Dining out savings

FRESNO, Calif.

Tod Marks from Consumer Reports said, "One of the first things you can do is to visit a restaurant's website to find out about any special offers."

Take Chili's. It has a $20 dollar steak dinner special for two. And Bob Evans has an "Endless Farmhouse Lunch" for 6.99.

"You can also sign up for e-mail alerts and join an e-club to learn about even more deals," Marks said.

By joining California Pizza Kitchen's E-Club, you get five dollars toward your next visit. And on Facebook, liking Outback Steakhouse and other restaurants can also lead to dining deals.

Consumer Reports found you do need to choose where you eat carefully. Its survey of almost 48 thousand subscribers gave some popular chains low marks for value - among them Hard Rock Cafe, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Joe's Crab Shack, and Hooters.

Marks said, "Now, another surefire way to save is to eat when others don't. There's a lot more out there than just an early-bird special."

At Applebee's, late-night diners enjoy half-price appetizers. And at Red Lobster you get a discount on some shrimp entrées on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Sot: tod marks) Marks said, "Here's another sweet way to save. If it's your birthday, eat at a restaurant that offers free dessert."

"Happy birthday to you!"

Along with value, Consumer Reports' subscribers also rated restaurants for food, service, and atmosphere. Several chains did well, including PF Chang's, Mimi's Cafe and Famous Dave's, although they were docked points for noise.

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