On questioning the extravagance of eating out


I’m in London now, my first time here in a while. (Put it to you this way: the London Eye is new to me, and last time, there was no distinction between the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern.)

These days, a lot of the pleasure of my travels involve food, both the search for it and the enjoyment of it (obviously). But with a kitchen at the place where I’m staying, there’s a bit of a tension on whether to go out to eat or to the local grocery store and make food at home. There are pleasures to each, of course, and one doesn’t have to do only one or the other.

But which is more cost effective?

Conventional wisdom states unequivocally that cooking at home is cheaper. But as always, the more you look into things, the less clear cut they get.

First of all, let us grant that when you are feeding a family, it is always cheaper to cook at home. Even with all those “Kids Eat Free” specials, there is no contest.

Also, if you make the type of food where you can cook a lot of it and then eat it all week (such as soups, stews, or stir frys), it’s almost always cheaper to do it at home as well.

But beyond that, it gets more complicated.

Of burritos and bucks

There is a burrito place by my home in Portland named Los Gorditos. It started out as a food truck and has grown to include a few locations around the city. I can’t vouch for its authenticity as Mexican food (though Yelp reviews appear to play this out) but I can say that it’s damn good, and it’s a mainstay with almost all of my friends too. (When I was training for STP, this was where I would go after every training ride.) Add in both vegan and vegetarian menus, and you’ve got a customer for life.

But more than that: the prices. A (giant) burrito with beans, rice, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, and sour cream is $6.

Mmm, burrito.
Mmm, burrito.

Could I make that at home for the same price? At my local grocery, the avocados alone are upwards of $3. Here are some ballpark, back-of-the-napkin calculations:

  • Avocado: $1.50
  • Tomato: $1
  • Beans: $0.50
  • Onion: $0.50
  • Burrito shell: $0.25
  • Sour cream: $0.25
  • Lettuce: ~$0
  • Rice: ~$0

So let’s say that to make a single burrito costs the average person about $4. That’s $2 difference between making it at home and walking down to the burrito place.

Put it another way: how much is your time worth?

Now, the pleasures of cooking with others are huge, and that might tip the balance for you. And this all hinges on what you order. Some foods are much cheaper than others. And if you add in drinking, forget it.

But let’s not overgeneralize and say that cooking at home is significantly cheaper. It usually is, but not necessarily by a lot.

Of beans and burgers

Except in London.

The last time I was here, I was a on a backpacker’s budget, and a thoroughly unrealizable one at that. (£25 a day, including lodging. What was I thinking? Certainly not about food, that’s for sure.) Because of this, food was a major source of concern, and eating out was out of the question.

Luckily, as I wandered the aisles at Tesco, the local supermarket, I was agog at the cheapness of the goods. I specifically remember that a can of baked beans was 9p , about 15 cents then, about a quarter now. That’s staggeringly cheap.

Someone should tell Sheetz about thiz.
Someone should tell Sheetz about thiz.

And on this trip, I had a similar realization. On our first full day, my traveling companions and I went to lunch, a simple affair of burgers and chips at a bistro down the street. Cost? £49.

Late that evening, we went to Sainsbury’s to buy supplies for our kitchen with an eye toward a week in our place. Fruit, veg, bread, snacks, etc.

Total cost?

Also £49.

Score one more point for eating at home. But darn those chips were good.

One Comment

  1. mpinard

    Good work! Sleuthing it out, I see, even on holiday. Gorditos is pretty good- I went for the first time a couple weeks ago. Besides how much your time is worth though, you can also factor in the cooking of food as a cheap form of entertainment. It probably comes out about the same as going out to a new movie, if you cook like I do…;) Have fun on the trip!

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