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Americans Are Spending More In Restaurants Than In Grocery Stores

spending more eating out than on groceriesI came across this article last week  that said January 2015 was the first month that Americans are spending more in restaurants than in grocery stores. I guess I’m not surprised. It seems that whenever we go out to eat, the restaurant is always packed. Even in our small town, it seems there are tons of people eating out. The article took it as a good sign because it meant the economy was recovering, but I’m not so sure.

Cost of Eating Out Versus Eating At Home

While the yahoo article quoted one diner as saying he could eat cheaper at restaurants than at home, I think that’s misleading. In his case, he was talking about buying a good steak for $32 at the grocery store compared to ordering a steak for less at a restaurant. I’m not sure what kind of steak he was buying, but I don’t think groceries as a whole cost more than ordering out.

I’m sure if all you buy is local, grass fed filet mignon and organic hand made potato chips from Whole Foods, you can rack up a pretty hefty grocery bill. However, shopping at a regular supermarket or discount grocer is not more expensive than going out to eat, even if you buy organic and don’t necessarily shop sales or use coupons. There is no way.

For my family of three, if we go to Applebee’s and order a chicken quesadilla, a sandwich of some sort, side salads,  a kid’s meal, and iced tea, it is almost always $25-$30. I could make the same meals at home for about $5, although I wouldn’t have someone to wait on me and clean up the mess, which is the real reason I like going out to eat. I would never try to rationalize it by saying it’s cheaper.

It’s OK To Eat Out

I think it’s fine to eat out from time to time. In our house, restaurant meals tend to be a treat that we save for vacations or for special occasions. We do value going to restaurants, but that doesn’t mean we should spend more on eating out than we do on groceries. Even if we throw out the financial arguments, eating out usually means eating more food and not knowing how it was prepared. I guarantee that I eat more calories and fat at restaurants than at home. Even ordering a salad often means a huge portion size and without careful discipline, I might eat the whole thing!

It Takes Planning To Eat At Home

With how busy family life can get, I totally understand the desire to eat out. On days when I work and we have after school activities, I find time slipping away while we struggle to do homework, walk the dog, get the kid in the bath, and find old panty hose and wire clothes hangers for art class the next day. If you haven’t planned ahead with the proper groceries and/or food preparation, it’s very easy to say, “Screw it, we’re going out!”

We justify food spending by thinking we deserve to be waited on or that by sitting at a table in the restaurant, we are getting more quality family time than if we were rushing around trying to cook and clean. I’ve done it myself. Not having enough time is a reality. How you choose to deal with it can cost or save thousands of dollars.

If you know your week will be busy, take time on the weekends to shop, cook, and make extra food that can be reheated for quick meals on the crazy days. It also helps to wash and cut up produce into serving sizes right when you  get home from the store. Remember, every meal does not have to be gourmet. Grilled cheese sandwiches and a can of tomato soup work great in a pinch.

Make a Dollar, Spend a Dollar

For a while during the recession, it seemed like people were cutting back. We knew lots of people who hunkered down and quit spending on unnecessary things, like going out to eat. Now that the economy is in better shape and the stock market is going like gang busters, I think people are forgetting just how fast money situations can change. I’m afraid my friends who turned frugal for a while are back to the make a dollar, spend a dollar philosophy.

Yes, hopefully people are working and making more money that they were in 2008, but are we saving for the next rainy day? I really hope so.

How does your restaurant spending compare to groceries? Do you think a family can eat cheaper at a restaurant than at home?


Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Porto

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. With a family of 6 it’s definitely cheaper to eat at home. Our boys play ice hockey which has us at the rink 40 minutes away, 3 nights a week. It’s tough! We do our best, but we do eat out a lot.

    • My congrats to you for being able to feed everyone. I’m sure it’s hard to prepare enough food to have on hand when you are on the road that much with hungry kids.

  2. We spend a lot more on groceries, but I can see how the average American spends more on eating out. It’s easy for a meal for two to be pretty expensive if you factor in drinks, apps, etc. I also think a small portion of the population who eat out every single meal skews this statistics a bit.

  3. We only eat out a few times a month, BUT the restaurants around here are always crazy-packed. We went to Texas Roadhouse this weekend with friends and the line was winding out the door. We did call ahead seating and still had a one hour wait. Craziness. I don’t see how people can afford it. I had a side salad and appetizer.

    • We also only eat out 3 or 4 times a month. And it is always as a TREAT, not as a routine occurrence. That means that we do not consider restaurant outings a part of our basic living expenses. We pay for those restaurant outings from our Discretionary Fund — surplus, left-over money over and above what it takes to cover our basic living expenses. Groceries are a necessity which is hard-wired to our basic living expenses budget. Restaurant visits are optional indulgences which are not.

      • We do enjoy eating out, but it is not a basic expense and would be the first thing we would cut if we had to reign in our budget.

    • That’s what I mean. Places like Texas Roadhouse are making bank. I think some of it might be because people have extra money right now from cheap gas prices. Forget saving for a rainy day. Let’s go get some Ribeye!

  4. We don’t eat out very often – maybe a few times a year as it’s just not worth the hassle right now with three little ones. We largely just reserve it for when we’re on vacation or have family in town to visit. Yes, it takes more time to prepare the meal at home but it saves so much more money and I know what goes into the food vs. what might be in what we’d have at a restaurant.

    • Having three small kids would certainly not be a fun way to go out to eat. Just the wait time for food could turn into a nightmare.

  5. It doesn’t take much to outspend at restaurants over groceries. Our family grocery budget is $150 a week (which includes household items too!)….but a trip to Outback Steakhouse for our family of 4 will run close to $100! When I look at it in that context, it makes me question going out to eat. As you said, it’s OK to go out to eat….but we do our best to ensure it’s a planned event. Eating out because we failed to plan enough meals at home tends to cause overspending.

    • Failure to plan is our biggest reason for any budget leak. It is amazing that it costs almost $100 for a family to eat at Outback. I don’t even like it that much.

  6. Last year we made a conscious effort to reduce our food costs and part of that included eating at home more than eating out and it’s crazy but we saved over $5,000 from just making food at home. I love using Pinterest to find recipes and now we can’t think of any meal we would want to eat out of the home because we have figured out how to make it cheaper and better tasting from home.

    • That’s some amazing savings. The internet is a treasure trove of recipes. I can even Google particular cooking procedures. I always forget the difference between broil, blanche, and braise.

  7. My grocery bill is pretty high, but then again I rarely eat out. It’s a special treat for me, so I feel a tiny bit less guilty about my grocery budget. Funny though but when it was 2008/9, I ate out more than ever, which was my crazy huge mistake when I became a freelancer.

  8. I couldn’t agree more. It’s always cheaper to eat at home. Healthier too. We eat out fairly regularly (usually on the weekends or on $1 taco Tuesdays or Thursdays at our fave Mexican place), but we are aware that it’s more expensive and don’t go crazy. During the week I prepare easy meals and save the more time consuming recipes for my days off. It’s definitely easier with only two people, though. But on that same token, it’s even more expensive for a family to eat out than a couple, so it floors me to see so many large families eating out on a regular basis. It particularly irks me when one of the adults doesn’t work and has plenty of time to prepare meals at home. To me that’s just wasteful. I’m not suggesting they should never eat out, but when it’s a daily occurrence it just doesn’t make good financial sense.

    • It doesn’t make good financial sense for a large family to eat out. We do eat out but don’t make it routine. I think I actually do better with having meals cooked at home on days when I work because I’m so determined not to be that person who eats out for convenience.

  9. We typically go out once per week and you can definitely tell the difference in cost per meal when you do that versus staying at home.

    • It’s easy to spend enough for a few days on one meal if you aren’t careful, which is fine if you plan, but not so much if it’s and every day thing.

  10. We definitely enjoy eating out but I try to make it more of a treat versus the norm. Let’s face it – sometimes it’s nice to not have to cook and clean up! But it adds up very quickly and I like being able to better control the ingredients and quantity too. One thing that leads to so many people eating out these days is how few adults know how to really cook. They can open a can or nuke something, but not much more than that. And if that’s all I could do, I’d probably eat out too. Okay, I’d learn how to cook, but it does surprise me how many people I meet who don’t know how to cook.

    • I don’t claim to be a great cook, but it’s not that hard to Google a recipe and crock pots make just about anything taste good!

  11. We go out to eat 2 or 3 times a month on average and with a family of five it is definitely more expensive than cooking at home. But we view it more as an experience to enjoy where we get a nice meal, no clean up needed, and consider it a treat.

    • The whole no clean up thing is what really appeals to me. I love just being able to walk away when we’re done eating.

  12. This is something that we are working on. We spend a lot of money at restaurants and we would like to change that so that most of our food money is spent on groceries instead.

    • We probably ate out more before we had a kid. The experience is just not that same with a little one in tow. Instead of ambiance, we look for loud places that don’t care if you spill stuff!

  13. Unfortunately, we’re one of those. Health problems mean we don’t really cook. So we eat a lot of fast food and convenience food. I’m trying to lean more heavily on the latter, but we take in a fair amount of fast food too.

    I hate it when people claim you can eat out for the same (or less) than eating at home. I don’t know of any steaks that cost $32. And if you are using grass-fed organic yada yada, you’re not eating at the kind of restaurant with $32 steaks.

    We will always spend more on food than I want. I’ve accepted that. But I have no illusions that we’re somehow saving money. That’s just a sign you’re not facing reality.

    • Sorry about your situation. I guess it’s a good thing that fast food restaurants are starting to have healthier options.

  14. Eating out should really be an occasional treat. I can imagine it becoming just another drudgery to go through in life if it becomes a normal thing. Things are always more fun if they are done once in a while. But yeah anyone who thinks they can save money eating out compared to eating at home is fooling themselves. Unless you get one thing off the dollar menu for each meal.

    • The funny thing is that I usually like my food at home better than what I can order out, but it’s the convenience and having someone wait on me that makes it appealing.

  15. It’s definitely OK to eat out at restaurants, but people (including myself) tend to go overboard and eat out way more often than we should.

  16. We go out to eat generally every other month but never more than three times a month and if it was up to me I would never go except for special occasions. I can personally attest we spend way more eating out.

  17. We dine out, maybe twice a month plus a takeout/delivery or two, but eating out too often can be both financially and physically unhealthy. We frequently use coupons and even with a discount, eating out is always more costly than cooking at home.

  18. One of my closest friends recently moved to Shanghai, and he says that there it really is cheaper to eat out than to buy groceries, I think because labor is so cheap, but here, no way. Definitely cheaper to eat at home.

  19. Now that the kids are eating off the adult menu, it’s a fast $50 when we eat out. We don’t do it often. It just isn’t worth it unless we are out and about for the day and it’s a convenience thing. I prefer home cooked meals any day!

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