Eat well for less at culinary-school restaurants


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Dining out is a delight for any food-lover. But after drinks, appetizers, entrees and dessert, your wallet can feel the strain of your carefree night out for days afterward. If only there was somewhere you could get great food without breaking the bank.

Turns out, there is.

Culinary schools can be found across America, many of them with restaurants staffed by their students. Oftentimes, students are responsible for running all aspects of the restaurant — from front-of-house service to the kitchen — giving them real-world preparation before they graduate. 

Le Cordon Bleu maintains an expansive student restaurant empire, with Technique restaurant locations in 12 cities from Orlando to Chicago to San Francisco. Technique serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at very reasonable prices, as evidenced by the dinnertime three-course prix fixe for $25. With entrees like chicken cordon bleu and lamb porterhouse, you won’t be sacrificing taste for cost.

The venerable Culinary Institute of America has fewer restaurants, with locations in Hyde Park, N.Y.; St. Helena, Calif.; and San Antonio, Texas. Dinner entree prices fall in the $18-to-$30 range at CIA restaurants, which include everything from the award-winning American Bounty restaurant to small cafes. 

Since meals are made by students who are still learning, it’s important to be flexible when dining at a culinary school restaurant. Not everything may be perfect, but you can feel good about the fact that your dining experience is helping these students learn and prepare for the professional world of food.

If you need another reason to check out a culinary school restaurant, consider their no-tipping policies. Le Cordon Bleu includes a 15% service charge on each check, which goes to providing scholarships for students. CIA restaurants tack on a 17% charge, which is used for scholarships, student activities and purchasing graduation jackets. Now that’s money well spent.