Most people love to dine out. What’s not to like? You don’t have to shop, prepare or clean up after the meal. You just open up a menu and order whatever looks good. A server brings you the food, you eat it, pay and go. Easy peasy. So why do I hate eating at restaurants and think you should too?
Let’s talk about the hidden costs of eating out. For one, it’s super expensive compared to buying your food and preparing it on your own. Is it 70% more expensive? Probably. At least 50%. You’re paying for the restaurant’s physical location, someone to purchase and prepare the food, your parking spot, the restroom, those red and white mints wrapped in plastic that come with your check that no one eats. All of it.
But you’re also paying another price, and this is the real reason why I hate eating at restaurants. Not only am I paying 70% more for my food (ouch), but I’m also not getting what I want.
Food quality varies…
When I shop for my own food and bring it home to prepare, I’m buying organic, seasonal food that I’ve personally selected. The quality of the food I’m eating is in my control. In a restaurant, not so much.
Chances are pretty good I’m getting nothing organic, unless I’m eating at a restaurant that makes an effort to buy organic, and then very often some produce is just not available organic at certain times of the year. So I’m eating food that is full of toxins and pesticides and is also very likely, certainly in the case of corn and soybeans, a genetically modified organism (GMO).
Like most businesses, restaurants need to turn a profit in order to survive. They often buy the cheapest products that meet their needs. Of course, this varies greatly, depending on whether you’re eating at Long John Silver’s or Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. For most people, I’m guessing their daily dining choices are much closer to Long John’s.
Paying for tiny portions…
Quantity is another problem for me at restaurants. I like salad. Often, salad is the only thing I can eat at a restaurant. So I order salads, but grudgingly. Most restaurants put out crappy salads. Salads are like the acknowledgements or epilogues of books. No one reads them and no one cares.
Sure, I understand, most restaurants have salads on the menu because they have to, not because it’s their specialty. So they’re typically small and unremarkable, and often intended to be paired with an entree. If they are meal size, they’re certainly not my meal size. Maybe meal size for a size 0 model on the eve of a cover shoot. Not for someone that actually enjoys eating.
I’ve learned not to be shy about ordering 2 or even 3 salads. Heck, I even ordered 4 salads at a restaurant in Boston once, and ate all 4 of them. Easily. It sure didn’t feel like I ate $52 worth of salad when the bill arrived. I’m pretty sure the server assumed I had an eating disorder.
Not to mention restaurant menus. They’re unimaginative and oh so predictable. Especially in American restaurants. Burgers, fries, chicken, steak, pasta and the aforementioned bits of lettuce and tomato masquerading as salad. Gahhhh! Can’t someone throw in some hummus, rice bowls, wraps, or anything that doesn’t come on a bun? Oh right, that wouldn’t be American style food.
I typically eschew the menu entirely and make my own entree from the side menus. For example, when eating at a Mexican restaurant, I order sides of tortillas, beans, rice and guacamole to make my own veggie tacos. Often I get bigger portions and pay less.
This isn’t your home kitchen…
I haven’t even gotten to the kitchen yet. This is the worst part of eating out and it’s just so ridiculous. Restaurant kitchens attempt to put out food that people like. So they’ll come back. It’s quite logical, I realize. So I really shouldn’t be blaming the kitchens. It’s the general public that’s to blame. It’s the public that wants their food cooked with oil, butter, salt and all other manner of unhealthy, artery-clogging ingredients that supposedly make food taste good but really just ruin it. I mean, if you have any tastebuds. Which apparently, the general public does not.
How else would you explain those fries that come out with a weeks worth of sodium doused on them, after being fried in oil? Or the pasta that comes out drenched in oil and marinara that is salty enough to raise a person’s blood pressure just looking at it? It’s really quite pathetic how processed the food is that the general public wants nowadays. Most food served in restaurants is downright unrecognizable from it’s original form.
Of course, the first thing they reach for is the salt shaker when the food arrives at the table. God forbid they be able to taste what’s in front of them. Even steamed vegetables, which I’ve ordered before, receive an automatic dousing of oil and salt prior to being served. I mean, who wants to actually taste their broccoli?
You would never cook in your home kitchen the way a restaurant chef does. Of course you don’t have a deep fryer (please tell me you don’t), or the amount of spices and other condiments available in a typical kitchen. Even before the food arrives at the restaurant, salt and spices are added to increase the shelf life and taste. For example, most raw chicken is pumped full of sodium when it’s packed. Ditto for all those processed lunch meats. Some brands of french fries are also fried prior to packing, then fried again after reaching the restaurant.
Make no mistake, restaurants are not a great place to be if you’re trying to eat even remotely healthy. Though some restaurant menus now include nutritional information (thank you California), there’s a pretty good chance these numbers aren’t even close to what you’re actually getting. So you have no idea how many calories and fat grams you’re taking in when eating out. Which is a good thing, since it may be heart attack-inducing.
The solution is easy…
I have an idea. Go buy your own food at the grocery store. Bring it home. Cook it. Eat it. You won’t get a bill delivered by a surly server afterwards, and you’ll have control over the quality and quantity of what you’re eating. You’ll also pay a lot less, even when buying higher quality organic produce.
Of course, this is assuming you have rudimentary cooking skills. By rudimentary I mean you can boil water, which means you can make rice or potatoes or pretty much any soup you desire. If not, learn those skills. Practice creating a handful of recipes that you can make over and over again. Buy a freakin’ crock pot. Get good at eating leftovers. They’re delicious!
Basic cooking skills will save you more money, time and health than you can imagine. Once you get some of the basics down, you’ll create food that is better than you can get at any restaurant. Which is actually pretty liberating.
Sure, I understand that there are times when eating out is necessary. Like when traveling, for example. I just returned from Chicago and ate out twice a day for 4 days.. Though I did, for the record, make at least one of those a day at Whole Foods, which is technically a grocery store.
The point is, restaurant eating is full of hidden minefields to your bank account as well as your health. Don’t eat out just because you’re lazy or you lack the ability to plan ahead. Go get your groceries. Make some food at home. Bring it with you to work. You’ll save time, money and your health.
Remember, no one cares about your health more than you do. So why are you paying someone else to prepare your meals? Since you are what you eat, food shopping and preparation should be handled by you and you alone.