When eating out, what do you look for? Cost, cleanliness, healthy food options? I’m still shocked by the price markup at restaurants, which is why I started thinking about other reasons to eat at home over going out. You can save money, ensure your table is clean, keep your calories in check, and do all this in less time than it takes to go to a restaurant.
Last night, I dropped $90 on about $15 worth of food. Why? Because I went to a restaurant! Going to a restaurant sounds innocent enough, but getting into this habit can kill your bank account!
Many independent restaurants aim for a 300% markup or four times the cost of raw ingredients! The Wall Street Journal even found tuna dishes being marked up 900%! In other words, I could eat four meals at home for the price one at a restaurant. You’ll often see pasta dishes for $14. I could make a giant pasta dish for easily <$1 using smart grocery shopping tricks.
And those prices don’t include the tip! I’m not against tipping well, but I’m a pretty easy customer. Having a waiter sit down a few plates and refill my water glass once means my tip of $16 for the meal last night was a pretty darn good hourly rate. Last night, the waiter interacted with our table for about three minutes total. If a person worked just four hours a day, five days a week at that rate, they would earn $332,800 in one year.
Okay, restaurants are expensive. Every knows that. It’s what you pay for sitting down and getting your choice of food sat in front of you. But there are some other things — things more important than money — to consider before making (or keeping) restaurant hopping a habit.
Cleanliness of the Restaurant
It bothers me something fierce when a restaurant isn’t clean. Sliding into a booth and finding bits of food waiting there for me is terrible. This always seems to happen to me. Oh, and I never get ice in my water — for sanitary reasons. (But I also despise ice because I don’t like straining my drink with my teeth or using a straw.) Here’s how to tell if your favorite restaurant is clean.
Calories at a Restaurant
Restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets must post calorie counts. That’s great. In my opinion, it’s something that should be considered before tucking into a meal. There’s a Chinese place I used to eat at a lot. I recently found out nearly every entree has 2,000 calories! For me, it’s not worth running for hours just to burn off a plate of sesame chicken.
Unfortunately, many restaurants use cheap calorie-ridden ingredients because making your meal tasty for cheap is the goal. But now that chains have to post calorie counts, they are offering healthier options. No longer can they only focus only on “flavor.” Hopefully the calorie-count law for chains will force independent restaurants to reveal their stats as well.
At home, I like seeing exactly what is adding flavor to my food.
The Time It Takes to Eat at a Restaurant
Is it just me or does going to a restaurant actually take more time than eating at home? By the time you get ready to go, bike/drive there, get a table, order, get served, eat, pay the bill, and journey back home hours have passed. Fast food is garbage, so I don’t really consider it much. Cafe’s can be pretty tasty, healthy, and quick enough. But still, it seems to me that finding a quick meal idea on allrecipes.com and turning on the oven is much faster. Maybe I’m just a homebody?
End of RestauRANT
All through high school, I worked at a local restaurant. It was fantastic! So, yes, I believe restaurants do have their place. They can offer quality food and be fairly affordable. But I cannot see dining out over and over without special occasion: dinner meeting, good news, family in town, Saturday night with friends, on vacation, trying a top-rated restaurant, etc. Eating at a restaurant, for me, will never (never say never?*) become an unconscious habit.
Last night’s meal (including tip) cost more than I usually spend on groceries in a month. But the reason I went downtown for a fine meal was because it was part of last year’s Christmas present to my parents (we’ve been busy!). My parents loved the restaurant, it was super clean, offered healthy options — all indications of a great place. I do not regret the decision one bit. But, seriously, restaurants are ridiculously expensive.
*That’s a Ms. Frizzle quote from “The Magic School Bus,” not a Justin Bieber quote.
Related Article: How I Spend Just $75 per Month on Groceries