Is Eating Out vs Eating In Cheaper?

I first started thinking about this question several months back when I went to the store to prepare tacos for our family of three. I must’ve spent about $30 total on all the ingredients.

“Is eating in really that much cheaper than eating out?” I thought to myself. “I’ll bet I could get all this at Taco Johns for half the price!”

Then, today, I read this article in the Fiscal Times: Why It’s Cheaper to Dine Out Than Eat In and I felt somewhat validated.

So, is it true?

Well, the article was based on a recent report released by Bank of America Merrill Lynch – so who knows if this is B of A’s way of getting more people to use their credit cards at dining establishments. But they have a few good points.

Realizing that supermarket foods are going up about 6% every year (2.5 times that of restaurant prices) – the trend towards dining out being a cheaper alternative has some validity. While restaurants and the individual consumer are both feeling the effects of rising food prices – restaurants seem more able to weather this by their bulk buying.

The article lists several examples where eating out is cheaper than eating in. Among them:

OutBack Steakhouse
10oz Ribeye Dinner (includes soup, salad and asparagus)
Total Price: $17.99

Grocery store
Ribeye: $9.55
Soup: $2.99
Bag Salad: $3.99
Asparagus: $3.99 a bunch
Total: $20.52


Olive Garden
Seafood Alfredo (unlimited salad and breadsticks)
Total Price: $15.50

Grocery store
Fresh Shrimp: $5.33
Scallops: $3.99
Pasta: $1.99
Bag Salad: $3.99
Breadsticks: $3.99
Total: $19.29

While we could obviously counter these with other examples for and against – it is something worth noting. The restaurant prices do not take into account tips either – which could skew these results. Neither do they account for what it takes to drive to the grocer and spend the time preparing the meal (time = money).

This week, I am going to put some of this to the test, as I plan to eat out every day and attempt to spend less than $10 (for the week!).

Should be interesting.

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  1. Jeffrey says:

    You need to consider that you’re not going to be eating all of the bought items at one sitting; i.e. in your Outback comparison, you’ll be dividing the salad, asparagus, and soup into appropriate servings. It probably equals out that way.

    • Aaron says:

      Good point Jeffrey. I know for me – I typically have leftovers from dining out too. So, that extends my ‘purchase’ too. Pretty unscientific, I know – but it does make you think.

  2. Jungle says:

    Ditto what Jeffrey said, or, those ingredients are shared among your family for that meal. In your Outback example, multiply that by 3! Another thing to consider is that you more or less know what you are putting in your mouth when you prepare a meal at home. At a restaurant, you don’t really know what’s happening in their kitchen. That ribeye? Someone may have dropped it on the floor! There’s also the nutritional aspect…

  3. Ellen says:

    I think it depends too on whether you buy convenience foods at the grocery store or prepare your own. For example, canned or frozen soup is much more expensive than buying the ingredients for soup. Bagged salad is more expensive and smaller volume than buying a head of lettuce and chopping it. And the grocery store prices probably don’t take into account buying items that are on sale.

    With some planning and a little bit of preparation time, I think cooking at home will almost always be cheaper and almost always healthier. The only restaurant food I think might be the same price or cheaper than home-cooked is Papa Murphy’s (bought with coupons).

    I’ll be curious how your experiment turns out!

    • Aaron says:

      Good points Ellen. I certainly agree about eating in being a healthier choice. We’ll be posting my “experiment” results on Monday. Should be fun.

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