We don't eat out very often. Every once in a while we might pick up pizza or get fast food, but those occasions are really rare. However, D's Dad usually takes our family out to dinner around each of our Birthdays and lets whoever is celebrating their Birthday pick where we eat. For instance, #4's favorite place to pick is Pig 'N Pancake, and earlier this month on his Birthday, we all went there for dinner.
I ordered the Grilled Chicken Breast Dinner at a cost of $10.95. It comes with a choice of soup or salad, vegetables, a choice of sides (rice pilaf, baked potato, mashed potato or fries) and bread. I picked a clam chowder and a baked potato for my meal and then spent the rest of the meal and a big chunk of the evening thinking about how much it cost for the food I got vs how much it would have cost me to make the same thing at home. In fact, it has been bothering me off and on for a few weeks so I finally sat down to figure things out. My meal consisted of:
A cup of clam chowder
A slice of baguette style bread with butter
Vegetables (in this case squash, broccoli, onions and bell peppers, not my favorite so I only ate the broccoli)
A grilled chicken breast (boneless, skinless and fairly small, probably 4oz)
A baked potato with butter and sour cream
Also on the plate was a slice of orange for garnish, which I left out of my cost comparison.
First I decided to add up the cost of everything per serving if I were to buy it all separately. I went with soup from our local Cash and Carry (Restaurant supply) and depending on what is on sale that week the soup would cost between $.58 and $1.00 for a one cup serving. A 3lb bag of garden salad (Costco) comes out to about $.10 a serving, while croutons purchased at regular grocery chain prices run about the same cost as the salad per serving. I priced salad dressing at $.13 cents a serving if I were to be paying about $2.50 for a bottle. I never actually pay that price myself as I watch for sales, but I thought it was fair to err on the side of expensive. Vegetables I priced at about $3.00 for 2 lbs. This is for the fancier kinds like a carrot, broccoli and squash mix vs regular mixed veggies which are substantially less money. Veggies came out at about $.30 a serving. When it came down to the chicken I was in a quandary. I typically don't buy chicken unless I can get it for $2.00 per pound or less. However, I know that the restaurant was using portioned chicken because all of us that ordered chicken with our dinners got nearly identical looking, flattened chicken breasts. So I checked out the Cash and Carry again and found that a 6 lb box of portioned chicken regularly costs about $15 (or $2.50 a pound). I am pretty sure the portions we got were either 4oz or 6 oz, but for the sake of generosity to the restaurant I also figured out the price for a half pound of chicken which came out to $1.25 per serving. 4 oz would have been about $.63 per serving and 6 oz would have been $.94. For the baked potato I decided on a generous 8 oz also. Potatoes at the Cash and Carry generally average out at about $.20 per pound, and a lot less if you are buying it in 50 lb bags. I went with the cost of 10lbs of potatoes and figured the cost at $.10 per 8oz potato. I even added up the cost of butter. I get it at Costco for $2 per pound. Did you know that a pat of butter is usually a half a tablespoon? So my butter came out to $.07 because I allowed for two pats, one for the bread and one for the potato. A serving of sour cream is about an ounce. I priced sour cream at a cost of $2.00 for 16 ounces (again, I never buy it at that price) which came out to $.13 cents per serving. Lastly our local grocery store usually has baguettes for $1.00 each, and I figured on dividing it into 8 servings, so that would be another $.13. My totals for dinner came out to $3.31 for the food on my plate (minus the orange slice). I know that the restaurant buys in bulk and gets better prices on things like butter, sour cream and etc. I also figured the total using the higher priced soup vs the sale one, and I allowed for both soup AND salad instead of having to choose between the two. With the sale priced soup, the smallest chicken portion (which is the size I think I had) and no salad the cost goes down to $1.94 and if I chose salad over soup it would only cost $1.69 per serving.
Then I thought about how if I was making this meal for a big group of people, the number of servings wouldn't really match up for each item. I decided to price it buying everything I would need to make the meal for 16 people. My shopping list included:
A 72 oz package of Broccoli and Cheddar soup: $14, serves 16.
3lb garden salad: $2.00, serves 20
Croutons: $2, serves 20
1 bottle of ranch dressings: $2.50, serves 20
4 lb frozen veggies, Normandy blend (carrots, broccoli and cauliflower): $4.00 serves 20
6 lbs chicken breast in 6oz portions: $15 serves 16
10 lb potatoes: $2.00 serves 20
1 lb butter: $2.00 serves 32
16 oz sour cream: $2.50 serves 16
2 baguettes: $2.00 serves 16
The total cost is $48.00, which comes out to $3.00 per serving. I did choose to go with a soup that had 16 servings rather than 12, but it is still restaurant quality soup and I could have opted for the sale price soup at $7 and gone even cheaper. I went with the 6oz chicken size as well for the sake of keeping 16 as the number of servings. There would also be extra servings of salad, croutons, dressing, potatoes, butter and veggies after the meal was over, and I know that if I shopped sales and coupons I could do this for substantially less money.
So what do you think? My tip is to think about what you are spending your money on when you are eating out. I know that you are paying for more than food. You are paying for the waitstaff, the cooks, the dishwashers, the rent or mortgage on the restaurant and probably a lot more. For yourself you are probably paying for an evening of relaxation and not having to worry about the time it takes to cook a meal and you are paying to not have to clean it up afterwards either.
Still, if 16 people ate that meal together at a restaurant, it would cost $175.20 plus at least $26.28 in tips for a grand total of $201.48. I personally think I'd rather pocket the $153.48 difference and pay myself to do the cooking and the clean-up (or better yet, make my kids wash the dishes).
Go ahead...save yourself some money! I DARE you!