New Yorker Alexa Matthews eats for a living.
In January of 2014, Matthews started EatingNYC, an Instagram account and blog dedicated to documenting her decadent meals at the hottest Manhattan eateries. But social media is full of accounts dedicated to food, and it takes edge and ingenuity to stand out.
Luckily, Matthews was able to bring something extra to EatingNYC: food photography skills and the restaurant industry knowledge she gained as a former lifestyle writer for Guest of a Guest, and social media savvy from doing marketing for hospitality brands. The account quickly took off. Only two years after EatingNYC launched, Matthews quit her day job to run the social media account and blog full-time.
"I was scared at first, but I've never looked back. Now I can create my own schedule, take on new opportunities and try out new business ventures," says Matthews.
With about 324,000 Instagram followers and past partnership deals with Kellogg's, Oreo, Stella Artois, and Whole Foods, among others, Matthews has become one of the most powerful food influencers in New York, according to CNN. She's even created her own line of food-themed apparel.
Grow spoke with the EatingNYC founder about how and what to order when you're dining out on a budget. Matthews also shared one of her favorite recipes for transforming store-bought cauliflower gnocchi into Cacio e Pepe. A popular offering at New York City restaurants, a plate of it can set you back $19. Her homemade low-carb version costs just $2.70 per person.
Matthews, whose top 10 NYC food picks were the subject of a full-page 2016 Zagat article, says there are a few ways to maximize the return on your restaurant investment.
Alcohol is massively marked up at restaurants, says Matthews: "Drinking with a meal is a huge waste of money if you're on a budget. Spending $12 to $24 on a cocktail or a glass of wine, that's the price of an entree!"
If you can't warm up to the idea of a sober dinner, order a bottle of wine or a pitcher of beer or sangria instead of individual drinks to save you a little more money.
Matthews says to be on guard against specials and certain notoriously overpriced entrees. "People don't know this, but in some restaurants, a special dish might include an ingredient that was left over from another dish," says Matthews.
If you're ordering a special and paying a premium for it, the EatingNYC founder recommends getting one that includes seasonal fresh ingredients. If you're not sure, you can always ask the chef.
You should also look closely at the price of standard main courses, says Matthews. "Overpriced entrees like chicken or a piece of fish — that could cost a fraction of the price at a supermarket [and] would probably be as good if I made it myself!"
If you want to make sure you're getting your money's worth, ask about the quality of the meat and where it was sourced. The same goes for steak, Matthews says. You should only be paying more for meat if the quality is superior, like Wagyu beef, for example.
When you're out to eat, go for something different, Matthews recommends. Don't get something you know you could make at home or get somewhere else for less.
If you want to get the best bang for your buck, "be aware of what you can take home," Matthews says. Look for a dish you can "transform into tomorrow's lunch." If you're choosing between a chicken or pasta dish, and you know you won't finish the chicken and you'll be able to eat it the next day, get that. You can transform your leftovers into a salad or a wrap, and get a second meal out of it, Matthews says.
Another way to decrease your tab is to order family style. "I'm a big fan of sharing. It's fun and gives you the opportunity to try more things, and it's less expensive," Matthews says.