Small expenses can add up when it comes to eating out at restaurants. But small changes also make a big difference. Here's how much it really costs to eat out, plus some savings tips!

You probably heard this advice before: if you want to save money stop eating out so much!

And let’s be honest, you’ve tried, but haven’t really stuck with that advice.

I live in a growing city, I get it.

But maybe some actual numbers will help you really see how much you can save if you stop eating out – even if it’s just a few days a week.

The cost of dining out

The average American household spends about $3,000 a year dining out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (remember that one person spending only on him/herself counts as a household, too.)

Are you thinking there’s no way you could spend that much?

Well, let’s take another look.

If you go out for lunch Monday through Friday for a year, you might spend $10 a meal – a pretty good deal at most dining establishments. This adds up to $50 weekly. It’s also easy to spend that amount if you go out to dinner two or three times a week. And yes, if you order takeout or delivery, this still counts as “dining out”.

Between delivery minimums and surcharges, you’re paying almost as much to stay in.

Spend $50 a week on restaurant food, and in total, you’re spending $2,500 per year, near the national average. This cash adds up to almost half of the average American’s annual food budget.

Average American’s annual food budget

Why is dining out so expensive?

To make a profit, restaurants charge about a 300% markup on the items they serve. You’re paying for service and convenience. In many cases, you could make a $15 meal in a restaurant for $5 at home.

Granted, the food you make at home might not taste exactly the same. Sometimes it’s worth it to enjoy a dish made by a professional. People eat at restaurants for lots of reasons – to socialize, to celebrate, to try something new, to take a break from busy lives. But if you dine out regularly for convenience’s sake, you could save some serious cash cooking at home.

The savings of eating in

At first glance, cooking might not seem like a budget-friendly move. You need money for groceries and kitchen implements. You’re also budgeting time and effort.

How much can you really save?

Commercially-prepared meals are way more expensive

The average commercially-prepared meal costs around $13. Even if you rarely spend this much money at one time when you eat out, consider frequency. Two meals for $6.50 will add up to the same price.

By contrast, the average meal prepared at home costs around $4 for groceries – a $9 savings per person per meal. To put it another way, a $13 restaurant meal is about 325% more expensive than a $4 meal you prepare yourself.

You’ll save even more if you make, and use leftovers. The actual numbers will depend on the cost of groceries where you live. But an area with pricier groceries almost always has pricier-than-usual restaurants as well. Percentage-wise you’ll still save by eating at home.

You don’t need to stop eating out altogether in order to save

Don’t worry, you don’t have to quit ordering out completely to save major cash. Most Americans eat commercially prepared meals about four times a week.

If you make just two of these meals at home instead, you save $936 – almost $1,000 a year.

Save money by drinking coffee at home

This extra money could be a big jump in your savings for long-term or short-term goals. Even if you only skip one restaurant meal a week in favor of cooking or leftovers, that’s about a $500 annual savings.

Another bonus: home-prepared food tends to be healthier than the typical restaurant meal. People who cook at home get more nutrients and eat less fat and sugar than people who eat exclusively at restaurants.

Plan to try more cooking? Tips for working meal preparation into your busy schedule

Let’s start with the cost: you may spend more than $4 per meal initially if you’re stocking up on kitchen staples like oil, flour, and spices. But once you’ve got the basics, the grocery bill won’t be as high.

Plus you may find you enjoy cooking more than you thought you would!

Here are some of our best tips:

Meal delivery services can help you save

If meal planning stresses you out and cooking is really not your thing, meal delivery services take care of planning all of that for you, with super easy step-by-step instructions.

You could argue that meal delivery is pricier than buying your own ingredients, but it’s still SO MUCH cheaper than most restaurants.

Why meal delivery services can save you money and time

  • No more throwing out extra non-eaten food sitting around in your refrigerator for days or weeks….and you can order food for the exact number of people you are cooking for. That’s savings right there.
  • Plus everyone is talking about how “easy it is” and fun, which means you will end up going out to eat less. More savings!
  • Going to the grocery store and buying food takes time; and as the saying goes, time is money.

Subscriptions average around $8-$12  per meal which includes 2 servings. Yes, 2 servings!

So the bottom line cost is quite reasonable and that’s why so many people have regular subscriptions and say that using meal delivery services has truly been life-changing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=m9p8qxaKAvw

Quick 3-minute video about meal delivery; here’s what it’s like!

With Home Chef it’s uber convenient (and fun) to get a box of fresh ingredients delivered to you.

I’m definitely a fan.

Recommended meal delivery services in a nutshell

*We’ve got a great comparison table for you here; be sure to scroll right to see the whole thing!

 Home ChefFreshlyEveryPlateHelloFreshBlue ApronSunBasket
Best ForWeekly recipe rotations for all skill levels and dietary preferences.Chef prepared meals that are ready without any extra preparation or clean-up.Affordable and delicious weekly meals delivered right to your door.Flexible plans, offering the greatest variety of recipes and meals.Chef-designed recipes include balanced Mediterranean meals and quick one-pan dinners.Certified organic and sustainable meals made with antibiotic- and hormone-free meats and seafood.
Price per meal$8.99$8.99$4.99
$8.99$9.99$10.99
Minimum order2 meals / 2 plates12 meals3 meals / 2 plates2 meals / 2 plates3 meals / 2 plates4 recipes for 2 people
Delivery CostStarts at $6.99 per orderApplicable shipping charges will appear upon checkout$8.99$6.99Free$6.99 per order
Vegetarian plansYesYesNoYesYes, 2 - person plan onlyYes
Kid-friendly mealsNoYesNoYesNoYes
Promotion$80 in total over your 5 deliveries, including free shipping on the first box!$60 off your first 4 ordersGet 1 week worth of meals at $2.99 each + 20% off on your next two boxes with EveryPlate GET $80 OFF your first 5 deliveries including Free Shipping on your 1st Box$80 off your first 4 boxes$35 off plus 4 FREE gifts ($60 value)
Our Score9.7/109.4/109/109.6/109/109/10

Check Out Our Meal Delivery Comparison: Blue Apron vs Plated, Freshly, HelloFresh And Home Chef

Another option: plan to dine out (with discretion)?

Not ready to cut out restaurant dining altogether? We don’t blame you. Socialization and even business take place around food, so restaurants are hard to avoid.

Fortunately, you can save money while still dining out. Besides eating in restaurants less often, here’s how to keep the check reasonable:

Use a credit card that rewards your spending

If you use the right credit card you could save even more on your groceries, since they offer cash back.

We’ve compiled some of our favorite credit cards for bars and restaurants. The Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card come highly recommended.

The Capital One® Savor offers a whopping 4% on dining out AND entertainment! Plus, you’ll 2% back on groceries and 1% on everything else. This can amount to significant savings if you’re eating out or coming back home to cook a meal. And the savings in the food category of life can really add up.

Another card to check out is the  Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, which provides 3% cash back on a choice category and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery/wholesale club spending per quarter. Here too is another opportunity to capitalize on savings around food and groceries if you commit to using this credit card to that end.

Eat smarter

  • Go to lunch or happy hour instead of dinner. Restaurants tend to have better dining deals earlier in the day.
  • Split an entree with someone else, or take half of your food home. We’re primed to eat the amount of food that’s in front of us, regardless of our actual hunger level. Managing big portion sizes in restaurants goes a long way towards saving money. Just don’t forget to use the leftovers.
  • Eating just appetizers helps cut the cost of your meal down, plus many restaurants have tons of options when it comes to appetizers, making it easy to mix and match.
  • Skip the extras like drinks, desserts, and appetizers.
  • If you have favorite dining establishments, sign up for their e-mail alerts and follow them on social media. You’ll be alerted to deals and bargains.
  • Bring your own beer (BYOB) to restaurants that allow it and save on costly drinks.
  • Find restaurants where kids get discounts, that way you only have to pay full-price for the adults.
  • Research menus ahead of time if possible. If you know what you want, you’ll be less tempted by the offerings once you get there.
  • You can buy discounted gift cards to chain restaurants through sites like Cardpool and Raise. And you can always keep your eye out for a good Groupon.

Summary

Small expenses can add up when it comes to eating out at restaurants. But small changes also make a big difference.

Make your $2 daily coffee at home Monday through Friday, and you’ve saved $40 a month already. Think of minor changes you can make easily, and you’re on your way to breaking your restaurant habit and saving for bigger goals.

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About the author

Amy Bergen Writer
Total Articles: 88
Amy Bergen is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She's interested in technology, literature, and how the world will change in the future. You can reach Amy at LinkedIn.

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2 comments
U Rogers says:

We try to eat lunch out, it’s typically not as crowded and usually less expensive than dinner if that restaurant offers a different menu for dinnertime. I have gotten into the habit of ordering water with lemon, it forces me to drink another glass of water for the day. We have eaten out with coupons and specials, early bird dinners, etc., and please remember if you use a coupon to tip on the original full amount before the coupon subtraction. You should always read the fine print of restaurant specials and coupons prior to using them. If we don’t eat all of the serving, we typically get a to-go box. For happy hour specials, read the fine print before you go, some require you to purchase at least a $4 beverage in order to enjoy the happy hour bites, some require you to sit in the bar area, etc. With coupons, happy hours and early bird specials, it’s a great way to try new restaurants! Enjoy! Bon appetite!
Ursula Rogers

lee says:

My wife and I enjoy eating out but we always make it into a little game of how much can we save while eating out. We use coupons or money off deals we find on the restaurant’s websites. We also tend to use booking websites to book our restaurant as the more often you use these sites then you can get loyalty rewards such as free desserts or a free drink with your meal. Great article