Retirees over the age of 65 bought an average of 193 meals at a restaurant last year up from 171 meals in 2009

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Marie Langworthy, 68, and her husband, Bob, 75, of Columbia, Conn., love to dine out and usually do so at least twice a week, often for dinner or a late lunch.

Marie hates to cook and tries to avoid it at all costs. "My husband prefers anything to my cooking," she says. "The surest way to get your husband to take you out to eat is to be a lousy cook."

"We always spend more than we'd like to or anticipate, because Bob enjoys wine or hard liquor with his meal, and I always opt for dessert," says Marie, a retired school administrator and co-author of Shifting Gears to Your Life and Work After Retirement.

She says they could probably "save a bundle" if they ate more meals at home, but they have no plans to cut back on dining out anytime soon. "First of all, eating out has become a great American social pastime. Secondly, it allows each of us to pick and choose what we want without our needing to plan and prepare meals in advance."

Retirees over the age of 65 bought an average of 193 meals each at restaurants last year up from 171 in 2009, according to the latest data from the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks eating trends. That's slightly less than adults over age 18 who bought an average of 203 meals at restaurants last year, down from 222 meals in 2009.

"In an industry that is suffering, retirees are a bright spot," says Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst. The average restaurant check for a retiree is $8.05, vs. $7.33 for other adults.

Retirees frequent fast-food places 63% of the time; 37% of the time they go to places with waiters and waitresses, he says.

When it comes to spending money on dining out, retirees have to prioritize what matters to them and budget accordingly, says Gary Schatsky, a New York City financial planner and president of ObjectiveAdvice.com. For many people, dining out feels like a mini-vacation, and they really enjoy it, he says.

Some people think having alcohol at their meal is an important part of the experience, but if you don't buy alcohol, you can afford more dinners out, he says. Even not drinking sodas at meals can save a lot of money over time, he says.

Mark Fried, president of TFG Wealth Management in Newtown, Pa., says when he reviews budgets with retirees, they often make dining out a line item. "How much money they have determines where they are going to eat out."

Some want to dine out occasionally, but others say they are "done with cooking forever and want to eat out every night."

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Many retirees are price conscious, and they want the option to order half portions, says Reimund Pitz, chef and owner of Le Coq au Vin restaurant in Orlando. "These folks can't eat like they used to." So Pitz offers half portions at a reduced price.

There are creative ways to eat out frequently without busting the budget. Nelson Cooney 76, of Bethesda, Md., and his wife, Joan, 78, have dinner out two to three times a week, so he searches for discounts on LivingSocial and Groupon, and they sometimes go to happy hours at restaurants where the wine is less expensive and the bar food can serve as their dinner.

"I don't like to overspend when I don't have to. We only use them (discount coupons) to go to places we want to go to. We don't go places we don't care about. We're very selective," says Cooney, a retired trade association executive.

Carol Miller, 74, a retired schoolteacher in Terrell, N.C., likes to order takeout from a cafe in town and bring it home "to sit in my recliner and eat."

She spends about $12 or so on a takeout dinner, which lasts her two or three meals. It's very economical and tastes great, she says. "I could never replicate their food."

She also goes out to dinner regularly with several different groups of women, including some from her church, retired teachers and old friends. "For women my age, going out to eat is a sort of tribal thing that women do, and generally it's with people you love, so you can talk to them and complain to them.

"Sometimes I think, 'I just ate out yesterday,' but I go ahead and go again. I don't like to cook. It doesn't interest me."

Her husband did the cooking for their family, but he passed away three years ago. Eating out is a good "way for retired people to reconnect," Miller says. "You could very easily stay in your house and cook a grilled cheese or a TV dinner. You could become a hermit if you don't watch out."

Marie Langworthy says sometimes she and her husband go out for the early bird specials to save money, but they often pay the full freight. She loves eating outdoors in the summer at casual "shack-like" restaurants with high-quality food. "I also love to try different high-end restaurants, and would travel anywhere, any distance for a good meal and a new ambient experience."

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