A Closer Look at Restaurant Spending

Pizza Delivery

Are your restaurant habits hindering your financial life?

Restaurants are favorite targets of financial teachers and money-saving gurus, and for good reason: Eating out is almost entirely discretionary spending, and is the most expensive way to feed yourself or your family. If you’re struggling to get a grip on your financial life, it’s highly likely that your restaurant habits are part of the problem.

So, we all know that eating out is expensive, but many of us do it as a matter of social habit without considering the real cost. In order to help identify what you may actually be spending on meals out, let’s look at how some typical restaurant spending stacks up.

Lunch Out

Sometimes a good lunch out with friends or co-workers — or even a nice quiet restaurant meal on your own — can be the perfect pick-me-up for getting through a tough workday. And it can be easier than the alternative of packing your lunch every morning before you leave for work. As a result, many of us fall into a habit of getting lunch out every day.

The trouble with this is that, besides being somewhat unhealthy, eating lunch in restaurants every day is also rather expensive. In downtown Lexington, Kentucky, where I work, it’s impossible to find lunch at a quick-service place for less than $8. And if you go to a full-service restaurant for lunch, you’re probably looking at $11-$12 once you leave a tip.

So, if I were in the habit of eating lunch out every day, I’d be spending at least $40 on lunches every week, or maybe $50 if I included a few sit-down restaurants in the mix. If Laura and I both did this every day, it would leave us spending a total of $80-$100 per week on lunches. Averaged out over the course of a month, that represents $390 of spending — a staggering amount of a couple’s monthly budget. And we haven’t even dealt with dinner yet.

Midweek Dinner

If you’re like many young Americans these days, your daily activity may not end when five o’clock rolls around. Between church and social activities, working out, family commitments and other obligations, it’s easy to be busy nearly every evening of the week. And when we’re busy like this, it can be awfully difficult to find time to cook a meal.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for individuals, couples or families to resort to a midweek restaurant dinner at the end of a particularly busy day. This can take all kinds of forms, from fast-food pick-up to pizza delivery or even a full dinner out at a sit-down restaurant. The expense of this is going to vary according to the kind of meal you have, of course. If you’re single, a fast-food dinner might cost you another $8; if you have a family of four, that same fast-food dinner (or a couple of pizzas) could cost you around $25. If a couple decides to go to a full-service restaurant for the midweek, it’s easy to drop $30 or more once it’s all said and done.

From a monthly point of view, those expenses add up. One mid-week dinner represents $30-$60 per month for singles, $60-$120 per month for couples and at least $100 per month for a family of four.

Weekend Restaurant Frenzy

Is it just me, or does nobody want to cook on the weekends? Anyone in the restaurant industry will tell you that Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the best days for business. And if you’re like many Americans, you might find yourself having at least one restaurant meal out every day of the weekend.

Your spending pattern is going to depend a lot on your life circumstances. But let’s say that you go out with friends on Friday night, have some kind of date night on Saturday and then get a quick lunch or dinner after church on Sunday. If you’re single, those three meals may add up to $40 for every weekend (though they can certainly be more). It wouldn’t be uncommon for a couple to spend $80 eating out in one weekend. If you have a family of four, you’re probably not taking the kids out three times in a weekend. But mix in some fast food stops, and It’s pretty easy to spend $75 at restaurants for your family over the course of a weekend.

On a monthly basis, these number get pretty big. Singles are spending around $170 each month on weekend meals out. Families may be spending as much as $300 per month on the weekend meals. And couples may be dropping $350 or more each month on restaurant meals.

Adding it Up

You probably see where this is going: If we add up all of these different restaurant activities, we can start to get a picture of our total monthly spending in restaurants. If you eat every workday lunch out, get one midweek dinner at a restaurant and then visit a restaurant once a day on the weekend, here’s how your monthly spending adds up:

Singles: $400+

Couples: $825+

Families: $790+

If these number seem extremely high to you, it’s because they are. Hopefully you’re not spending this much money every month in restaurants. But far too many of us are. Once we do the tough work of adding it all up, we see what a difference this makes in our financial lives, and how quickly in can bust a budget.

Next time, we’ll look at some ways to bring your restaurant spending back into balance without going kamikaze on your social life. Until then, though, here’s a question: What are you really spending in restaurants? If you added up your monthly restaurant spending, would it be more or less than these averages?

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Photo by Rick. Used under Creative Commons License.