The Costs of Eating Out

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Daniel Frank, a Canadian law student, wrote an homage to economist Tyler Cowen describing how to be a “frugal foodie”:

If your goal is to eat well, you must allocate your budget accordingly. If you have given yourself a limit of $60 dollars to spend per month on dining, you have to determine how to best allocate your resources. You could spend $60 dollars on one meal at a great restaurant, you could spend $30 dollars for two mediocre meals at a chain diner, you could spend $10 dollars for 6 sandwiches at Subway.

The relationship between money spent and enjoyment of food is not linear. If you are trying to eat the best food possible, that means concentrating your budget on higher quality restaurants. Eating two subpar meals at familiar restaurants will not give you the same feeling or memory as eating one incredible meal. Every time you order from Moxie’s or McDonalds, you are taking away from your ability to experience those amazing meals you savour.

I don’t spend much money on clothes or gadgets or on recreational events like concerts, but dining out is one category where I don’t mind spending money. Back in my twenties, when I was still figuring out how to get beyond entry-level, I would eat as cheaply as possible throughout the week (pb&js for lunch; a big pot of pasta to eat for dinner every night), so I could save enough money to go to a nice place for dinner on the weekend. I suppose the argument here was that I was concentrating my money on a few good meals. Intent has a lot to do with it. One of my friends recently messaged me after reading one of my check-ins. “What were you eating, gold!?” she asked when she saw the $118 I spent. In this case, my friends and I had intended to go to a particular restaurant we wanted to try, and we were aware of prices ahead of time. This last weekend, my friends and I were walking down the street, figuring out where to go for dinner, and we ended up at a Tex-Mex place where we spent $34 each after splitting the bill. The intent here was less about the actual restaurant and more about spending time with one another. Sometimes a memorable meal has nothing to do with the food.

Photo: Gary Knight

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