Eating out is a fun treat everyone loves to enjoy. It’s a time to taste what you can’t (or don’t want to) cook at home while someone else cleans up the mess. It’s a way to try new things, to get a gourmet meal, and to enjoy the company of others. The cost of eating out however, is easily four times the cost of cooking the same dishes at home – or more!
By being better aware of what ingredients actually cost out of the grocery store and understanding restaurant menu items that tend to be overpriced, you can work to cut your bill each time you eat out. Rather than ordering these items (yes, even when it’s a treat), you can opt to cook them at home.
The next time you eat out, remember to avoid these overpriced menu items:
1. After-dinner drinks
The same goes for fancy cocktails – both are way overpriced. While it might sound fun to get a fruity drink in a fancy cup, it’ll also cost you. Restaurants jack up these fees in order to turn a swift profit. Instead, wait for ongoing specials, or avoid the alcohol until you’re home, or can make it to a budget-friendly bar.
Chances are, it’s not really costing $6+ to prepare a single slice of cake. In fact, many restaurants even buy huge cakes at Costco in order to resell them by the slice for over five times the original cost. Yet these menu items are constantly being marked at top dollar.
If you have a sweet tooth, look for places that combine all-in-one dinner packages and bring dessert along with your (reasonably-priced) dinner. Then again, you can always pick up a package of cookies on the way home. It’ll only cost you a few bucks and last more than a single night.
3. Side salads
When switching out a salad for a side, you’re generally charged an extra fee. But when ordering on its own, the salad price goes WAY up. If you prefer both sides (your “general” choice plus a salad), try ordering fries – or whatever else – as an add-on. This is a way to save some serious cash, but without sacrificing your veggies.
Coming with less food and just as much of the fees, appetizers are one of the highest-priced items on the menu (when comparing bang for your buck). Consider heading to the restaurant before you’re starving and immediately need food, or choose locations that offer rolls, peanuts, etc. while waiting. Keep in mind that you’ll be able to order a bit less, or have a bit more to eat for a second meal this way!
5. Kids’ meals
Even though they’re getting less food, kid meals can be seriously overpriced, especially for places that serve out-of-the box mac and cheese. If it’s homemade and made of high quality ingredients, that’s one thing. But often times these kids’ menus consist of PB&Js, frozen chicken nuggets, cheap spaghetti made with canned tomato sauce. For meals that cost about $1 to make, these kids’ menu prices are just too high! Even worse, there’s usually an age limit on who can order. Why? So light eaters who prefer to order these smaller, cheaper kids’ items are forced to pay for adult entrees!
It may be tasty, but more often than not, it’s difficult to find a good cut. At least as good as you think it should be for the price. Beef (or really, all meat) can be tricky, so even the “good” stuff has a tendency to disappoint. Not to mention there’s a high chance at your beef being cooked “wrong,” meaning you could spend a pretty penny on a meal you don’t even enjoy. How many times have you asked for a medium-rare steak and gotten a bloody or overcooked steak?
If you’ve ever added cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms, bacon, etc. to an order, you know they come at a per-item price. Considering how much you actually get, however, the fees are hardly worth it. It’s more worth it to find a menu item with almost everything you like as these are priced as is. Each menu item you add is also an extra customization fee, as the chef has to create a somewhat new dish just for you.
Even when you live near the coast, seafood can be expensive. Likely due to the prep/storage involved, not the prices itself. You can save handsomely by cooking fish of all kinds at home instead. And for the freshest stuff around, head to the local markets vs. a grocery store. Even if it’s a couple bucks more, it’s well under a third what you’d pay at any seafood restaurant.
Soda and lemonade often cost close to $2 each, without free refills. Considering they cost the restaurant mere cents to make and serve, you’re getting an incredible mark-up each time you order. Just think about it. A two-liter jug is about $1.50 ($1 when it’s on sale). Restaurants make their soda themselves with bulk syrup, so they pay even less. That means the restaurant is marking up your sodas by up to eight times!
10. Half orders
It might be labeled “half,” but the price certainly doesn’t reflect its name. Light eaters should consider taking their leftovers home, or sharing with another at the table. That way you can save by opting for the larger, but better valued, meal. Especially with dishes that will keep!
11. Full-meal salads
Restaurants tend to keep meals within a similar price point. While this might make sense for variety’s sake, it simply doesn’t translate. A plate of lettuce simply doesn’t cost as much as a plate of meat. Yet the meals’ prices are oddly similar.
12. Trendy ingredients
For whatever reason, there are certain foods that become trendy every few years. (In recent times, look at kale, avocado, and quinoa.) They also act as an excuse for restaurant owners to jack up prices. Be on the lookout for trends, especially when comparing meal prices.
Lastly, get to know your grocery prices and you’ll understand how much your meal item reallycost. And get to know your local happy hour prices and take advantage of those deals so you can enjoy a nice meal/drink outside while paying much less! Or even better, have regular potlucks where everyone cooks one dish or brings drinks over. Everyone will get to enjoy a wide array of dishes without paying a hefty bill.