Happy Friday everyone! The great thing about Friday is that you can start planning what you’ll be making for breakfast on Saturday. A few weeks ago I made some cinnamon rolls Friday night and put them in the fridge, so they could just rise & bake in the morning.

That same weekend, I happened to look at my local town Facebook page. The latest thing in my town is posting receipts from a breakfast diner that recently opened and complaining about the cost. Of course, why these people didn’t look at the prices online before going, I have no idea. Suburban entertainment, I guess.

Amazingly these posts are gathering hundreds of comments – some from people posting copies of their own receipt, others from people complaining about the people who are complaining, and some from people suggesting other restaurants that serve breakfast at more reasonable prices. Internet discussion at its finest!

Many of these people were talking about the cost to make a comparable breakfast at home.  This gave me an idea. “Todd,” I said, “we should totally do a breakfast challenge on the website! It would be really interesting to see the real cost of eating out versus making food at home.” Since this is a subject I’ve tackled before in analyzing the cost of homemade cookies versus storebought, and in homemade pizza vs. pizza kits and takeout, I knew this was a job for CMO – Price Investigator.

Breakfast Challenge – The Menu

So what did I decide to make? For comparison purposes, I made a delicious all-out breakfast. Usually on the weekends breakfast is pretty simple – homemade muffins, pancakes, or waffles. But for this meal I decided to include some extras. All of this is made from scratch.

The menu:

  • Waffles, with real VT maple syrup (purchased on our road trip from Cabot)
  • Fried potato cubes for the kids
  • Potato pancakes for me & my husband
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Bacon
  • Sausage

Breakfast Challenge – Time Breakdown

I made the whole breakfast while my husband was out mowing the lawn. I started when he went outside, and had finished by the time he got back inside. Total time was roughly an hour. Then we spent about 15 minutes eating, and another 10-15 minutes cleaning up. So overall the time to make, eat, and clean up the whole breakfast was roughly 1.5 hours.

In contrast, to drive to the restaurant would have taken about 15 minutes each way. Taking my three boys inside, waiting to be seated, waiting to order the food, waiting for the food to come, eating and leaving would have taken at least an hour. So I estimate the total time to be equal.

Bonus – at home I can do fun things to entertain the toddler, like let him play with the flour. At the restaurant he would have to sit in the high chair for an hour, and wait. If you’re a mom (or dad) you know how well two year olds sit patiently and wait. If you’re not a mom or dad, the correct response is not well at all. 

alex-flour.jpg

Breakfast Challenge – The Cost

Here’s where things get interesting. This breakfast made enough food to feed all five of us, and make us so full we didn’t have lunch until 3 PM. So it was more of a brunch, really.

Total costs, in all their glory:

  • $1.53 – Waffles
  • $1.50 – Real VT maple syrup (purchased on our road trip from Cabot); made 9 waffles
  • $0.50 – Fried potato cubes for the kids
  • $1.45 – Potato pancakes with onion, cheese and chives for me & my husband; made 4 good sized pancakes
  • $0.44 – Scrambled eggs; 4 eggs worth
  • $1.00 – Bacon (nice, thick applewood smoked bacon); four pieces total
  • $1.63 – Sausage; two and a half links
  • $0.75 – Coffee; six tablespoons fresh beans ground and brewed in my French Press
  • $1.33 – Incidentals like butter for cooking, oil for frying, salt, and pepper
  • $0 – Chives from my garden for the potato pancakes

 

chives.jpg

TOTAL COST…drum roll please – $10.16 for five people, or around $2.50 each.

And remember, this is a pricey brunch meal. Normal weekend meals might cost only $3 or so for coffee and waffles.

What would the cost be at the restaurant generating so much conversation in my towns Facebook page?

  • $25.77 – It’s $8.59 for ONE plain waffle, but they’re big. So I’ve assumed one of the restaurants waffles equals three of my homemade ones, which is pretty generous.
  • $5.96 – $1.49 PER ORDER for real VT maple syrup.
  • $17.16 – Scrambled eggs; 4 eggs worth; plus home fries for everyone. Price includes toast, which I didn’t make or I would have exploded, because they don’t have any plain scrambled egg options. No delicious potato pancakes, alas
  • $5.98 – Add on bacon for two people
  • $5.98 – Add on sausage; likely not as big as the homemade
  • $4 – Coffee; your usual diner coffee variety (watery, not so good)

Total of this comparable breakfast – $64.55.

OUCH.

But CMO, you’re thinking, this is a bit crazy. I can’t possibly eat that much food! So comparing it to the restaurant is a bit unfair.

OK, if we just said it’ll be waffles, syrup, and coffee for everyone (well, water for the kids and coffee for the adults), we’re still talking a cost of around $37. The cost to make just that for breakfast would be $3.78 for five people. So you’re paying ten times as much to eat out! It’s no wonder people in my town are complaining about the cost.

Usually, a profitable restaurant spends about 28%-35% of their earnings on the actual food. The other 65-75% goes to labor, overhead, and profit. That’s why eating out is so much more expensive than eating at home.

 So Why Eat Out…Ever?

Don’t get me wrong – I love eating out once in a while. It’s a fun treat, you can get something different than usual, and you don’t have to clean up. My personal favorite food to eat out is food from Asia that I can’t make very well at home – Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine (real Chinese food, not Americanized) come to mind. It’s not that I can’t make these at home, but I eat them rarely and I don’t typically have the ingredients on hand.

Sometimes you just want a break from cooking and the same old food – and that’s OK. Just make sure you’re not literally eating your financial future by choosing eating out over achieving your goals and dreams.

I Want To Hear From You!

What do you think about this difference in cost – do you see similar things in the restaurants in your town? Do you like to eat at home? Did this post make you hungry? Or do you just think it’s silly that a town page with 18,000 people on it complain about the high cost of eating out? Let me know in the comments!

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23 thoughts on “Feeling Ripped Off At The Restaurant? CMO Investigates

  1. And, even better, is that you have leftovers for other meals since you didn’t eat up all the stuff that you purchased. It’s almost always going to be cheaper when you can do it yourself versus outsourcing. Labor is the number one cause to drive up prices since people have to be paid for their services.

    I like the rundown. We typically make most of our meals at home and eat out 1-3x a month. People are going to always seem to find something to complain about as well in my opinion.

    1. You’re so right on the leftovers! I can make the same meal again, or something completely different using the same ingredients. Although it’s almost always cheaper to eat in vs eat out, I do think there are some better deals out there. Those are my favorites! We eat out once a month, or less, nowadays-with three boys (including a teen!) it’s just too expensive.

  2. We treat ourselves to a nice dinner out on the occasional date night. I realized my toddler doesn’t give a you-know-what if he eats food at a restaurant, at home, or from the floor, so we eat at home more often since he arrived.

    One reason we do think it’s important to take him out sometimes is for socialization purposes. Among other manners, he needs to learn there is no dog to pick up his food from the floor when eating a restaurant šŸ™‚

    For the adults, our go to dinner out is sushi. Like you said, something that is difficult (or maybe dangerous) to make at home.

    Great post!
    Dr. C

    1. I’m with you, sushi (and other Japanese food) is hard for me to make at home, so it’s one of those meals I’d rather go out for. We only go to a Japanese restaurant once a year or so, though-I’m the only one that likes sushi, and my kids aren’t that fond of the other food. We keep trying though!

  3. I love making food at home–especially when I’m able to recreate something delicious I’ve eaten before in a restaurant (like sushi, etc.). We occasionally eat out when I’m completely wiped out and have no energy to cook. But honestly, I’d much rather just make a frozen pizza (or frozen waffles at breakfast!) than go out, because my favorite times to eat out are when we go somewhere really special, and it’s an occasion.

    Your town of 18,000 sounds like my town of 3,500. People are always “discussing” something! šŸ™‚

    1. Lol, I think I’ve seen at least 3 or 4 receipt posts in the past month. Although the latest drama on the town Facebook page is who will sing the national anthem at the high school graduation *eye roll*

  4. Mr. Adventure Rich and I play a “how much would this cost in a restaurant” game when we make a really nice home cooked meal. Steak, potatoes, salad and a glass of wine… its amazing what we can save!

    1. Love it! We do that too, although I usually don’t know the exact cost of the dinner we’re eating. That’s because we shop at Costco/BJ’s and buy in bulk. That’s why I like doing the breakdown like in this post, then I can really see the price difference!

  5. So accurate! I just made massive delicious raspberry and white choc muffins for about 40c each. The same thing in a shop would easily cost me $4.50!

  6. Eating out is my weakness for sure! Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I like to cook so it happens a little too often. We’re slowly making progress, though, and that’s what counts. Just like everything in personal finance, it’s changing our attitude to achieve financial success. Eating out is a big one for a lot of people!

    1. We used to eat out a lot more than we do now-over the years I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what’s really worth it. I think that also coincided with my husband and I becoming better cooks! And adding in kids that will order mac n cheese for $5 that costs about $1 at home.

  7. That’s funny… we rarely go out for breakfast for the reasons you mention but a few weeks ago found ourselves eating out after my daughter’s early morning triathlon – to celebrate her race and because we we tired. We had our meal and had some sticker shock from breakfast. I walked away and thought that not only was the price ridiculous, it wasn’t even that good though my kiddo thought it was awesome and felt celebrated. A week later I had a business lunch at a restaurant with 3 people in the same neighborhood and the price was about the same for a much fancier and more enjoyable meal. Of course I expensed that lunch, but, breakfast out is weirdly expensive. We decided that the next time we would get some extra fancy bacon from
    the butcher shop a block from the restaurant and whip it up at home. I’m usually pretty mindful of what things cost, but breakfast out was so rare that whatever inflation has been baked into (pun intended) that meal in particular had snuck up on me!

    1. I know what you mean! We used to go out for breakfast once in a while, and although it was more expensive, it wasn’t too bad compared with eating at home. We had one or two breakfasts out on our road trip in April and I was also shocked that the cost is just as much as lunch or dinner! It’s amazing how much the cost has gone up.

  8. I’m a huge brunch fan but it does get expensive eating out, versus what it costs to make yourself. I have monthly brunches with 3 of my friends and we finally decided to make it a potluck where we rotate houses each month. This covers all our bases: host makes the main dish, a side if she’s feeling inclined, and coffee. The 3 other people bring a pastries, a salad, and mimosa supplies.

    We’re taking the summer off and going back to restaurants (where each person gets to select one place), and we’ll return to our potluck rotation in the fall, when it’s finally cool enough to turn the oven on. My friends are already talking about restaurants I’ve never been to so I’m looking forward to trying a few new places šŸ™‚

    1. Sounds delicious! I love the potluck idea, sounds like a great way to not only save money but to try some delicious homemade goodies. I’ve yet to find a good “worth it” brunch place near me, but it sounds like you’ve got some good options where you live! šŸ˜€ Enjoy the summer off from the hot oven

  9. I owned a restaurant for a couple of years, what a tough business! Nowadays we rarely eat out. Not even once a month. Lots of that has to do with the cost, but lots of it has to do with wanting healthy food too. We make food at home because then we control how it’s cooked and what goes into it. Many will be paying twice for those meals, financially and physically. And complaining on Facebook? Ugh. What do people expect? Restaurants are businesses for goodness sakes, not your mom’s kitchen.

    1. I know! It’s obviously going to be more expensive, and likely less healthy/more processed, than food at home. So I don’t understand why people complain about it. If it’s not worth the cost then just don’t go!

  10. I don’t understand folks who complain about the cost of food at a restaurant. There are so many options: cook at home, eat somewhere else, look up the prices before you go, look at the price after you get there and leave. How do you get to a place where you order, eat and then decide that you don’t like the prices?

    We eat out now much less often than we used to, and while this saves us money that isn’t our primary motivation. The main reason is that I realized that we weren’t enjoying it as much anymore (hedonic treadmill and all that). I don’t want that for Toddler BITA, or even for us. Now we eat out seldom and the whole family is excited about it because it is a rare treat.

    1. I agree with you that when you eat out too often, it loses the feeling of being special, or a treat, and instead just becomes something you do. When I was a kid I’d get all excited about going to McDonalds, because we pretty much never ate out, so to me it was special no matter where we ate. My husband, on the other hand, ate out all the time with his family and came to expect it. We’ve met in the middle over the years.

      And I don’t understand why people are eating there and posting pictures of their receipt to complain either. I’m assuming they either can’t do math, or want attention.

  11. I eat out fairly often, but almost never for breakfast. If I am going to eat out at breakfast, I make sure it’s something interesting that I wouldn’t make at home. Usually that means migas or a crab-cream cheese omelet or something else like that. It drives me crazy when somebody I’m eating with orders oatmeal or cereal at a restaurant. I’m like “GAH, I COULD MAKE THAT FOR 50 CENTS AT HOME!!” lol

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