It never ceases to amaze me just how much money people are willing to shell out to sustain their bodies. I watch my friends go to restaurants for just regular, everyday meals. I won’t deny that going out to eat with a group of friends can be a lot of fun. However, it’s the eating out on a regular basis that really makes no sense to me.
Cooking, as many people see it, is a fine art, done only by those who are masters already in the ways of the spatula and knife. To them, it’s a daunting challenge. “How could I ever be a good enough cook to satisfy my taste buds?” I then bust out laughing when the people who let such nonsense come from their mouths eat at fast food restaurants. I mean really?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that I learned earlier this year when I moved out on my own: While cooking five star meals may be an impossibility for the vast majority of the population, cooking food that is not only more than tasty enough, but healthier, and substantially cheaper than anything you can buy is actually incredibly easy.
When I left the comfort of home and my mother’s cooking this year, the limits of my culinary abilities were heating up frozen meals and boiling ramen noodles. But it turned out that within just a few days I became an adequate enough chef to whip up all of my favorite foods from scratch, just by doing some research online and a little trial and error. Will my cooking land me a head chef position in a downtown New York City restaurant? Nope. Do I care? Of course not.
Think back to the last five or so meals you’ve eaten. How many were from high quality restaurants? In all likelihood, the most is just one of two. Most of you probably haven’t even had one. So even if you think that your taste buds demand high quality, the reality is that they don’t.
And despite the fact that people will eat things that fast food restaurants pump out in mass or heat up pre-cooked frozen plastic in the microwave, they refuse to learn to cook even the simplest of meals. And, more importantly, they don’t consider the sheer amount of money that is spent on letting someone else do their cooking.
Let’s do some analyzing. Say you go to a nice fancy restaurant, and you order some high class meal. It tastes great, you’re happy, and then the check comes for $13. You put in a nice 20% tip for the cutey that is serving your food, and go on with life. Now that 15 or so odd dollars that you just spent may seem well worth it in the moment, but lets look at where that money actually went.
A common reason people don’t cook is that they think making food themselves costs just about the same amount in ingredients. But think for a moment about all the different things a restaurant has to pay for. Not only are you paying for the ingredients, but you are paying the staff. You are paying a person to cook your food, a person to serve your food, and a person to clean up after you. There may be a few assistant chefs, and of course the manager to make sure everything is running smoothly. Then in the end, the owner of the restaurant has to keep a small profit.
Also, don’t forget that the expenses go beyond just labor. The restaurant has to pay to rent the building it’s in. It also has to pay for the industrial cooking equipment used, and the fancy industrial dishwashers and sanitizers. And then there is the natural resources (electricity, gas, water) used to run such overly extravagant machines.
The scary thing is that those aren’t even all of the costs involved in running the restaurant, just the most obvious ones. Now all of that has to be paid for somehow, and the only way it’s possible is by charging you as much as possible for your plate of food. Think about it, that is literally, in most cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead. And you are paying for it. That is a massive amount of money to be spending for some “convenience”.
And now that that has come up, I honestly don’t find eating out convenient in any way. In fact, it takes much more time and effort in my opinion for me to go out to eat instead of cooking something. How can that be possible? Next time you go out to eat, time yourself, starting from the time you leave home to the time you get back. Unless you’re eating fast food, its likely at least an hour spent just on a meal.
If you were to eat at home, you could have had the same meal in less time. In fact far less time in my experience. When you go out to eat, you spend time driving there. You then will likely wait in line, and wait for your server to take your order. You’ll then wait while the food is cooked, which may be a while if there are a lot of meals ahead of yours. After you’ve eaten, you will have to spend time waiting for the server to bring back your credit card, and then finally you can leave, only to have to spend more time traveling back home.
When you cook at home, you simply make the food, eat it, and clean up. The only meal that I can think of that I cook that takes any kind of a large amount of time is when I cook up whole chickens. This involves about 15 minutes of prep work, and then typically an hour and 45 minutes of cook time. Other than that, my other meals have very short cook times, pretty much all of them less than 20 minutes. And you can bet that for pretty much any meal, you aren’t going to be any measurably slower at cooking it than a professional chef would be. A steak takes the same amount of time to cook on an eight foot long professional grill controlled by a master chef as it does when I cook it on the George Forman portable gas grill on my patio. And lets face facts, in the modern world of appliances, washing the dishes is easy and takes no time at all.
So in short, going to a restaurant will likely take you more time, and you are going to be paying an exorbitantly higher price for the food because of the restaurant’s massive overhead. But then the typical American will bring up something that makes me cringe with disgust and laugh at their stupidity all at the same time. Fast food.
“Fast food is great, you are in and out of there in no time at all, and its super cheap because they have systems which make it highly automated. And they make it even cheaper because they serve so many people all the time!”
I have several responses to that. My first is to vomit heavily. Fast food, with a few exceptions, is disgusting. If you eat at those types of restaurants often and can’t see why, just take a look down at your stomach or step on a scale. Or maybe ask to see the used cooking oil destined for landfills behind the building.
Second, they are more expensive than cooking for the same reasons than a traditional sit down restaurant. Lets look at a few examples. To get started on owning a McDonalds franchise, you are required to have between $250,000 and $300,000 in cold hard cash. And that is even before you have to pay for the rest with loans. Google it if you don’t believe me. The same type of thing goes for any fast food restaurant. Also, think about how many employees are back in fast food restaurants. While they may not be paid much, there are typically a lot of them, and they all get paid at least minimum wage. The reality is that these things are expensive to operate. You won’t save any money by eating at one of these.
Now the time factor. While its true, fast food restaurants do typically hold up to their namesake, that doesn’t mean you can’t cook something yourself faster after you take into account getting to the restaurant. Driving costs you time and money, never forget that. And if you really can get fast food faster, it will only be a marginal difference. If that marginal difference in time is worth thousands of dollars every year, excess fat in places you definitely don’t want it, and a decreased lifespan, then A: I can do nothing to help you and B: you must have some serious issues.
To illustrate my points above even further, I analyzed a few of my go to meals that I eat on a regular basis.
½ Pound Hamburger with Fries
Fast Food: Between $5 and $8
Restaurant: Between $8 and $12
- Meat – $1.50 (based on $3.00 per pound)
- Bun – $0.20
- Condiments – $0.10 (admittedly totally guessing on that one, awfully hard to measure something like that)
- Potatoes – $0.30 or less, depending on if you buy in bulk. I typically either make wedges and cook them similarly to fries or mash them.
Ridiculously Massive Black Bean and Chicken Burrito
Fast Food: Between $4 and $5 (Assuming getting several small burritos)
Restaurant: Between $6 and $10
- Chicken Breast Meat – $0.66 (Assuming ⅓ pound at $1.99 per pound)
- Can of Black Beans – $0.70
- Tortilla – $0.15
- Salsa, Cheese, and other Goodies – $0.20
I can keep doing this all day, creating examples of homemade meals saving 75% or more when compared to eating out. The reality is that paying someone else to cook for you is a ridiculous expenditure that doesn’t save you time. Sure, eating out with your friends or on a date is a lot of fun, and I’m not saying that you should avoid that totally. But if you want achieve financial independence like I do, eating out is a luxury you should laugh at. The next time you are thinking about where to eat, remember that when eating your “regular, everyday meals”, cooking them yourself can be the difference between not being able to pay your credit card bill and becoming rich in the long run.