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How To Get The Biggest Bang For Your Buck While Eating Out

Coupons?  Nah.  Okay, maybe every now and then from the ValuPak that comes in the mail.

Groupon? Sometimes, although most restaurants offering Groupons are about to close.  Usually a last ditch effort to bring in customers before doomsday.

Discounted gift cards? Yes, please!  My secret source?  People who do not want gift cards they were given sell them to this company for cash.  Raise then offers the gift cards to the public at a discount.  Their supply changes often.  You can buy them online and they are instantly delivered to your digital wallet to be used immediately.  These days I look for a discounted gift card each time we venture out to dinner.  This normally saves me about 10%, which really adds up.

Happy Hour? Absolutely!

As chefs ourselves, we know the cost of food.  We also know the cost of running a restaurant.  I understand why the prices exist in MOST situations.  Other times, I can clearly see when I’m being hosed.  Although we are chefs and love the finer things in life (eating and drinking), reality has blessed us with four beautiful children….one of which is actually well-behaved (the girl.)  Three boys between the ages of 2 and 8 is beyond challenging when it comes to eating out with distinguishing tastes.

As it stands, we have been relegated to happy hour.  This gloriously dead space between lunch and dinner where restaurant owners and workers are happy to see you, even with a minivan full of kids…

As it stands, we have been relegated to happy hour.  This gloriously dead space between lunch and dinner where restaurant owners and workers are happy to see you, even with a minivan full of kids. This has been one of the happiest discoveries of our culinary careers.  You see, my weekend is your workday.  Monday and Tuesday are the happiest days of the weeks for chefs.  When everyone else is posting sad emojis and saying that they have ‘a case of the Mondays’, we wake up Monday morning and start sizing up the best half-priced cocktails in town.  Granted, our punishment is taking our kids along. 

At 3 pm Monday we hop in the trusty Toyota Sienna (swagger-wagon) and head to the pickup line at school.  This is the start of prime happy hour time.  The great thing is that all places start happy hours at different times, so we know we’ll have multiple options regardless of the traveling time. The range spans 3-7pm.  The kids get sprung from school at 3.30 and it takes us between 5 and 50 minutes to get anywhere in the Phoenix Valley.  We have this down to a science.  For the single folks, reverse happy hour normally starts around 9pm and is a great option to avoid my screaming children.

As we pick up the kids from school, they immediately ask “Where are going?’’  They wait on pins and needles for the response.  After we announce ‘’Happy Hour!’’, we are rewarded with giggles, screams, and woohoos!  I know many parents who don’t like to take their children out to restaurants.  We decided very early on that this was not an option for our family.  We will involve our children in what we enjoy, we will spend quality family time together (although sometimes that is debatable), and we will teach the children about all types of cuisine.  Chances are, if you ask our six-year-old where he wants to go tonight, he will respond with ‘’Fleming’s happy hour.’’  We work hard and by golly, we will play hard. 

The best parts of happy hour are:

1.) we are rewarded with half-priced or discounted food,

2.) other customers are not bothered by our children because it’s during the dead time (3-7pm),

3.) servers and restaurant owners are happy to welcome us to fill the dead time.  I call this a win/win/win! 

The most important part of happy hour to us as chefs is the ability to try many different dishes and a wide range of cocktails.  The simplest of joints to the swankiest, we try them all.  I know every upscale resort across the Phoenix Valley.  We get to bask in their beautiful lounges amid the frosty air conditioning, while the children play and we sip and snack.  You see, hotels and resorts are used to children and can’t shame you for having them.  You’re just another resort guest to them.

One of my favorite new trends is the outdoor playspace for adults and children.  Lively eateries with excellent libations who offer ping pong, Jenga, cornhole, and shuffleboard, all in the hopes of keeping you put for the evening.  The only thing that could be better would be a restaurant that offers babysitting (hmmmm…restaurant number 2 for us?)

These days it is nearly impossible for me to go out and pay full price.  I know that changing our eating schedule saves us a ton of money.  The kids get an after-school treat and we look like the most awesome parents on the planet.

You got everyone packed and ready to go, or you are traveling and everyone is hungry. You need to find a new place to eat and you frantically look online, reading menus. They all look inviting. After a while, they all look the same and you can’t even remember where you started. Learn here how to read through a menu and minimize disappointments…

Here is a list of a few of my favorite happy hour spots in the Phoenix Valley.  Please look in the future for reviews and deals!


We get there early and we secure a spot in the corner of the patio, guaranteeing minimal child disturbance to the normally older, more distinguished crowd.  Sometimes when the patio and bar are full, the staff offers us a private-like dining room to enjoy our happy hour.  We get the incredible audience, impeccable service, and white table cloths all at the happy hour price.  Fleming’s has raised their prices by $1-2 on certain items, but it still feels like a screaming deal.  Fleming’s does change their menu items a few times a year.  Some of my favorites are the beef carpaccio, calamari, Fleming’s burger, burrata, and just about every cocktail on the seasonal list.

The Wigwam Resort (Litchfield Park, AZ)

Great family friendly resort.  Although the Wigwam has the golf, dining, and service of the east side resorts, it differs in that it is clearly welcoming to families and their children.  This resort exudes the spirit of family, hosting character breakfasts, 4th of July activities, and Easter Egg hunts. The stylish western motif really gives you a feel for the history of the resort and the spirit of Arizona.  There are two happy hour options within the resort; 1) Red’s, which I find more geared to après golf/tennis crowd and 2) The bar area outside of Litchfield’s restaurant.  I prefer the bar area because it has seating inside for when it’s unbearably hot and seating outside in a contained courtyard where kids can frolic and play.  On certain nights of the week they even have music and we all join in dancing.  The food is rather good, although the menu doesn’t vary often.  For regulars it may be a bit repetitive.

Fox Restaurant Concepts

In general, Fox has done an incredible job with its offerings.  Sam Fox has built his career on unique concepts and themes to please different types of diners.  From whimsical to healthy to upscale, Fox does a brilliant job in food, design, and entertainment.  All Fox restaurants also put out a pretty decent happy hour menu.  Here’s the absolute best part of Fox Restaurants, there is a gift card available at Costco a few times a year.  For $79.95, you can buy $100 worth of gift cards to be used at any Fox Restaurant.  Couple this with happy hour prices and you are really saving!  When the gift cards become available, my husband and I stock up!  Pay now, save later.

The Yard – (Little Cleo’s, Culinary Dropout)

Two Fox Restaurant Concepts housed in one location.  Culinary Dropout has an amazing outdoor space with plush, upscale couches, recreating the feeling of being in your living room.  Just adjacent to this space is a play area for adults (acceptable for children with adult supervision.)  The food is upscale bar food and the happy hour is quite decent.  They pick a few cocktails to feature.  Their cocktails use fresh ingredients and the bartenders are masters at making cocktailing fun and delicious.  The kids will enjoy the pretzel fondue, grilled cheese sliders, or popcorn custard for dessert.

For my husband and I, Little Cleo’s is the way to go.  Based on fresh seafood with a French brasserie feel to it, it feels like sitting in Paris.  My husband indulges in the absinthe menu and I drink happy hour glasses of champagne for $2.  Yep, $2.  Oysters and shrimp for $1 each.  Two of my favorites off the regular menu are the warm crab in drawn butter and the ‘bacon and eggs’ made with sturgeon bacon.  Yes, fish that tastes like bacon.  Not a great place for kids unless it is happy hour and you sit on the patio.  The dessert menu is small, but amazing.  The English toffee pudding is outrageous.  Eating here also gains you access to the play patio with cornhole, Jenga, shuffleboard, and table tennis.  Something for the adults and the kids.

True Food Kitchen

Also a Fox Restaurant Concept (with multiple locations.)  My favorite location is at the Biltmore Fashion Park.  Plenty of patio space to sit outside with the Littles.  This is the least guilty happy hour in town.  Healthy, organic, and damn tasty.  Drink selections are a bit lacking, but the food is fantastic.  My family always starts with a happy hour Crudités platter.  Seriously, the kids gobble up raw vegetables dipped in sauces.  If I put that in front of them at home they would laugh.  There is something about the ambiance and the fact that the vegetables are presented in a bowl of ice that makes them think this is a huge treat.  I feel that we need to venture here often just for the health of the children…wink, wink.  For pickier kids, they make an amazing wood-fired cheese pizza.

Blanco Tacos + Tequila (Biltmore Fashion Park)

Nice place to get a Mexican fix.  Great little happy with surprisingly good margaritas.  You can easily fill yourself up on happy hour menu items alone, no need to venture to the real menu.

The Cheesecake Factory

Yep, I said it.  I included a chain restaurant.  The Cheesecake Factory has an incredible selection of happy hour items.  This is truly a place where everyone can get something they like.  The ambiance is whimsical and they accept children.  All the money savings allows us to indulge in cheesecake at the end without feeling too guilty.  Maybe they should start a cheesecake happy hour?

Toro Latin Rum Bar (Scottsdale Princess)

The great thing about this restaurant (besides the food) is the location.  It is located on the 18th hole of Scottsdale’s TPC Stadium course.  It has an expansive central bar, a spacious dining room, and a patio with stunning views also used for dining.  The food is incredible.  This is not your normal happy hour.  The flavors are a fusion of Asian and Latin American and it is not to be missed.  Again, this is a resort, so kids are welcomed.  If you go during the holiday months, eating at the restaurant will gain you access to the Christmas lights and activities hosted on the grounds.  The Princess puts on a Christmas like no other resort with ice skating, trains, lights, and a carousel.  Let’s not forget the adult hot chocolate available at the drink stand throughout the North Pole.  Mmmm, clearly Santa thinks I’ve been a good girl!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Janice Shank

    Awesome blog!

  2. Larry Dirksen

    Love what you’re doing. Put me on the list

    1. Kierstin

      Miss you friend!

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