As a relative newcomer to New York, it boggles my mind how much cash folks will drop on restaurant fare that I could whip up at home, in my PJ’s, for a fraction of the cost. Last week, I wound up shelling out $9 for a grilled cheese sandwich (a grilled cheese!) at a cafe near my apartment when the hostess wouldn’t stop harassing me to order something other than a cup of coffee. As I fished the cash out of my wallet, I could practically hear my father —a penny-pinching caterer in Atlanta, Ga. — laughing in my face.
The fact is that if you’re going to get all dolled up and go out for a meal, you’re better off paying more for something you wouldn’t be able to make yourself than going for cheaper options.
Yes, the $15 truffle mac ‘n cheese I had salivated over balked at on the menu at that cafe cost one-third more than the sandwich, but truffle oil is expensive and not something I’m likely to have floating around my kitchen cupboard. It would have been worth the added cost to pay more for something I didn’t already own.
You know…hindsight, 20/20, all that jazz.
Here are some overpriced foods you should avoid when you’re eating out:
Eggs. Consider your standard issue omelette. Everyone’s favourite hangover cure is really nothing more than a couple eggs tossed with cheap cheese and slapped on a plate. So why should we be paying an arm and a leg for one? Treehugger.com listed the infamous $1,000 frittata served up at the Parker Meridien hotel in Manhattan as one of the most ridiculously overpriced restaurant items.
The site raised a good point about egg dishes: unless the restaurant says the eggs are top quality, you can pretty much assume they come from regular chicken farm and probably aren’t worth your dime. The Parker Meridien can get away with charging a grand for regular old eggs only because it slaps super pricey caviar on top.
Pasta. If you’re slurping up fettuccine whenever you go out, you’re only doing the restaurant a favour. Starchy dishes like pasta and rice can be bought in bulk and come at a super low cost to restaurants, according to Forbes. So think twice before you drop 20 bucks on that risotto and opt for beef dishes instead, which often cost at least half the menu price to source and produce, the magazine says.
Chicken. Chicken is one of the cheaper options on the menu, but it costs way less to make yourself at home. Even chefs will tell you this is a waste of your money if you’re looking for a good value at a restaurants. “I won’t pay $24 for half a chicken breast,” a chef told Food Network Magazine. “I want something I can’t make for myself.”
You should, too.
Pizza. Unless it’s topped with crazy-hard-to-find ingredients like truffles or lobster tail, you’re probably spending more on that 12-inch pie than you would to make it yourself. Pizza Hut and Papa John’s both ask about $10 for a large pie but it costs the pizza chains about $2.60 to make them, according to the Daily Finance. Keep that in mind the next time you rifle through your stack of take-out menus. You might be better off going for a pricier pie if you want the best value for your cash.
Booze. There’s a reason restaurant hosts encourage diners to hit up the bar if there’s a lengthy wait for a table. “Traditionally, a high portion of restaurants’ profits come from the bar,” according to restaurant pricing firm IntellaPrice. The group found that the average price of alcohol jumped 3 per cent in 2010, which means you’re paying more for the same beverages without knowing it.
If a restaurant asks you pay a premium price for a cocktail made with cheap liquor, you’re probably better off going for a more expensive option or choosing a trickier drink you wouldn’t know how to make yourself. I love a good G&T but because I make them for myself all the time, I can’t justify spending $12 on an 8-ounce version that’s sure to be watered down.