Townsend. "In the end, dining out is about indulging your senses, spending quality time with family and friends and walking away with a smile on your face."
"People who are looking for that occasional special event dinner, where they are going to spend $250, should research their options before deciding," says Chris Velden, chef at Ryan Duffy's. "It's just like buying a TV; I think most people would research a television before they go out and spend $250 on one. Dining should be no different."
Visit a restaurant's website for the menu, or use the reader reviews at thecoast.ca.
Try the lunch menu instead of dinner to get some of the same dishes at smaller price points. Or watch for special offers and coupons, or menu events, like the fixed-price menus that are available as a part of the Savour Food & Wine Festival's Dine Around program.
Ask yourself questions
"Consider the overall dining experience," says Townsend. "Is the staff friendly, knowledgeable and attentive? Does the chef source ingredients based on their quality and freshness? Is the restaurant committed to supporting local producers and processors?"
"I have always preached to my team that value will always be gained or perceived through the experience," says Shane Robilliard, general manager at the Five Fishermen. "It is the whole package."
Ask them questions
Don't be shy about asking a few questions if it will truly make up your mind about what you're planning to order. It doesn't have to be a game of 20 Questions, but you can find out what other customers like, or what might make a day's menu special. "Ask 'what do you have fresh today?'" says Costa Elles, of his Opa Greek Taverna restaurants. "By Tuesday at lunch I have a fish feature on the menu because we get a fish delivery on Tuesday morning."
Use common sense
The most expensive dish isn't necessarily the best dish, and the cheapest bottle of wine isn't always the worst. Use your own experience and knowledge to avoid pitfalls like buying wine by the glass or low quality cuts of meat disguised by sauce. If you can share---wine, appetizers, family-style dishes or desserts---do it. The payoff is great.
Trust your gut
Just like fashion dictates you should dress for your body type regardless of trends, cuisine dictates you eat the food you like, not the food that's "cool."
Pay what it's worth to YOU
"Great service and good people, a nice atmosphere and a well-meaning meal is all I really need to feel good about the state of the cheque at the end of the night," says Two If By Sea's Tara MacDonald. "Of course, Chicken Little rules because the ice cream cones are HUGE... so it depends on what you’re after, too!”